Women in Business Q&A: Jennifer Stewart, Vice President of Corporate Innovation, Eastman Chemical Company

Women in Business Q&A: Jennifer Stewart, Vice President of Corporate Innovation, Eastman Chemical Company
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Jennifer Stewart is Vice President, Corporate Innovation for Eastman Chemical Company. In this role, Jennifer has responsibility for driving the corporate innovation portfolio to deliver future revenue and earnings growth for the company. This includes governance of the top innovation programs as well as driving the creativity and discipline of early-stage projects. Prior to her current role, Jennifer was the Vice-President and Managing Director, EMEA for Eastman. While residing in Rotterdam, NL Jennifer had responsibility for working with business and functional leaders to drive growth, develop talent, and represent Eastman with various government and industry agencies.

Jennifer is a native of Maryville, Tennessee. She holds an A.E. degree in chemical engineering technology from State Technical Institute in Knoxville, Tennessee, a B.S. degree in chemistry from East Tennessee State University and an M.B.A. degree from the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

Jennifer joined Eastman in 1986 in Polymers Research Division. In her role as research scientist, Jennifer conducted and led a variety of research projects related to polymer blends and additive formulations for medical and ophthalmic devices and electronic components. From 1993, Jennifer also led various application development programs that resulted in increased sales in the rigid and flexible food packaging markets in Specialty Plastics. She later held roles in Marketing where she was responsible for product portfolio and marketing strategies in several packaging market segments. In addition, she held a role in Business Development, where she was responsible for strategic business alliances, joint ventures, and divestitures. Jennifer drove the development and implementation of contract manufacturing with partners located in Indonesia, Thailand, and North America and the sale of a manufacturing site in Canada. Beginning in 2005 through its divestiture from the company in 2011, Jennifer was Business Unit Director for the $800M PET Business Unit in Performance Polymers BO where she was responsible for the launch of IntegRex technology and ParaStar products. Before relocating to Europe, she was Business Unit Director for the $1.2B acetate tow and acetyls chemicals units within the Fibers Business Organization.

Jennifer is a member of the Society of Plastics Engineers, Innotech BrainBank, and ETSU and Duke Alumni Associations.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I grew up with two older brothers, which meant two things: 1) I wanted to prove that I could do anything they could do and 2) my parents also expected I could do anything they could do. They never treated me differently as a girl, especially when it came to education. Since my father and brothers are all engineers, it seemed natural for me to go into the science field as well. I also had great high school teachers who helped me realize chemistry was an area of interest for me.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position at Eastman?
Eastman is a great company for personal growth and career development. Fortunately, I've been able to gain a wealth of experience through several different roles within one global company. I started my career in research and application development, followed by time in a marketing role. I then became a business director, which provided me a number of international opportunities, primarily in South America and Asia. In 2012, I moved to Europe to serve in a leadership role as vice president and managing director of Eastman's Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region. I returned to Kingsport in late 2014 with the transition to my current position, vice president of Corporate Innovation. Each step along my career path has prepared me in some capacity for this role, especially my business and marketing experiences. As we focus on innovation and meeting market needs of a changing world, understanding those markets from both a business and geographical perspective is critical. I am grateful for the experiences Eastman has given me to shape a unique and successful career.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Eastman?
The highlights of my career would certainly include the international experiences I mentioned. I've also had the opportunity to collaborate across the organization beyond my job-specific roles and responsibilities. For example, I sit on Eastman's Sustainability Council, which consists of four executive team members and three vice presidents representing a cross-section of the company. The Council provides direction on all corporate sustainability activities across the company, ensuring collaboration and communication across all three dimensions of sustainability - environmental stewardship, social responsibility and economic development. We truly believe sustainability and innovation go hand in hand, and having Corporate Innovation represented on the Sustainability Council reaffirms Eastman's commitment to sustainable innovation.

When it comes to challenges, I would say many of my career highlights were also some of my biggest challenges. While they were sometimes difficult at the time, they allowed me to learn so much in hindsight.

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a leadership role?
Speak up and offer opinions, but do so from a position of informed knowledge.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
This seems to be a common challenge for anyone working full time. Personally, I make sure I set priorities for family, exercise, sleep and vacation time. But when I'm working, I focus and work really hard.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Overcoming unconscious and unintentional bias.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
I have had several excellent mentors in my career that challenged me and gave me clear feedback on how to improve in specific areas. I strive to do that in return today as a mentor for several young professionals.

What do you want Eastman to accomplish in the next year?
Sustainable, profitable revenue growth is the mission of my organization, so I have to say that's what I am most interested in seeing Eastman accomplish in the coming year. I also want to see us continue our success at attracting great people to the company. It's an exciting time to work at Eastman, and I look forward to guiding the next generation of Eastman team members along the journey.

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