2021 Rising Stars: Derek Schaefer
Derek Schaefer, 35
Vice President of Business Development, UBQ Materials US Inc.
Derek Schaefer said that when he entered the plastics industry in 2007, he never thought it would have taken him all over the world and allow him to "interact with some of the largest OEMs ranging from consumer, construction, packaging, automotive and appliance."
Schaefer is vice president of business development for Tel Aviv, Israel-based recycling technology firm UBQ Materials US Inc.
"The biggest thing that has surprised me the most about the plastic industry is how much of the world it impacts and how many markets it drives. … Plastics is a very diverse and changing industry that impacts the world," he said.
He was born in Las Vegas and graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a bachelor's degree in marketing and sales, from University of Massachusetts Lowell with a polymer science certificate and from the University of Phoenix with an MBA concentration in global business.
"Over the past 14 years, I have dedicated my life to advancing plastic technology and information throughout our industry," he said. "I have earned an MBA, received multiple advanced certifications, attended trade shows and lectures throughout the world, supported countless trials at OEMs/manufacturers, and now working towards developing a circular economy."
Previous roles have included sales representative at Advanced Composites; sales representative at Sabic; and Indiana and Kentucky account manager, global account manager (consumer, construction, packaging) and director of sales, central and western region at Washington Penn Plastic Co. Inc.
"There is no other industry in the world that would give you the opportunities that the plastics industry can offer. The key is getting yourself in the door and making the most out of each role you get. Push yourself to do more and put yourself in conversations and experiences that make you uncomfortable," he said.
Schaefer lives in Cincinnati with his wife, Kelly, and dachshund, Luna. Before the pandemic, he said, he enjoyed going to concerts, traveling the world, going to restaurants and hiking: "I am very much looking forward to the day where we can get back to normal and experience all the great resources the world has to offer us."
Q: Who is your mentor or someone you look up to?
Schaefer: I am very fortunate to have many mentors and friends who have taken me under their wing to develop me as a plastics professional. The one that has had the biggest impact on my career development was Rob Morgan. Rob served as the vice president of sales and hired me to my first job in plastics at Advanced Composites. Like me, Rob didn't have a background in plastics, but that didn't stop him from being successful and he made it a point to develop me so that I had the tools to [be] successful. Unfortunately Rob passed away last year of cancer, and I will always remember and cherish the time we shared together.
Q: What is your current challenge at work?
Schaefer: My current challenge at UBQ Materials is to work with a colleague based in Israel to lead business development efforts for UBQ Materials around the globe. Until now, UBQ Materials has operated out of a small-scale (7,000-ton-per-year) production and R&D facility in Israel. We are now establishing the first full-scale UBQ facility in the Netherlands, with an annual output of 70,000 tons of UBM. The biggest hurdle we face is educating the plastics industry about our technology, while stressing the urgency we need to move at to limit climate change. As a startup, there are many aspects to your job that goes beyond your title and you must be willing to roll up your sleeves and play in the trash.
Q: What emerging technology or market most interests you?
Schaefer: The market/technology that excites me the most is the circular economy movement that is happening in our industry. While I think it's critical to point out we need the existing linear plastics supply chain, we should also be doing all we can to give plastics and waste second- and third-generation life cycles. I believe that we are in a time where companies like UBQ are developing revolutionary technology that has the potential to eliminate plastic and waste from going to landfills and offset emissions worldwide. However, the real impact of these innovations is dependent on widespread adoption and implementation in the manufacturing of products, something which is ultimately up to legislators, investors, inventors and corporations.
Q: If you were CEO of a company, what would you do first?
Schaefer: If I were lucky enough to be CEO of a company, the first thing I would do is schedule time to tell our entire company, "Thank you, I appreciate you, and I am here for you." Thank you for everything they have done so far for our company, I appreciate everything that they will do moving forward, and I am here for you should you need anything. This is an act that takes no extra capital other [than] compassion.
Q: What job do you really want to have in the future?
Schaefer: In the future I would like to put myself in the position to successfully lead a global sustainable business that has a positive impact on the people who work there and the communities they operate in. While I have some ways to go, I feel that over the past 14 years of my career I have been developing skills that would allow me to do this. I enjoy working through opportunities that touch different industries, markets and cultures, while minimizing the impact we have on our environment.