Larry Berkowski ’83, ’85

Alumnus innovates on behalf of customers

by Liz Cezat, special writer

Larry Berkowski '83, '85As senior vice president of Engineering Plastics for BASF Corp. in North America, Larry Berkowski ’83, ’85 blends his experience as a research chemist with his penchant for marketing development in helping BASF find value-added products and services for its customers.

“We support customers by working with them to come up with solutions,” he said. “We rely on good teamwork from our staff—not only in terms of their background, but also in how the chemists, engineers, marketing and sales people come together to fulfill our customers’ needs.”

Developing new innovations for customers benefits both BASF and the customer. Plus, “it maximizes the value that we bring to the industry,” he added.

The trend toward using environmentally friendly materials for lightweight components in the auto industry taps into Berkowski’s research background. His technical team is formulating new compounds from a combination of petrochemicals and post-consumer recycled (PCR) materials, which has led to innovative plastic materials developed to the specifications of BASF’s vast customer base in North America.

For example, post-consumer PET water bottles and recycled residential carpet are now taking on a new form as appliance applications and intake manifolds for engines. While these materials are kept out of landfills, they also provide the right combination of attributes—lightweight, cost-effective and structural—to meet the high industry standards of companies like Electrolux and Ford, two of BASF’s Fortune 500 clients. 

“There is a big focus on green,“ Berkowski said. “Ford is a big customer and has a lot of input into what kind of materials we provide to them. They want PCR material used in their products.”

Berkowski began his career at BASF in 1984 as a research chemist in the polyurethane business. He joined GE Plastics in 1989 and held various positions in sales and business development for 12 years. He served as Automotive Lighting and Underhood marketing manager for GE Plastics Europe from 1995 to 1998. In 2001, he returned to BASF as director of Urethane Chemicals. He later became director for Polyurethane Systems. In 2008, he was promoted to group vice president, BASF Styrenics Americas. In 2010, he advanced to his current position with responsibility for all aspects of Engineering Plastics, including manufacturing, supply chain, technology, marketing and sales.

Being able to prioritize is an important skill that guides Berkowski in managing his complex role as a team leader and operations chief. He manages 350 employees in a wide variety of positions, from operators in plants who make the product, to those who manage the supply chain.

“A lot of different people have a role in making it successful,” he said. “Being involved in the technology, while working with customers through market development is what drives me.”

He travels extensively from the Wyandotte, Mich. headquarters to the company’s plants in Tennessee and Mexico, and less frequently to Asia and other continents that comprise BASF’s international operations.

Creativity is encouraged in BASF’s culture and communication skills are also highly valued, according to Berkowski. He notes that UDM graduates who serve co-ops or are hired at BASF tend to excel at written communication and expressing ideas, thanks to requisite liberal arts courses. As a member of the advisory board to UDM College of Engineering & Science Dean Leo Hanifin, Berkowski has shared his industry expertise to help shape the future of the program.

Reflecting on his college education, Berkowski noted, “I had some fantastic professors who took the time to help me and work with me.” His chief mentor was (the late) Kurt Frisch. Working on a fellowship doing polymer research for Professor Frisch opened the doors to a job at BASF. His co-op experience helped him decide to pursue a career in business.

Berkowski has many family ties to UDM, including his wife Peggy Shine ’85, siblings Joe ’73, Bill ’74, ’78, an adjunct professor at UDM School of Dentistry Dental Clinic, and Monica Barbour ’75, ’79, now UDM’s legal counsel. His late father Joseph ’51 was the University of Detroit registrar for 40 years. The Berkowski siblings, their mother Lillian, and spouses often meet at Calihan Hall to cheer on the Titans in a section dubbed the Berkowski corner. Larry and Peggy have three children, Ted, 18; Neala, 17; and Juliana, 14, and live in Grosse Pointe Park.

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