Our Top Start Alumni
The TOP START International Business Leaders Program is not just any traineeship: it opens countless doors to new and exciting job opportunities at BASF. And who would know that better than our former trainees? Meet some of our TOP START alumni and learn about their stories – where they are now, how they got there, and how TOP START jump-started their careers.
At first glance, lemons, graphite and displays don’t have much in common. However, all three gave Konstantin Kretschun’s career a thorough boost: As a TOP START trainee, the junior manager developed business strategies for a wide variety of BASF solutions – and at the end of his journey he knew exactly where his heart is.
Getting started on a high level
TOP START alumnus Konstantin Kretschun’s story shows just what a great stepping stone the program can be: “From my very first day as a ‘TOP STARTer’ I had lots of freedom but also responsibility in the projects I managed. I coordinated a team of 14 colleagues, travelled a lot to meet business partners and got to work on innovative solutions with my team”, he says. “These three TOP START years taught me a lot about how BASF operates. This way, the program prepared me perfectly for a management career.” In his first job after the program, he managed the digital transformation at BASF Agricultural Solutions with international responsibility for more than 100 countries and promoted data-driven farming. “Now, in my current position as Country Manager Spain for Agricultural Solutions I have the opportunity to contribute directly to today’s major challenge of how we can better and sustainably feed the world. To me, this is what makes BASF an amazing place to work.”
There are multiple reasons for him to take on a leading role in the field of digital agriculture: passion for digitalization and entrepreneurial thinking. “During my master study program in Management at the ESCP Business School, I granted myself some time for reflection”, he describes his prior phase. “Become an entrepreneur myself or grow into a large organization?”
He tried the former: initiated a start-up, got involved in another, always seeking digital issues. Time and experience eventually answered his question: “Start-ups gave me an open space to shape a business and an organization from the very beginning.” But the subversive graduate wanted a broader outreach, a position with more “impact”, as he likes to say.
A very special job
This is what he saw in the BASF TOP START-program – and was not disappointed after successfully applying. Straight away at his first station, the motto was “lead from day one”, Kretschun recalls. “This is where I first got to know agricultural solutions, and I did that on a special mission.” He was supposed to launch a plant protection agent including application aids for lemon and olive farmers in Southern Europe. “The great responsibility compelled respect from myself, but also encouraged me to meet this challenge.” On the agenda: Set up a 14-person project team, visit farmers on site, develop a solution conjointly.
The close international collaboration also accompanied him in his subsequent stations. He traveled and lived in the US, Canada, Hongkong and Russia to develop a graphite thermal insulating material and electronic solutions for the display industry. He watched BASF experts closely, always had the solutions explained to him in detail – and worked through customer appointments with in-depth expert knowledge. “The three years of TOP START were a lot: Challenging, Exciting and abundantly educational. I learned how BASF works.” And not only that: For Kretschun, who wished for more impact on the international level, a well-known aspect soon joined: “Despite its size, BASF offers a lot of freedom. Once an idea is sophisticated, there is little to stand in the way of its implementation. This openness reminded me of a start-up atmosphere – only with a bigger budget.”
After the three years within TOP START, the young expert had not only explored BASF and developed his leadership skills, but also developed true passion. “The experiences in Southern Europe really have left their mark on me. It was therefore very clear to me: I’m staying with Agricultural Solutions. Here, we contribute to ensure that people around the world have food on their plates each and every day.”
New in the job and directly global project and team responsibility: that describes Miljana Spasic’s start in the BASF TOP START program looked like. This was followed by three exciting years with demanding tasks, a lot of responsibility and a unique experience abroad. Today, Miljana Spasic is “Head of Global Strategic Marketing Additives“ in Hongkong and knows: “At BASF, you can shape your own path with motivation and engagement.”
“Those who show their potential get unique opportunities“
Her first station in the TOP START program was a jump into the deep end for Miljana Spasic: “I just graduated from university and was immediately given the opportunity to lead two global projects and the associated teams in the Supply Chain area. That was a challenge for sure”, recalls the business administration graduate. Expectations of the future talents in the TOP START program are high, but much higher is the support throughout the company. “From the very beginning I noticed how open the culture toward young talent is. My team members and leaders were very supportive and gave me the chance to settle into my tasks”, says Miljana Spasic – and is convinced: “Those who show willingness to learn and approach challenges with a high level of motivation are given an incredible amount of trust at BASF.”
Next stop: Hongkong
This confidence in her potential emerged again and again during her traineeship. Every assignment incorporated completely new tasks, each time she took on a great deal of responsibility and Miljana Spasic became repeatedly acquainted with previously unfamiliar areas. Her second assignment, for example, took her to the Global Business Management Additive in Hongkong. “It was very exciting for me to get to know an unfamiliar region and culture and to thrive in challenging tasks. Gaining international experience and working with people from all over the world is fun and, in my opinion, the best way to broaden horizons. That is a great way to explore the world and develop yourself”, she concludes.
Back in Germany, Miljana Spasic remained true to her love for adventure. Her goal: to get very close to business and gain experience in sales. For young talents this is not a given opportunity, since strong customer relations usually require many years of experience. “However, I was keen to gain an insight into dealing with customers and therefore sought this area as the finale stage of my traineeship. Fortunately, as a “TOP STARTer”, I found open ears and was given a chance”, explains MIljana Spasic. Once again, the young talent was able to demonstrate her engagement. Miljana Spasic learned how to conduct business negotiations, maintain customer contacts and eventually seal business deals successfully. “That was incredibly exciting – having the direct business responsibility and contribute in a very tangible way to BASF’s growth”, she remembers.
Seamless transition to a leadership position
Since October 2018, Miljana Spasic has been back in Hongkong. Towards the end of her TOP START program, she was contacted by her former division Global Strategic Marketing Additive for paints and coatings in order to recruit her for a global leadership position. As “Head of Global Strategic Marketing Additives” she now leads a global team of thirteen members and oversees a vast area of responsibility. “It was a great leap from being a trainee to my current position and it showed me, that my efforts during my time in TOP START were worthwhile. Without the wealth of diverse experience in the TOP START program and the opportunity to develop my full potential, my career would not have accelerated that fast”, she says.
For those interested in the TOP START program, she has a clear advice: “Do an internship at BASF during your studies!” She herself gained her first BASF experience in the Controlling Department, got to know the company and made the decision to apply for TOP START. Because: “Even at my job interview as an intern, I noticed that the BASF counterparts took me seriously and wanted to offer me valuable experiences. That has only been confirmed throughout my entire journey to date.”
Identifying connections, merging perspectives, implementing changes: Seeing “the big picture” is the appealing aspect of his job for Manuel Rez. He knew that at the very beginning of his career and deliberately searched for an entry position with the opportunity to work holistically and find a way into General Management. The BASF TOP START International Business Leader Program provided the perfect conditions for that purpose.
Making a difference right from the start
Manuel Rez likes to think back to his first year at BASF. In 2013, he joined the TOP START program as a project manager in the Construction Chemicals Europe department. As an interface between sales and customers, he was responsible for various projects with BASF group companies throughout Europe. “Right from the start, I was able to gain a lot of experience within the market, working closely with sales colleagues in the different countries and with customers. That was incredibly educational and put all my theoretical knowledge from my studies to a practical test”, remembers the business administration graduate.
A little over a year later, the program took him to his next station, which he spent to a great extent in Hongkong: as global product manager for pigments, he managed his own product portfolio. In addition to the exciting intercultural experience, what appealed to him most about this position was the challenging teamwork: “Working interconnectedly and tackling issues holistically is exactly my thing. I was able to work with people from a wide variety of functions and was therefore able to get to know BASF in an overarching manner.” And his teams’ work was successful: the product portfolio reached the spotlight again. “We were able to make it worthwhile to invest in these products again. That showed me that, together with the right team, I can really make a difference at BASF”, says Rez.
Multifaceted basis for exciting leadership positions
His trainee program took three years in total – for Manuel Rez this was a clear advantage compared to other traineeships: “I found the prospect of being able to work on topics in a truly sustainable way and become acquainted with different areas over long periods of time very exciting. This can lead to very interesting career opportunities subsequent to the program.” As for TOP START’s goal to prepare young people for leadership positions within BASF, Manuel Rez’ career is a prime example: After completing the TOP START program, he was hired as Head of Marketing Management in a BASF subsidiary, where after a little over two years later, he was appointed as member of the board of directors with personnel responsibility for more than 50 employees.
“BASF stands for diverse paths of development and international deployment opportunities across various functions and industries – looking back on the last seven years, I can only confirm this. From the very beginning, I had the feeling that there was a lot to learn and that I could really contribute”, says Manuel Rez. Meanwhile, he returned to the main company as ‘Global Head of Marketing Animal Nutrition’. With his employees across the globe, he is currently working on a new marketing and communication strategy to promote the business unit of animal nutrition. Hence, he continues to move on the international stage, doing what he likes best: thinking about the big picture to make new things happen.
Self-reflection as the key to success
His recipe for success? “Those who apply for TOP START should think in advance about ‘Why BASF?’. Having lots of opportunities is great, but where specifically would you like to co-create? What exactly are you interested in? And why do you want to follow a certain path at BASF? That is what I always tried o keep in mind – and I’ve done very well”, reveals Manuel Rez.