TBY talks to Volker Hammes, Head of BASF Business Center Turkey, Middle East & North Africa, & CEO of BASF Türk, on sustainability, Turkey's R&D potential, and the long-term outlook for the sector.

Volker Hammes
Prior to his current position, Volker Hammes served as Vice-President of Marketing and Sales for Eastern Europe, Africa, and West Asia. He has been at BASF for 23 years, working in Europe and East Asia in a variety of positions. He has a Master’s in Mechanical Engineering/Plastics from Aachen University.

Worldwide, BASF has been a strong promoter of sustainability. How has the company specifically achieved this in Turkey?

For us, sustainability is a balance—if even one element is missing, the solution won't work. In 2013, we went on a world tour to promote sustainability, and the final stop was here in Istanbul, which really shows how important we consider Turkey for our future corporate development. We believe that we all have to change our consumption habits. And, very often, if you want to really come to a completely new level of sustainability, chemistry is an enabler. On the topic of solar energy, chemicals are needed to build new types of batteries that have a higher storage capacity, and wider applications. We conduct work of great complexity in the industrial sector, including the automotive segment. The automotive industry is in fact a prime example; the trick is to make vehicles more lightweight so they consume less energy or fuel. To improve the quality of fuel, we also have gasoline and diesel additives that help engines to get the most out of it. That is just one of many smart solutions we offer. We are also looking into solar cells on cars that capture light and produce energy; thus, reducing fuel burn. And this means that we need to enable our clients to find better solutions. In sustainability terms, it is important to look at the value chain, and that means that we are in constant discussions with our suppliers to reduce their environmental footprint. We also talk to our customers, again, starting on the supply chain side, then move on to applications and solutions. Here, we find ourselves in the driver's seat.

In late 2013, BASF created an Emerging Markets division, with its headquarters in Istanbul. Why was Istanbul selected as the location?

At BASF, we are constantly enlarging our local presence and becoming one of the most attractive companies in the country—both as an employer and as a business partner. That is why we decided to re-locate our headquarters for the region CIS-Middle East-Africa from Germany to Istanbul. From Istanbul, directly connected with Europe and Asia, we can arrange a vast and complex emerging region covering more than 80 countries. Turkey is also a good example for the increasing importance of rising economies.

How would you assess Turkey's R&D potential for BASF?

R&D appears as an important aspect in terms of sustainability, not only for the innovation of our existing products, but also for developing new products. Our main R&D laboratories are in Germany, China, and North America. In Turkey, we have some laboratories that focus on the “D" side of R&D, to adapt to market needs and regional habits. We have two laboratories in Kocaeli, where we have a technical lab that helps in product development and in formulating technology together with our customers to reach new solutions. Then, we also have experts with a deep understanding of customer industries. Manufactures in Turkey are facing new challenges, one being the cost of energy, which is quite high, and the other fragmentation. This is all being compensated for by the deep skills of local engineers who run manufacturing and optimizing processes. Yet, to create something wholly original, two things would have to change. Turkey has to move toward a more knowledge-based society, and the key to making this happen is the English language. The other aspect is related to R&D as an investment for the future. Turkey needs to generate margins that allow it to deploy resources into this area.

What is your long-term outlook for the chemical sector in Turkey?

BASF produces numerous strategies as a guideline for advancement, and that always ensure a long-term outlook. We are in discussions with industry associations to transform the chemical industry in Turkey and render it more competitive. That means overcoming fragmentation, which in turn means developing preferred areas of investment with world-class infrastructure. This will certainly take time. We also need investment security, which is vital, not least for a chemicals company, where investments are made with a 30-50 year lead-time.