As Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Westlake Chemical, Steve Bender ’78 has been instrumental in many of the company’s financial decisions. Bender recently visited with Mays business honors students as part of the Mays Transformational Leader Speaker Series, which recognizes business leaders in today’s society and gives them the chance to share their expertise with Mays students.
Bender graduated from Texas A&M University with a finance degree, then went on to receive an MBA from Southern Methodist University. Bender was assistant treasurer at Halliburton and served as vice president and treasurer of KBR prior to joining the Westlake Chemical team as vice president and treasurer in 2005 and later made EVP and CFO. Bender wanted to share with current students the wisdom he has gained at Westlake Chemical after being involved in multiple company acquisitions during his time there.
The most significant company Westlake acquired was Axiall in 2016. “We believed this acquisition would enhance margin stability along with providing additional growth expansion opportunities,” Bender said. The acquisition gave Westlake a global presence with facilities in North America, Europe, and Asia.
However, the acquisition process was not an easy one. Axiall’s CEO and board of directors were not fans of the idea, and it took months of meetings and increasing the initial offer to finalize the acquisition. Even after signing the deal, there were many long days of tirelessly working to make sure the transition ran smoothly.
Through the entire acquisition process, the main lesson Bender learned was to be open to a diversity of views. “Challenge others without being challenging,” he said. “Recognize that not everyone has the same perspective, so coming to a consensus may not always be easy.”
Bender continued to provide other pieces of advice regarding students’ futures in the working world:
- A broad skill set is important. Use your skills and apply them as broadly as you can, and try to leverage those of your co-workers in the process.
- Always be truthful, even if it is not always pleasant.
- Be careful about burning out your own team. “Make sure your team sees the benefits and rewards that come out of working long days and nights so that they’ll continue returning every morning,” he said.
Bender closed the discussion by telling the students that what they are learning today has plenty of real-world applications. “Be opportunistic, don’t underestimate your relationships with others, and most importantly, use what you are learning today in the real world,” he said.
John Frederick ’18 said he found Bender’s “insights and experience worth paying attention to and listening to for years to come.” James Warman ’21 said these insights helped him “peer into the world of business and made me even more excited to enter the business world after graduation.”