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Women in Business: Etsegenet Lemma & Sue Thomas

December 2011

Etsegenet Lemma was born in Ethiopia and came to the U.S. as a young girl. She graduated from Cleveland State University’s College of Engineering with a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. She joined Cytec Engineered Materials as a Process Engineer in February 2007, and she is now a Process Improvement Engineer.

Michael Walters, the Site Manager of Cytec, says, “Etsegenet brings her strong technical and analytical skills to solve our daily challenges. It is rare to find a good engineer with the great interpersonal skills.” Reggie Braud, the Manager of Engineering and Maintenance, adds, “Etsegenet is a solid engineer who has a thorough understanding of our processes and always finds a way to get things done. I wish we had two more like her.”

In Etsegenet’s leadership position, she displays a happy, positive attitude, and supports every member of her team. She empowers her peers by respecting her colleagues’ opinions. “When I make a mistake, I view it as an opportunity to rethink things and thereby learn.” She says that she’s not happy because she’s successful; rather, she’s successful because she is happy.

Etsegenet appreciates every opportunity that she has had at Cytec to learn the business and to work directly with Senior Engineers from her first day on the job. Together they created a mentoring environment where everyone is encouraged and enabled to do their best. Etsegenet says that safety at Cytec is a primary concern, and safety principles are practiced from the time she leaves her home in the morning; she practices defensive driving to and from work, and is constantly paying attention to safety issues wherever she is.

When asked what inspires her, Etsegenet says, “My American Mom and people with big hearts, people who see the whole world and their whole life. Smart people amaze me, but they don’t inspire me. I’m inspired by people who work hard and play hard, and by people who are willing to make changes. Faith in God inspires me.” When speaking of her career goals, Etsegenet strives to be aware and to understand every aspect of Cytec’s site, including its business and corporate strategy. To that end, she plans to obtain an MBA while continuing to work at Cytec. Her past accolades include graduating from the New Leaders Development Curriculum, earning a Master of Project Management Certificate and the 6 Sigma Certificate.

Etsegenet is engaged to be married, and in her free time, she is an avid reader who loves to write poetry. She believes in giving back and tutors inner city children, does Zumba three times a week, is a belly dancer, and supports her family’s interest in opening a restaurant. She loves to travel – she has been on six continents – and appreciates that travelling enables one to be more tolerant and well rounded. She is keenly interested in mentoring and setting a positive example for girls and women in her local Ethiopian community, as she aims to leave this life better off than she found it. She advises women to “know your stuff,” have something to offer and be confident. “It’s been a lifelong journey as a woman and a minority to wash away preconceived notions and to give people the opportunity to get to know me.”

Sue Thomas was a full-time student at Towson University while employed by Sweetheart Cup, where she worked for 27 years before joining Cytec Engineered Materials in 2003. She says it was daunting to leave one company to start proving yourself all over again in a new company and a new industry, but she felt the move was in the best interest of her son. She has never regretted taking the risk and loves Cytec’s small site, the diversity in their products, and the company’s family feel. She became the Inside Sales Lead in July 2010 and has run the department since 2011.

When asked to describe Sue, Michael Walters, the Site Manager of Cytec says, “Sue is a very conscientious, hard-working person – a model of dedication, commitment and thoroughness. She is very knowledgeable about the technical and functional aspects of her job, takes great pride in getting the job done well, and has worked to build a strong team around her that shares her work ethic and her passion for excellence.”

Born in the Philippines, Sue moved to Parkville when she was 15. She married and had a son, Eric, an Eagle Scout, now in college, who has always been her top priority. Widowed early in her marriage, Sue learned how to successfully raise a happy child while maintaining a full-time job. She realizes from her own experience that women are generally the primary caregivers of children and elderly parents, and they should not have to choose between their job and family. Taking advantage of mobile technology, a working mom in her department is allowed to stay home with a child if the need exists. Sue is understanding, compassionate, empathetic and flexible. She strives to cultivate an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect. When asked what leadership qualities she most values, Sue says without hesitation, “mentoring.” She admits that each new experience was scary, but she appreciates the fact that patient, approachable people were willing to mentor her and that she could trust them and ask for guidance.

Sue’s department deals with customer satisfaction, and employees in her department need to deal with stress. To counteract the triggers of stress, Sue explains that if someone is late infrequently, she tells them to just relax and get settled in before starting their work; if someone is upset, she invites them to “take a breather,” and she advocates taking a “mental health day” once in awhile.

Sue’s wake-up call came when she survived breast cancer, and life’s lessons have taught her to face down the stigma of being a single mom, not to feel sorry for herself, to thoroughly enjoy work, as well as the joy of cooking, baking, gardening, and taking floral arranging classes. She passionately advises everyone to maintain a family focus, to listen to your children and don’t sacrifice your time with them. Sue recalls more than one time when she sat next to Eric at the table while he did his homework and she did something for work. They worked side by side and were there for each other – she to help him with his homework and he would offer her encouragement to keep going.

Cytec Engineered Materials Inc.
Havre de Grace, Maryland
410-939-1910
www.cytec.com

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