Continuing the series of diversity and inclusion themed profile interviews with leaders in the chemical industry, we were delighted to connect with Bernard Skeete, Vice President, Global Controller and Principal Accounting Officer at Trinseo plc, the speciality material solutions provider focused particularly on the manufacture of plastics, latex and synthetic rubber.

Bernard gives some fascinating insights into his life and career journey, coming to the US from Barbados at the age of five, graduating from university, becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) and embarking on a varied career with multiple roles. The diversity and inclusion agenda has always been important to Bernard and it’s a journey that he’s helping to shape at Trinseo, recognizing there is always further to go. Mentoring and developing others has been a focus for Bernard throughout his career — and he has benefited from a number of mentors himself — as he reflects on the qualities of leadership that help build inclusive, talented teams which can meet and exceed their goals.

Tell us a little bit about yourself including what your first job was and how you landed it?

I was born in Barbados and came to the States when I was five years old. After graduating from Saint Joseph’s University, I started full time in a Big 6 Public Accounting firm. Over time, I have accumulated experiences in various industries through my career and held multiple roles as auditor, plant controller, financial, planning & analysis (FP&A) and corporate controller.

My first real job was camp counsellor for a camp for lower income children in the city of Philadelphia through the Archdiocese of Philadelphia. Through the assistance from my then pastor and recommendations from existing counselors, I was successful in obtaining the role. That has been a common theme in my career: every opportunity has come through networking and relationships previously built. Valuing others and their opinions really matters!

Today, I serve as the Vice President, Global Controller and Principal Accounting Officer for Trinseo Plc. Trinseo is a specialty material solutions provider that partners with companies to bring ideas to life in an imaginative, smart, and sustainability-focused manner by combining its premier expertise, forward-looking innovations and best-in-class materials to unlock value for companies and consumers. From design to manufacturing, Trinseo taps into decades of experience in diverse material solutions to address customers’ unique challenges in a wide range of industries, including consumer goods, mobility, building and construction, and medical.

I am a member of the National Association of Black Accountants but have served in many capacities in the organization. I am also Vice Chairman for Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Youth Advocates supporting foster children in our Delaware & Chester Counties. I also served as Chairman for one of my former employer’s African American Network.

Generally, I pride myself on going beyond the numbers and understanding the business/ industry in which I work. I believe that if you are willing to listen you can learn from everyone around you, no matter their level, role or experience. We are all made up of different experiences and its great to appreciate those differences.

What is the most challenging part about your current role and what is the best part of your role?

One of the more challenging aspects includes staying current and understanding the impacts of changes as Trinseo moves forward in its transformational journey. One of the best parts of my role includes watching members of my team succeed in their careers and take on more responsibilities.

What career accomplishments are you most proud of?

I am very proud of becoming a certified public accountant (CPA) — the only one in my family. I’m also very happy that I’ve been able to mentor and develop leaders inside and outside of the company. Watching people’s careers blossom and knowing that I may have added value to them, even if just a tiny bit, is extremely satisfying.

I believe that if you are willing to listen you can learn from everyone around you, no matter their level, role or experience.

Bernard Skeete
Vice President,
Global Controller and Principal Accounting Officer at Trinseo plc

During your career journey, did you have a mentor or champion for your career growth, and if so, what was the most memorable thing they did they help you?

Like many others, I have been fortunate to have many coaches, mentors and silent supporters along the way in my career. Even though I have changed companies several times, these coaches have stayed with me, serving as an invaluable sounding board. From very early in my career, they helped me understand that what’s important is to control what you can control — and manage those things you can’t. Dwelling on what you can’t control doesn’t help you keep moving forward. My mentors have also been there, when needed, to help pick me up from mistakes, learn from them, and keep progressing.

What was the most valuable career advice you have received?

Someone once said to me, “Bernard if I didn’t watch you, I wouldn’t know all the good things that you do.” What I have taken from this is that you shouldn’t be afraid to share what you do well with others. There is a manner to highlighting your successes without being arrogant. It is okay to be humble and have humility while sharing some of the good work that you do with others, especially if you often work independently.

What’s more, even though you may be an introvert, it doesn’t mean you can’t engage and connect with others. I have found success by reaching out to all functions and understanding what happens in the business. It helps me do my job better.

Can you tell us what Trinseo is doing to support diversity and inclusion within the organization?

The pursuit of a diverse organization should be deliberate and unapologetic. As a global organization, diversity at Trinseo takes on many forms beyond the obvious ones of color and gender. It also includes others such as nationality, childhood experience, and/or religion.

In the DE&I space, Trinseo is just embarking on this journey, and we recognize there is progress still to be made. It has always been part of our core values to treat all those with whom we do business with respect and integrity, and with that value as the foundation, we continue to work to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace for our employees that fosters innovation and creativity.

Diversity is one of our global strategic objectives and part of our definition of high performing teams. Additionally, creating a more sustainable workforce is one of our 2030 Sustainability Goals. These objectives have steered us to become more focused on broadening our recruiting efforts, expanding our board representation, and openly supporting external organizations. In fact, we are in the process of hiring a new DE&I and Culture Leader to lead this charge.

We are taking steps such as these as we aspire to not only achieve company goals, but most importantly ensure our culture represents our core values, so our employees can bring their whole selves to work every day.

When you look around the global chemicals industry, do you feel that there is enough representation of diverse groups in senior leadership roles?

There is always room for continued growth, but progress is being made. We need to ensure we maintain the momentum.

What more could be done by both the industry and government to help improve diversity?

We all need to maintain continued awareness of the issues and keep up our willingness to have the conversation. The pandemic has significantly changed how we work and interact, so considering all of the possibilities will help continue to drive innovation and reinforce success.

As a leader yourself from a diverse background, do you feel greater responsibility for championing diversity? Are there specific things you are doing to support and mentor the next generation of leaders in Trinseo and in your community?

It’s not that it is necessarily a greater responsibility, but as a leader and officer in the organization it certainly is my responsibility to cultivate all talent, whether that’s in my team as a whole, amongst those influenced by me, or in my wider community. It is important to be a good listener, and to actively engage in the conversation and call a spade a spade! It is also my responsibility to understand that I always represent more than just myself in all my endeavours.

As I mentioned, one of the best parts of my job relates to developing my team. I try to accomplish this goal by continuing to mentor even those no longer working directly for me, participation in the community organization mentioned above, providing insights to my own children and being willing to engage in the conversation.

Is there anything else you think is important in improving diversity in the industry?

There are several things.

Don’t be afraid if someone is different from you.

Be a good listener — sometimes you may learn so much more that way.

If you’re a leader aspiring to bring about positive change, ask yourself what type of leader you want to be both in perception and actuality — then strive to achieve that.

Ultimately, our goal as leaders should be to bring the best talent together to achieve and exceed common goals. To do this, how can we not operate in a diverse environment?

The pandemic has significantly changed how we work and interact, so considering all of the possibilities will help continue to drive innovation and reinforce success.

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The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of KPMG International Limited or any KPMG member firm.

KPMG’s participation and contribution in this regard is not an endorsement, sponsorship or implied backing of any company’s products or services.