Kristen Pforr, a beacon of female success at BASF

Kristen Pforr main.jpg

Raised in a quiet, rural setting in Kansas, Kristen Pforr learned all about hard work and dedication from a young age. Even though her heart was first set on pursuing the arts, she eventually chose to double major in chemistry and chemical engineering at Kansas State University, inspired by her physics teacher.

While in college, she took on a summer internship role at BASF, where, coincidentally, she met her husband, a fellow engineer. 16 years later, Kristen came full circle, joining the company as Operations and Shipping Manager for the Catalysts business unit.

From then on, her professional horizons kept expanding, leading her to the position she holds today, 15 years later, as Vice President of Operations for Care Chemicals at BASF’s Geismar Verbund site, in Louisiana.

Learn more about Kristen’s career journey, the challenges she’s faced along the way, and her most recent accomplishment, being inducted into the Women in Manufacturing (WiM) Hall of Fame.

Love at first site

Over the last several years, the composition of the manufacturing space has been slowly changing, incorporating a more diverse pool of talent, ideas and perspectives. However, when Kristen first started, the number of females in operations was practically non-existent. “It was a hundred percent male. There were no females on the shop floor or the frontline leadership level, or even in the technical and operational leadership at the company,” she recalls.

Despite being one of the very few in the space, she knew she had discovered her path. “I found out I truly loved operations. I love being part of it. I love the fast-paced environment. I love the human element because it is really about people and making a connection and working together to get something done.”

Finding her way during that first year was definitely challenging, says Kristen, but she was able to bond with other new hires, and other kindred spirits, building strong and lasting relationships. 

Kristen Pforr, VP of Operations at Care Chemicals, and William Joseph, shift supervisor.jpg

Kristen with William Joseph, BASF shift supervisor.

The making of a leader

Kristen’s path to leadership brought on additional challenges, not only as a female forging a career in manufacturing but as a person looking to lead a team and gain the respect of her peers. “For me, it came back to how I show the value proposition. How can I help them be successful? The leadership piece was getting to know them, really understanding what their problems were, and how to help solve them through my leadership influence. That starts to build a level of credibility and a level of respect for you as a leader,” she states.

Having a strong support network has been instrumental in driving Kristen’s success as a leader. “In manufacturing, there may be late nights, early mornings, weekends, and in some cases, there may be family plans that you have to set aside. And you have to decide: are you willing to make that decision and take that responsibility?”

A support network, she explains, of course includes family and friends, but it also greatly benefits by having a mentor, a “sounding board,” someone who can provide honest, constructive feedback that helps you grow.

There will be times in your life when you have to be open about what you need to be successful and give your leader and team the opportunity to help you be successful too. You don't have all the answers just because you're a leader.
kristen pforr profile.jpg

Kristen Pforr

Vice President of Operations, Care Chemicals, BASF.

Today, Kristen’s role as VP of Operations presents its own set of unique challenges. She’s responsible for all nine of the Care Chemicals manufacturing sites in North America, making sure they run smoothly, have the right systems, workforce, and capabilities, and can produce safely and reliably.

Although she previously held the same role in another business unit (Intermediates), the situation was very different at Care Chemicals as most of the sites were acquired by BASF and had their own established culture and practices. The challenge centered around bringing these sites together to collaborate as one Care Chemicals operations team. In her words, “It was about setting the framework where it's okay to ask for help, it's okay to share resources and invite the team to draw on not only me but each other for support. When they actually take these opportunities, it’s a big win.”

Women uplifting women

Unlike other industries, manufacturing historically has had its own set of challenges for women who aspire to be leaders. Part of building a support network is connecting with others who are or have experienced similar situations. This is where organizations such as Women in Manufacturing play such a key role, accelerating personal development through open, honest dialogue.

I remember being in a BASF workshop with some really great male leaders and they're saying, ‘women just need to tell us what they want from a career development perspective.’ So many of us were saying, we are, we just think differently. So having people that have been along that path and can help validate what we're thinking and help us figure out how to translate that into being is just incredibly helpful,” she recalls.

For this reason, Kristen considers having these very same cohorts at BASF, for example, FLAME (Female Leaders Advancing Manufacturing Excellence), a framework aimed at attracting, retaining, developing and overall exciting women about manufacturing, is essential to fostering a community and facing common challenges together.

On September 26, Kristen was inducted into the Women in Manufacturing Hall of Fame for her contributions to the industry, becoming the third BASF leader, along with Lori Goucher and Marie Metzger, to receive this distinction. “It's an unbelievable honor. It’s honestly quite humbling because when I think about those who were recognized before me, and everything they have done for women in manufacturing, is just incredible. To be on that same stage, there are no words to describe it,” she says.

Watch Kristen's acceptance speech below:

Kristen Pforr's acceptance speech in the 2023 WiM Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Courtesy of Women in Manufacturing (WiM).

As for her hopes for the future of manufacturing at large, where Kristen has developed her career for more than 30 years, she wishes, “I would like to get to a place in the manufacturing industry where we see true diversity, of thought, of experience, of contributions…A place where it doesn't matter if you are an ethnic minority or a female and we're all really looking at the contributions of the person and diversity just organically happens. This is the type of progress that is most needed, and I am proud of the commitment and leadership role BASF is taking in these important areas.” 



Published on October 11, 2023, by Mariana Licio.

For media inquiries or to repurpose this article, please contact Lisa Brown.