Larisa Bondar, head of SIBUR’s tire rubbers product group, is an enthusiast with an inquisitive mind. In just a few years she became a prominent expert in her field, both in Russia and abroad – to a great extent, she owes her success to being inquisitive, insightful, and open-minded.
I am very grateful to my parents who let me try my hand at anything. My craving for exploration and learning new things motivated me to participate in almost all the afterschool projects that were available in our settlement. Starting from elementary school, I had no spare time, I was always busy with one project or another. Playing the spoons, dancing, singing, sculpting, sewing, embroidery, swimming, jumping, running – I was allowed to try anything. If I wanted to join some afterschool group, it was ok, if I wanted to switch to another group, it was fine too. The only thing my parents were firm about was music. I was adamant about studying at the musical school, I wanted to learn to play the piano. My parents could not afford to buy a piano and gave me an accordion instead – “half of a piano”. I studied for three years out of five and got bored. But my parents were firm: “Honey, we have been paying for your lessons for three years. You are halfway through and you want to drop out without a diploma? It was your idea. So see it through.” My ordeal continued for several months. I was in my teens and all I wanted to do was hang out with friends and laze away, but instead, I had to deal with the musical school. I think my parents did the right thing, though. It was a good lesson that helped me to reconsider how I spend my time and resources and what result I want to achieve at the end of the day.
I also enjoyed the theatre group. Members of the group were exempted from school in December: we were busy with matinees for elementary school kids. I never got the part of the Snow Maiden because I was not a blonde, but I played many other parts. The funny thing is, is that I hated learning poetry by heart, but 40-page scripts somehow went down well enough. I guess it depends on your goal. It is one thing when you have to learn Tsvetaeva’s poem to recite in front of the class, and it’s a completely different story when you can see kids’ eyes light up when you are performing for them.
The purpose of life is to live it: do something good and useful every day, find your own passion, and inspire others
My choice of occupation was rather spontaneous. It’s not that I decided that I wanted to work at a petrochemical company when I was 16 and graduating from the 11th grade. When I was a kid, I alternatively dreamed of becoming a surgeon, a vet and an archeologist. Eventually I chose a college near to where I lived, just for the sake of getting a diploma – it was the Geological Prospecting University. The surprising thing was that I actually liked studying there. I even dreamed of making a career in my area of specialization – “Undersea and onshore prospecting and development.” The prospect seemed very romantic to me: not only are you searching for something new, but you are doing in on the shore. Upon graduation, I started looking for a job in this area and soon enough discovered that field trips are a big part of it. To verify your knowledge, you need to go on a field trip to a remote area, live in a tent for three or more months.... It was a deal-breaker.
When I joined SIBUR in 2010 as a chief specialist in strategic marketing, I didn’t know the first thing about petrochemistry or organic chemistry. It was not an easy time for me. Half of the terms used in SIBUR sounded like gibberish to me. I spent my first two years in the company tackling the theory, learning from internal sources, internalizing information which my colleagues shared with me or which the company acquired. The old guard proved to be a great help: they were real pros, scholars who were passionate about what they did and happy to share their insights with me (V.L. Zolotarev, R.S. Galimzyanov, Yu.B. Grishina, etc.). And I never hesitated to ask questions. I also kept in touch with associations, both Russian and international: “How do you make calculations? How do you perform analysis? Where do you get these data from? Why do you think this information is true?” Three years later, I moved from strategic marketing to the position of product manager at a business unit.
IISRP experience and stereotypes
In 2014, I became SIBUR’s representative at the International Institute of Synthetic Rubber (IISRP). When I attended my first annual meeting, I was the only woman there and the youngest participant. I could tell others were wondering, “What are you doing here?” And I guess others could see me wondering, “Am I allowed to speak or will you not bother listening to me?” In short, my first meeting was not a picnic. It was a long, difficult journey, but eventually we learned to talk like equals. It took three years. I was behind some of the Association’s ideas and projects, which were put up for review at the international level and approved. The most obvious idea was to cut meeting costs by moving meetings from rented spaces to member companies’ offices; SIBUR’s office in Vienna was the first to welcome participants. There were also projects to simplify reporting for data transmission via platforms (without conversion to Excel), to produce a global synthetic rubber consumption forecast taking into account each producer’s view of the segment development in the region (regional GDP was used previously), etc.
The post of IISRP President is transferred from section to section: Europe, Asia, America. The European section always had several candidates. In 2020, I was elected by a general vote. Of course, it feels good. For the third time in 62 years since the foundation of the Association, a representative from Russia was elected to this post, and for the first time ever, a woman became president. Media coverage of the news was somewhat gender-colored, but it is fine with me. Standing out from the crowd is not a bad thing. What really matters is that SIBUR’s competence was recognized, and we deserve to be on this list.
In my career, I am driven by my inquisitive mind, my desire to learn more and to dig deeper: trying to do things differently, following through on projects (this reminds me of my musical school experience), and, I guess, good observation skills. It always pays to see how other people do things, why they do them this way, and how you can use it. I think this extends to any field or career.
It was a very important personal discovery, admission that all people are actually different and therefore particularly helpful. It was genuinely insightful as I used to believe that anyone could be trained to do something in the same way. They proved me wrong: it is absolutely unfeasible. Some people do things faster than others, some are broader-minded, have more profound visions, show higher accuracy... So, giving the right jobs tailored to each individual role is a creative challenge for any executive.
About the younger generation
Many today say that the quality of training among young professionals has deteriorated. I completely disagree. It’s not the quality of training. It’s an attitude to life. Today’s graduates have a different attitude towards themselves, their personal time and space. To me, it seems like a good thing. This does not mean they are poor performers. They are just not ready to sacrifice certain aspects of their lives for work, as we work to live. For life to be more fun, people need to do what they like. And if you feel that you are consistently sacrificing or enduring something, then you are doing something wrong or you are in the wrong place. Stop and don’t do it. This is true of personal relationships, hobbies, anything.
About personal and professional life
I’m a passionate person. To those who don’t know me, it might seem that I’ve sacrificed personal life for my career, but I am just passionate about what I do. It is impossible to separate personal and professional life when you spend most of your time at work. In my case, it’s two-thirds of my life. How do I draw a line? Of course, at home you may recall that you are a daughter who should eat and dress warm and needs to be comforted when hurting. But I believe that the principles of communication do not depend on whether you are at home or at work. The golden rule is to treat others the way you want to be treated. Period. No need to re-invent the wheel.
I wouldn’t say I have a lot of friends, but my social circle is wide. Like happiness: everyone has their own definition. For some, a friend is a person to have coffee with once a month. To me, a friend is a person capable of empathy who can also be a good ‘therapist’ (in the proper sense): be able to engage in a heart-to-heart conversation, stay silent together, and understand each other. There are always only a few people like this, I think.
For some, a friend is a person with whom you can have coffee once a month. For me, it is a person capable of empathy.
About recreation and leisure
I have enjoyed sports ever since school and gone to physical therapy – I love skiing. And I re-energize from creative activities and impressions. I paint and hope to learn to play piano, I take lessons occasionally. I love to travel to unusual places, reach the farthermost ends of the country, learn how to fish, for example. See a live whale, orca, or swim with the fur seals. One again, it’s about inherent curiosity, maybe some kind of anxiety... I dove into the Arctic Ocean, tried to live in the woods for two days, climbed a volcano in Kamchatka (Mutnovsky) - it was a stressful experience. My last trip was quite recently, to the Kola Peninsula, Titovka Bay. I traveled with my friends, we dove for scallops and sea urchins. Believe me: nothing tastes more delicious than the food you gather on your own! The Kola Peninsula has the wildest places: there’s absolutely nothing there. The road is long and uncomfortable, completed with a 40-minute ride on a rubber boat. But during the right time, you can find exemplary mushrooms, delicious berries, beautiful landscapes, fresh air, and tranquility.
I re-energize from creative activities and impressions. I paint and hope to learn to play piano, I take lessons occasionally.
About the purpose and meaning of life
My life is definitely not about one single goal. I just enjoy every day with excitement and dignity. And then at night, in my ‘mental notes’, I write down the useful things I did that day at work, for myself, and for my family. The purpose of life is to live it: do something good and useful every day, find your own passion, inspire others and maybe be somebody’s role model. I believe these daily baby steps make the world a better place.
There were failures, of course. Unmet expectations are frustrating. Of course, it is disappointing when you fail to achieve your target on the first or second try, but there is still no such thing as a negative experience for me. Any experience is valuable: when life gives you lemons, think of the lessons you can learn and avoid the same trap in the future. Although sometimes you might need to go over the same ground three times.
I believe that the principles of communication do not depend on whether you are at home or at work. The golden rule is to treat others the way you want to be treated.
About roles models
I don’t have a single role model. I have plenty of people around me to choose from: for example, I have a friend who is a medical director at a children’s hospice. I look at her and just can’t understand how she has so much kindness in her heart. At our plants, we have people ready to go out of their way to do everything right and well for the team. And we have people with big families and phenomenal hobbies who manage to successfully juggle life and career, the so-called multitaskers. My mother is an exemplary hostess: I keep wondering how her food is always delicious, how she finds time for everything and always makes the place beautiful. My father is a role model of commitment: if you begin something, then do it well. Otherwise, don’t even start... All these people build up into the puzzle of my personality. I want to learn from them and meet new heroes.