B4Plastics Team

A day in the life of: B4Plastics’ Operations Manager

January 13, 2022

As part of our series about the daily work of B4P employees, today we interviewed a member of our dedicated operational team.


Background Ilse Maes

After her graduation in 1996 as Master in Industrial Sciences-Polymers at KHLim IWT (now UHasselt), Ilse Maes (48, Belgian) started her career as R&D scientist at DSM in Geleen (NL). Ilse worked at DSM for 23 years, where she gained experience in the field of analytical sciences for the chemicals and materials industry, next to project and account management skills. In July 2021, Ilse joined B4Plastics as Operations Manager with a focus on project planning & coordination, sales support and interface with scale-up and production. Thereby, she is contributing to the transition of B4Plastics from a start-up to a scale-up and production company of novel biomaterials.

Q. How did you get into a career as an Operations Manager in the New Plastics Economy?

After a reorganization at DSM, I needed to look for a new challenge and found this within the company B4Plastics of Stefaan de Wildeman. After reconnecting with Stefaan, who is a former DSM colleague, I became enthusiastic about his story and recognized some of the typical challenges of a smaller and growing innovative company. We both saw it as an opportunity for me to share my experience in R&D and project management, supporting the growth of B4Plastics, so that joining B4Plastics would lead to a win-win situation for myself and B4Plastics.

Q. Describe your typical working day at B4Plastics.

My working days are very diverse because of all the different operations I am involved in. Most days start with a brief chat with the colleagues to get a good impression on how things are going and if there are urgent questions that need to be addressed or tackled on short notice. After that, I take up my general tasks, such as R&D project planning & reporting, coordination of sample production and meetings with sales, R&D colleagues or customers. Finally, I also pay special attention to address and handle SHE related topics to make sure my colleagues can work in a safe environment.

Q. What are the skills you need to have to excel as an Operations Manager in a scale-up company?

In this role communicative skills, empathy, being open minded and decisiveness are of high value. It is crucial to first listen to both your colleagues and customers to understand their perspectives, so that well thought-out decisions can be made. But also clear communication on these decisions is important to make sure everybody is aligned. Decisiveness is needed to make the right steps forward, so that B4Plastics can reach its (long-term) goals. However, this also means that it is essential to be able to come back on a decision if time shows otherwise or B4Plastics’ needs might change.

Q. What challenges do you face in this role?

The fast-growing pace of B4Plastics and the almost tripled size of our team in the last year, calls for a more defined framework and workflow in operations like R&D, production, HR, IT, procurement, sales and finances. Here, my focus and contribution mainly lay on R&D and HR processes and it is challenging to get these desired structures installed within the daily operations of R&D and scale-up. But by working on this every day, we can smoothen and clarify work processes and make sure that everybody is aligned on the level required for them to efficiently perform in their role.

Q. What keeps you motivated to go into work every day?

There are three main reasons for this. First, I like the dynamics of my job which makes every day different than the one before. Next to that, it is great to contribute to the growth of B4Plastics and the effect this might have on the future of plastics on our planet. Finally, of course my fantastic colleagues of the B4Plastics Team, which facilitates facing the challenges as we are in this together.

Q. What advice would you give someone considering an operations career in the New Plastics Economy?

Flexibility and eagerness to contribute to innovation are crucial in a very dynamic company as B4Plastics. Pro-activeness and the willingness to learn are key skills for who is considering a career in the New Plastics Economy.



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