* Bock sees green products as future of his company
* Speculation may be top candidate to lead company in 2011
* Says Ciba acquisition was a “no-brainer”
* Says: “Obama was right. Insulation is sexy.”
By Ernest Scheyder
FLORHAM PARK, N.J., March 30 (Reuters) - September 15, 2008, was probably not the best day to spend billions of dollars.
On that day, Lehman Brothers LEHMQ.PK filed for bankruptcy, sending the global economy into a tailspin and freezing the credit markets.
It was also the day BASF SE BASF.DE, the world’s largest chemicals company, said it would buy Swiss rival Ciba for 3.4 billion Swiss francs (US$3.27 billion).
In the months that followed, Germany-based BASF was pressured to drop the deal due to the recession.
But Kurt Bock, the company’s global chief financial officer and head of its North American operations, and other executives stood firm and sealed the deal.
“We said, ‘It’s a no-brainer, we would never walk away, that’s not the way we do business,'” Bock told Reuters in an interview at the company’s North American headquarters in a business park in Florham Park, New Jersey. “We committed to something, and we pulled it through.”
BASF expects to have Ciba fully integrated in the second quarter and to save about $540.4 million (400 million euros) annually through cost savings starting in 2012.
Determination to stick by well-researched decisions seems to be part of what makes the quiet-spoken Bock tick.
The 52-year-old executive, who has spent most of his working life at BASF, is expected to be a leading candidate to replace Juergen Hambrecht as head of BASF’s management board -- a position akin to CEO -- at the end of 2011.
Such a move would instantly make him the de-facto head of the global chemical industry.
While some executives like to chat about their time outside the office, Bock keeps his personal life private. When asked what he does in his free time, he grew terse and blunt.
“I don’t really talk about that,” he said.
Bock, who was born in Rahden, Germany, and studied at Pennsylvania State University and the University of Bonn, did admit to one personal vice -- he needs regular cups of espresso.
He went so far as to buy an espresso machine for his New Jersey office.
While he might not like a cup of American coffee, he does admire managerial styles in the United States
“Americans have more of a ‘can-do’ attitude. They say, ‘Let’s go for it, we can get it done,'” Bock said. “Germans are a little more cautious about everything. They’ll wish to do another analysis, and it takes a little more time to reach a conclusion.”
Bock is keen on giving BASF a greater ecological profile.
“In the beginning investors were pretty ignorant. They couldn’t care less,” he said. “That has changed. The financial crisis has increased awareness that you have to have sustainable products.”
With products like drywall that stores heat and then later radiates it, to low-emissions paint, and spray-foam insulation (“Obama was right. Insulation is sexy,” Bock said), among many others, BASF is hoping it can overtake rivals like Dow Chemical DOW.N and DuPont DD.N to become the leader of the green chemical movement.
BASF has a program that measures the carbon output of all its products -- “from cradle to grave,” as Bock puts it.
The company also says its products cut three times more greenhouse gas emissions than are used to produce them, a statistic it’s hoping to increase.
Of course, the nature of BASF’s business means that environmental problems do crop up.
Earlier this month, seven miles of the Mississippi River were shut down for nearly a day after a BASF plant in Missouri vented about 200 pounds of sulfur trioxide gas, a compound that forms sulfuric acid when mixed with water. No one was injured, and the gas dissipated, but it highlighted the need for chemical products that interact better with nature.
“It’s more important for the public to understand what we try to achieve, to have a full layer of transparency,” Bock said. “Investors want to feel good about the company they’re investing in.” ($1=0.74 euros) (Reporting by Ernest Scheyder, editing by Leslie Gevirtz)