Massimo Rebolini: Leading DowAksa to New Heights in Carbon Fiber

The 10 Most Innovative CEOs Making a Difference in 2024

The chemical industry is not where Massimo Rebolini began his career, but once he entered it, there was no stopping him from becoming one of the most dynamic, seasoned, and influential leaders in this sector. He is a formidable presence in the industry because of his penchant for innovation, appetite for learning, inherent curiosity, and love for traveling and exploring different places and cultures.

Today, as the CEO, Massimo is steering DowAksa, one of the leading carbon fiber producers in the world, toward continued growth and success in the global composites industry. One of his priorities is to create a safe environment for his employees so that they can share their ideas, learn from each other, grow, and carve out a leadership path for themselves. Massimo believes in shining light on people working for him and not himself. “People I selected allow me to be where I am today,” he says. “And I have never, never hired anyone that I thought could do less than me.”

For Massimo, his greatest achievement is the “pipeline of leaders” he has built. Many of these leaders, he says, are today in many leadership positions around the world. He feels a sense of pride when he sees on LinkedIn that the people who reported to him are: the CPO of Company A, the Vice President of Finance at Company B, or the CEO of a small company. “This, for me, is a big achievement,” Massimo says. He not only mentors and coaches people he works with but also learns from them. This reciprocal relationship of learning and mentoring is a cornerstone of his leadership philosophy, one that ensures continued growth and success for both his team and himself.

The Concept of Success

In the competitive world of business, success is often measured by wealth, status, and power. However, Massimo believes that the concept of success goes beyond these conventional metrics.

“Through my years of working in various multinational companies and cultures, I’ve come to understand that true success is multifaceted,” he says. He explains that it involves personal fulfillment, where one finds satisfaction and purpose in their work and life. For him, it also means making a positive impact, contributing meaningfully to one’s community and industry, and where integrity, respect for people, and protecting the planet are at the center of everything one does.

“Furthermore, true success requires continuous growth, constant learning, and evolving to meet new challenges and opportunities,” Massimo points out. This holistic approach, according to him, not only leads to a richer, more meaningful life but also inspires others to strive for a broader, more impactful vision of success.

Professional Journey: From Navy to Chemical Industry

Massimo has an impressive international and operational track record in the chemical industry. However, his career began far from this sector. Before entering the chemical industry, he traversed multiple other fields, each experience shaping him into the seasoned and exceptional leader he is today.

After high school, Massimo joined the Italian Navy, where he learned valuable skills, such as leadership, caring for people and peers, discipline, and punctuality. Massimo has applied what he learned in the Navy throughout his career. Following his brief Navy service, he enrolled in university and then ventured into the fashion industry. His career path soon led him to the sports sector, specifically the diving equipment space.

Massimo’s transition to the chemical industry began in 2004 when he joined Dow Corning, where he served in various leadership positions for over a decade. He then joined Dow. “Before joining DowAksa, I was the Global Commercial Vice President for Dow Consumer Solutions, a multi-billion-dollar business unit of Dow,” Massimo says. He was responsible for creating and delivering unique value propositions for customers, advancing and sustaining business growth, and increasing relevance with customers through the digital platform and sustainable innovation advancements.

As a young professional, Massimo was driven by his desire to live in different places around the world and engage with diverse cultures. “I believe that experiences gained through travel cannot be found in any books,” he says. He shares that he has never applied to his job what he learned at university.

Massimo aspired to travel from the very beginning, so he sought to work in an environment or a company that allowed him to travel globally and meet new customers. For him, it was also important that the company cared about people and the planet, focused on customer support, and prioritized innovation. “In Dow Corning initially and later Dow, I found many of these values,” Massimo says.

His successful career in the chemical industry has allowed him to enjoy working and living in several geographies, including Italy, Bahrain, Belgium, Switzerland, the USA, and now Türkiye. “I also spent several months traveling for business in India, Latin America, and Asia,” he adds. His intrigue with carbon fiber led him to his current position at DowAksa.

DowAksa: Producing the Material of the Future, Carbon Fiber

DowAksa is one of the few integrated carbon fiber and composites producers in the world. It is a joint venture that combines the strengths of two world-class companies, Dow, a global leader in providing materials science solutions, and Aksa, the number one producer of acrylic fibers.

“Our world-class manufacturing plant, equipped with advanced technology, is located in Yalova, Türkiye, within a 4-hour flight radius of Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), and Central Asia,” Massimo says. It is situated in a large composites and chemicals industry zone, occupying a 321-acre space alongside other Akkök Holding chemical companies, Aksa and Akkim. DowAksa employs over 850 people globally, while the entire industry zone employs 4,400 people.

Massimo explains that carbon fiber is a material consisting of thin, strong filaments of carbon, even thinner than human hair, essentially carbon atoms bonded together in long chains. The fibers, he says, are extremely stiff, strong, and light and are used in many processes, to create excellent structural materials. He also highlights that its unique mechanical properties make it the ideal material to tackle some of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as increasing the efficiency of wind turbines, reducing fuel consumption in vehicles, and strengthening infrastructure against earthquakes.

“At DowAksa, we have developed a game-changing pultrusion technology for this industry, combining carbon fibers with our proprietary resin to manufacture and release specially designed laminates for the spar caps of wind turbine blades,” Massimo informs. This accomplishment has enabled the company to secure long-term commercial supply agreements with the world’s leading wind energy companies.

People, Strategy, and Execution

Massimo, who joined DowAksa in February 2023, has taken multiple steps to transform the company and ensure it is well-positioned for future success.

“When one becomes the CEO of a company, they apply what they have learned throughout their career,” he says. So, in his first six to twelve months at the company, he focused on “People, Strategy, and Execution.”

Massimo strongly believes in the human element as a key differentiator in today’s business world. As CEO, he has shown genuine interest in the company employees as people, caring about how they feel and supporting their health and well-being. According to him, these factors have a tremendous impact on the company’s success.

One of his first initiatives was to create a psychologically safe environment where everyone feels comfortable speaking up and bringing forward ideas without fear of retaliation, and where inclusion, diversity, and equity are well understood and valued by all.

Massimo also focused on strategy, determining how it could be more executable and understood by everybody. For him, it is of “paramount importance” to have a simple, clear, and executable strategy, which focuses on what the company is good at and excels in the basics. This approach led to improved operational efficiency and the elimination of non-value activities.

“Some companies have the habit of trying to do everything,” Massimo points out. “In reality, the world’s most successful companies are those that focus on what they’re good at.” He emphasizes that a clear strategy, widely communicated throughout the organization, makes a significant difference.

Vision and Plan for the Future

DowAksa’s locomotive sector is wind energy. Massimo is committed to maintaining and strengthening the company’s position in this sector. He firmly believes that the company’s innovative technology and manufacturing excellence will drive its continued growth and success in the wind energy industry.

Sustainability plays an important role in shaping the future of composites. As DowAksa is a fully integrated carbon fiber manufacturer, Massimo recognizes that their responsibility extends far beyond creation—it encompasses the entire lifecycle of their products.

“Integrating our products into the circular economy isn’t merely a ‘nice to do’ gesture; it’s the only way forward,” Massimo asserts. This is the reason why they prioritize reuse, repurposing, and recycling initiatives with their partners worldwide.

A Day in the Life of a CEO

Massimo’s day starts early. He wakes up at around 5:30 a.m. and by 6 is in the car heading to the office. “Traffic in Istanbul is very challenging,” he says, and unless you plan to spend a few hours commuting, you better plan your time well.”

Once he has reached the HQ in Yalova, he usually has a coffee with a few night-shift operators in the newly built coffee-house. He bikes through the manufacturing plants to engage with staff. By 8:00 a.m., he is in a leadership team meeting where they discuss ongoing projects, address challenges, and set priorities. Around midday, Massimo often has a one-to-one lunch with one employee. He asserts, “Meeting our people individually and over lunch allows me to understand how they feel, learn from them, and whether we are doing the right things for our people and customers.”  The afternoon is filled with project reviews with different functional heads, getting updates on the company’s KPIs, and addressing any concerns.

After some personal time to unwind, he spends his evenings with family and then prepares for the next day. Massimo explains that this routine helps him stay on top of both strategic and operational aspects of the business while maintaining a balance between work and personal life.

He manages to achieve a work-life balance by setting boundaries, such as defined work hours and dedicated workspaces, prioritizing tasks, and delegating effectively. He also indulges in personal well-being practices, including regular exercise, like Pilates and swimming to help manage stress. Despite his demanding work schedule, he makes sure to spend quality time with family and friends and engage in hobbies to recharge.

Massimo is a people leader. Under his leadership, employees feel engaged and strive to do their best. He motivates them by communicating a clear vision, setting achievable goals, and recognizing and rewarding hard work. “Offering professional development opportunities, fostering a positive work environment with open communication, and promoting teamwork further enhance motivation,” he says.

Message to Aspiring Professionals

“Embrace innovation and never stop learning,” Massimo advises aspiring professionals. He encourages them to stay curious and open to new ideas, emphasizing that “the ability to adapt and innovate will set you apart.”

In his message, Massimo also highlights the importance of collaboration, which he believes is key to success. He tells aspiring professionals to build strong networks and seek mentorship from experienced industry leaders. “Finally, remain committed to excellence and sustainability in everything you do,” he adds. “The work we do today is crucial for creating a brighter, more sustainable future for generations to come.”