Dr. Ronny Sondjaja: The Culture Whizz who Leads beyond Chemistry
11 April 2023
“The Research Hub is the first to be opened in Singapore by Evonik with the aim of co-creation and co-innovation to generate ground-breaking research in various domains – tissue engineering, advanced biomedical, additive manufacturing, and other sustainability-driven topics. Thus, when I set up the Research Hub, I intentionally redesigned it with creativity in mind and created spaces for researchers from different domains to collaborate and innovate, breaking away from the traditional mould of white labs. I want to build a diverse culture of innovation. Thus, I do not want to create an atmosphere with a hierarchical difference between managers and technicians. I believe in building a community of scientists to trigger collaborations and inspire open discussion with one another,” said Ronny.
At 43, Dr. Ronny Sondjaja is already a well-established leader in the chemicals industry, adept at managing people from diverse backgrounds, nationalities, specialisations, and cultures. Ronny currently oversees more than a hundred researchers across several business lines in cities such as Mumbai and Shanghai. This rare leadership skill did not come naturally.
“The international exposure I have gained from my joint degrees from the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the National University of Singapore (NUS) has taught me to navigate the different cultural nuances in an international environment. One of the reasons I got the job from Evonik was due to my learning experiences in Germany, Singapore and USA. It equipped me in my first role as Product Development Manager for Evonik’s Business Line Oil Additives in which its activities span across Germany, Singapore and the USA,” said Ronny.
Evonik: diversifying beyond chemistry
As Evonik embarks on the next phase of its strategic transformation, the chemicals giant is increasingly diversifying its portfolio beyond chemistry to mainly in three growth divisions: Specialty Additives, Nutrition & Care, and Smart Materials. With a dizzying array of research activities spanning from chemicals, special additives, nutrition and care to automotive, the cultural and professional diversities within the team would undoubtedly obfuscate any organisational dynamics.
Beyond this complex web of cultures, professions and personalities, Ronny is instrumental in creating a synergy of innovative spirit out of diversity to take root in the culture of Evonik, where co-creation and co-innovation are bound to happen.
“The diversity of the team is manifested. We are a speciality chemicals company that leads beyond chemistry, with a diverse technology portfolio, to bring next generation solutions for sustainability. With that motto, our team is made up of multi-diverse researchers, not only chemists but as well as engineers, biologists and even data scientists. There is also the diversity of ideas and perspectives of every individual while taking into consideration the working style. Because of the international exposure I gained during my studies, I have always liked the fact that I have developed an appreciation for multi-cultures and their nuances and the know-how to use the diversity to strengthen our co-innovation spirit and grow the team together. At TUM Asia, I was able to learn from Professors from both Germany and Singapore, who have uniquely distinct teaching styles. It became a training ground for me to be agile and adapt to their teaching styles,” explained Ronny.
The merits of a joint degree – in which Ronny developed an appreciation and understanding of the twin perspectives and working styles of Germans and Asians – provided the soil for his career to flourish. Since receiving the offer to work as a Product Development Manager at Evonik, Ronny has progressively advanced in his career, helming multiple leadership roles in different countries. While this would require some to muster the courage to take the leap of faith to jump cities, Ronny – a globetrotter with a larger-than-life personality, simply tried to reorient himself to the various cities he finds himself stationed at.
Naturally, the challenges grew as his role expanded.
Complementing differences to achieve synergy
“If I look back at what I did at the very beginning of my career, the challenge was very much focused on the scope of work. The challenge then was creating a new product and successfully bringing it to the market. With the growth of my career development, the challenge is now different. Apart from taking care of the R&D team of the entire Asia, the greater challenge is how we can nurture the strong co-innovation spirit and strengthen our R&D presence with the focus on developing next generation technology solutions to reach our ambitious sustainability target. I think it’s all about complementing the different mindsets to achieve the greatest output, and this is something that I enjoy doing tremendously,” quipped Rony.
Since the opening of Evonik Asia’s Research Hub in Singapore, the research team has grown from 20 researchers to more than 90 employees coming from 14 countries of origin. The stellar performance record of Ronny as the Vice President and Head of Research at Evonik, Asia, epitomises the qualities of a leader required to tread the intricacies in an international environment effectively.
Business mantra: Performance first, but with empathy
“My mantra has always been performance first. We can’t win without performance. Whatever things we need to do, we have to do it with high-quality and high-performance output. At the same time, we need to exercise empathy by putting ourselves in somebody’s shoes. We want to address needs and solve problems, but it can’t solely be performance-oriented without truly empathising with other people’s problems,” Ronny shared.
With climate change taking a toll on different facets of life, Ronny understands the gravity of the role Evonik and the researchers play in creating a sustainable future. While that might entail a task as impossible as it seems, for Ronny, it creates endless opportunities to change the world for the better.
“Evonik envisions itself leading beyond chemistry with sustainability at its core. I believe this is something we have to grow further. The fact that we are aligning all fronts in this direction – by establishing our presence in different areas while reducing our carbon footprint – is a direction that aligns with what the world needs and resonates with my beliefs. I am glad to be part of the transformation,” Ronny shared.