Paul J. Baduini
Class of 1972, BS
Paul J. Baduini’s father worked in the golf club/golf ball industry for a small company that was gobbled up by larger companies, which in turn were purchased by still-larger firms. As Baduini’s father moved up the ladder and from town to town, young Paul also moved. New Jersey, where the family started, turned to Pennsylvania, and then to Ohio, Michigan, and lastly Illinois.
The bouncing around was good practice for Baduini’s career. During a 30-year job at Rohm and Haas Company, he moved across the United States and then to Mexico and Brazil. Along the way, he also moved from the engineering floor to the board room, where he excelled at managing, with thousands of employees and hundreds of millions of dollars in yearly budgets for the Philadelphia-based company.
Baduini’s first move on his own was from home to college, when he came to Virginia Tech to study chemical engineering. He arrived in 1964, made keen on the area by a family friend. Baduini found a new love for the rural, a strong remove from his youth near Chicago and Philadelphia. “I found I liked the rural atmosphere a lot,” Baduini said.
But Baduini’s education at Virginia Tech would hit a snag in the form of the Vietnam War. Facing the draft and wary of a stint in the army, he enlisted in the Air Force and found himself stationed in Italy working on duties that included Cold War military surveillance.
After several years of overseas service and getting married to a woman he met at Radford College (at the time a woman’s college), Baduini returned to Blacksburg. While pursuing his degree, he worked in food services as a waiter, while his wife worked in an administration building. Upon graduation in 1972, he landed a summer job at Rohn and Haas’ Louisville, Kentucky, plant as a process engineer. He liked Rohn. The company liked him. Rather than leave for a master’s degree in chemical engineering, Baduini stayed.
Baduini enjoyed the challenge of the job, and the company’s unique niche as the world’s only trademark holder of Plexiglass and its venturing out into other products such as acrylic paints, finishes, and caulking. After seven years, Baduini found himself as production area manager of the Louisville plant, overseeing its Plexiglass acrylic sheet and molding powder units. He ran quality control, cost oversight, and safety and environmental performance, reporting to the plant manager, and overseeing a $20 million operation.
In 1982, Baduini was transferred to Rohm and Haas’ Latin America division as director of operations, where he oversaw one plant each in Mexico, Brazil, Costa Rica, Venezuela, and Columbia. He boosted technical support and showed strong business leadership by introducing business concepts that focused on quality over results/costs, and knowledge of not just plant floor machinery and work, but individuals.
By 1984, Baduini was manager of all operations in Mexico, including the opening of a new Plexiglass acrylic sheet maquiladora. He was charged with employing 152 workers and a $52 million budget. Thanks to loosening business regulations in Mexico, Baduini helped oversee training of Mexican workers in the United States, and expanded the new plant to become one of Rohm’s best financial performers.
The next several years through 1993 saw Baduini heading to Brazil, where he oversaw all operations in the region, in addition to Argentina and Chile. With the move, his responsibilities grew to 250 employees and a $145 million operating budget. Following in line with Mexico and Latin America, business laws and international trading regulations relaxed in South America, spurring Baduini to redesign supply lines and improve sales forecasts. His efforts allowed Brazilian plant operations to cross from red into black.
Of his gifts in working in constantly influx foreign markets, Baduini said his gift was to find and connect the gifts of others, plugging them into the exact needed position, be it in engineering or financial. “I was an engineer who knew a lot about business and a business man who knew a lot about the technology of the company and engineering,” he said. “I always saw myself as a bridge between the business side and the technology side of the company.”
Baduini, now a father of three, enjoyed the international work, becoming fluent in Portuguese and Spanish. His children, two born outside of the United States, were able to enjoy internationally diverse childhoods from birth. The children learned lessons of life, culture, and geography found in no classroom.
Baduini’s rise at Rohn and Haas pointed him back to one place: Philadelphia, where he was tasked with running the company’s ion exchange resins division in 1993. Atypical into any international movie cliché, the family actually had some difficulty fitting back into the American lifestyle. “Some children [had] probably never left their own town,” Baduini said, adding that small-town culture was very different from Mexico City and Sao Paulo.
Baduini’s running of the resin division turned around an aging business model that was bleeding $15 million per year. Decisions were difficult as they often are in managing a multi-tiered, multi-national company. He cut three of nine plants and reduced product offerings to turn the unit around to profitability, to some $250 million in sales. He also helped win the division a “Star” award from the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, its highest level of recognition.
It was the first award of its kind for Rohm and Haas. The strong efforts and know-how of the company from the top suites to the factory floor only spurred on Baduini’s rise at Rohm and Haas as he was named vice president and director of engineering for the entire company. His new position included a $460 million capital budget and all tech responsibilities, including advanced process control. Through new, savvy capital plans and outsourcing non-critical Rohn elements to outside vendors, Baduini was able to cut expenses to $350 million per year.
Richard Peterson, who supervised Baduini’s during the latter’s Latin American ventures, said he has long admired Baduini’s people and business skills. “Not too many people have that combination,” he said, adding that Baduini smartly and coolly chartered his efforts in those foreign markets, where political upheaval and see-sawing inflation are the norm. “He could be dead serious, but he knew how to stay positive and he had a great sense of humor at the right moment,” Peterson said during a phone interview.
After 32 years, Baduini retired from Rohm and Haas in 2004. But he didn’t leave the industry altogether. For several years, he took his engineering and business suite knowledge and worked as a consultant, helping private equity companies invest in chemical-related industries. In short, he taught the MBAs how to know the inner workings and operations of chemical firms. His freelance work here took him, again, to international and multi-lingual markets for travel, including Australia, and closer to home in Puerto Rico.
Retired in California – he made a move from New Jersey to the Golden State just this past year – Baduini spends much of his time with nearby family or on the golf course. “The climate is spectacular,” he said, adding that shoveling Jersey snows is a chore of the past, not missed one iota. “We can play golf all year long. Our house here backs up to a golf course.”
His travel days are seldom now, except for a rare trip back to Mexico or Brazil to visit friends. Twenty-hour flights overseas, like the shoveling of snow, also go unmissed. A former member of the Department of Chemical Engineering Advisory Board, he visited Blacksburg twice a year, with Radford University – where he met his wife – nearby.
Looking back on his career, Baduini said he is a “jack of all trades and master of none.” Except adapting to change, of course.
Class of: 1972
Year Inducted into Academy: 2014