Successful alumnus believes in putting others first

Posted: October 25, 2021
Alumnus Bob Patel stands with a building in the background.
Bob Patel ’88
[photo courtesy of LyondellBasell]

Chemical engineer Bob Patel ’88 is passionate about making a difference. Through his visionary leadership as CEO of one of the world’s largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies, and his philanthropic efforts, Patel is a champion for helping people realize their potential.

The secret to his success, Patel said, stems from the values he learned as a child. Things like treating others as you want to be treated, helping people and having a strong work ethic. Those lessons were instilled by his mom, who immigrated to the U.S. from India to give Patel and his older brother a better life, and his uncle, who helped bring the family to Cleveland, Ohio.

As a young boy living in India, Patel saw many children who didn’t have the resources to get an education. He witnessed the same thing in the U.S., particularly among immigrant families, and saw how his mom struggled to send her boys to college. Those experiences inspired him and his wife, Shital, to pay forward to give young people the opportunity to obtain an education.

Recently Patel made a generous gift to establish the Bhavesh V. Patel and Family Endowed Scholarship Fund in Engineering at Ohio State. It will provide scholarships to engineering students with financial need, especially first-generation college students and those who live in diverse environments or are active in advancing the needs of historically underrepresented populations.

“I've always believed that education is the best way to unlock potential and build better futures,” Patel said. “My wife and I established this endowed scholarship partly because of my very strong affiliation to The Ohio State University, my background and knowing the challenges my mom had in putting us through school. Education opens so many doors and creates so much opportunity.”

Supporting children’s health issues is also near and dear to the Patels, who experienced the life-changing impact of modern medicine firsthand after their youngest son was born with a liver disease.

“If children have healthy lives and an education, they can realize their potential,” Patel explained. “If this scholarship helps someone access a better future, we’ll feel good not just about improving one life, but perhaps impacting the lives of the next generation.”

Following in the footsteps of his uncle and brother, Patel decided to become a chemical engineer. He chose to attend Ohio State because of its size and reputation, earning his bachelor’s in 1988. He also holds an MBA from Temple University.

After graduation Patel held positions of increasing responsibility at Chevron Corporation and Chevron Phillips Chemical Company for more than 20 years. In 2010, he joined LyondellBasell, one of the largest plastics, chemicals and refining companies in the world. Prior to becoming CEO in 2015, he led its olefins and polyolefins business, and manufacturing facilities in the Europe, Asia and International region, as well as its global technology segment.

Leadership through service

If you met him at an event, Patel wouldn’t tell you he’s the CEO of LyondellBasell. He’d say he works in the chemical industry. Because he believes it’s your impact that matters, not your title.

“I think of a job as CEO as being the ultimate job of serving others,” he said. “It should be less about yourself.”

Bob Patel talks to people during the company's annual Global Safety Day.
CEO Bob Patel (right) participates in LyondellBasell's annual Global Safety Day at its Germany location. [photo courtesy of LyondellBasell]

He applies the same foundational values passed down from his family as he serves LyondellBasell’s nearly 20,000 worldwide employees. One of his top priorities is building a corporate culture that feels like a family, one that does so with respect to diversity and inclusion, and with the flexibility employees now expect.

“What I find most rewarding is being able to make employees’ lives better and providing a safe, secure work environment,” Patel said. “Because I personally believe that if employees are happy then all the other stakeholders’ needs get met.”

As CEO, he helped advance LyondellBasell’s sustainability efforts, which include initiatives to reduce CO2 and help eliminate plastic waste in the environment. Last month the company announced its goal of achieving zero net emissions by 2050 and, as a first step, reducing its emissions footprint by 30% by 2030. He is a founding member and vice-chairman of the Alliance to End Plastic Waste, a cross-value chain alliance launched in 2019 to eliminate plastic waste through increased recovery, recycling and reuse efforts.

“Industries like ours are critical to modern society,” he explained. “But we also have a duty as responsible citizens on the planet to find better, more efficient and cleaner ways to contribute.”

Under Patel’s leadership, LyondellBasell was named to Fortune’s “World’s Most Admired Companies” list for four consecutive years and to Newsweek’s 2021 list of “Most Responsible Companies.” The company has expanded its market presence in Asia and has built new production facilities, including the construction of world-scale manufacturing plants in the U.S. Gulf Coast. 

The driven leader has been recognized by his peers who voted him the only two-time recipient of the Independent Commodity Intelligence Services’ Kavaler Award, which honors outstanding achievement in the chemical industry.

“I’ve never sought awards. But I am humbled to think of these honors as recognition as having helped to move the industry on issues that are important to our future,” said Patel, who also was honored as a College of Engineering distinguished alumnus in 2015.

He serves on the boards of Halliburton, the Houston Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and the Greater Houston Partnership. Patel is also a member of the Ohio State College of Engineering External Advisory Council, where he shares his expertise to help Buckeye engineers excel.

“When you bring business and academia together, it can be very powerful,” Patel said. “I enjoy the opportunity to hear about what kind of research is occurring at the university and, in turn, provide views from the business standpoint on best preparing students to succeed in the work world. If that means students can realize their true potential, then it's very motivating to me.”

Soon Patel will start a new chapter in his career. He will retire from LyondellBasell at the end of the year and become the top executive at W.R. Grace in 2022, where he hopes to continue to make an impact.

“It's not your title that defines who you are. It's your actions and the impact you have,” Patel said. “I want to be able to make a difference and that's really what I've focused on throughout my career.”

by Candi Clevenger, College of Engineering Communications, clevenger.87@osu.edu 

Category: Alumni