Morristown-Beard School parent Teressa Szelest, the President of Market & Business Development North America — BASF Corporation, recently visited campus to speak with members of the Business, Finance and Investment (BFI) Club about a range of topics including career advice, defining success, and the evolving world of business.
In her current role with BASF, Ms. Szelest is responsible for the company’s strategic business development and marketing across the region, focusing on customer relations and forging new business opportunities. She first joined the company in 1988 and has held a variety of technical, management and business leadership roles throughout her career.
“There’s no single path that works for everybody. You have to explore, keep learning, and love what you do,” she told the students. “Don’t be afraid to step sideways. There’s not just one way to go forward. I’ve had 10 different jobs in 34 years because I’ve tried new things.”
She told the students that they should first consider whether they want to be a generalist or a specialist in business. “I started my business career as a chemical engineer,” she said. “Along the way, I’ve been an environmental specialist, a marketing manager, and held many other roles. I’ve done a little bit of everything but I still have a foundation in engineering. Sometimes having a degree in a different area allows you to understand the product better.”
Ms. Szelest is optimistic that today’s students will be positioned for success in the job market, and added that companies are working hard to drive employee engagement and motivation.
“You will be coming out of college at a time when there is a war for talent. At BASF, we do 1,500 sets of interviews every year and we look for students from all types of backgrounds,” she said. “You have the world in front of you. If you position yourself well, you will get to choose the type company you work for and the type of career you want. Pick wisely, but don’t be afraid to pick wrong because you can always change.”
Before assuming her current position with BASF, Ms. Szelest was Senior Vice President for the company’s Global Hygiene business based in Ludwigshafen, Germany. She told the students that the opportunity to live and work abroad was invaluable.
“From personal experience, if you ever have the opportunity to live overseas, do it,” she said. “Speaking another language and understanding another culture will help position you for success.”
In a question and answer session with the students, Ms. Szelest touched on topics including overcoming the glass ceiling in business, the importance of diversity in the workplace, and the keys to being successful in business.
“The most common trait that successful people have in business is the ability to get back up after they make a mistake,” she said. “If you want to be a leader, you have to be willing to take chances and to fail.”