Being on the cutting edge is a part of Fernando Borrego’s daily life. As one of the top legal minds at BASF Corporation, the world’s largest chemical producer, Borrego must be an analyst, a scientist, and always stay one step ahead as counsel. As associate general counsel for BASF, Borrego says he gets to combine all of his passions into one job and loves what he does every day.
Growing up, Borrego had a strong interest in chemistry, biology, and everything science. Figuring out how things work, and why, was endlessly interesting, and he planned on becoming a scientist. But, while earning a degree in chemical engineering from Wayne State University, he realized there might be something else he was interested in—law.
Just after graduating from law school from the University of Michigan, Borrego joined Procter & Gamble (P&G) as an in-house patent attorney. P&G recruits patent attorneys right after graduation for a rigorous and comprehensive training program on patent preparation and prosecution.
“It was an excellent program and formed a great foundation for my practice over my entire career,” Borrego says. After six years with P&G, he moved on to a law firm where he worked contractually with chemical companies. For months, Borrego tried to get BASF to be one of his clients. He struck out, but the BASF offered him a job in-house, instead.
Borrego joined BASF in 1996. “I had this eureka moment,” Borrego says. Even though he might not have put his dream job into words before, he had found it. “This job satisfies both my analytical side and my scientific side,” he says. “It’s very challenging and interesting. Every day is different.”
Borrego’s unique background helps him succeed. Over his two decades at BASF, Borrego has seen the industry and the company through a number of important changes. Much of what Borrego focuses on involves supporting the company’s intellectual property; including patents, trade secrets, copyrights, licensing, research agreements, and other complex transactional work.
“The greatest thing I’ve learned is that change is always constant,” he says. “I’ve learned to become comfortable with change. I look at challenges as opportunities to make me better, to make me think.”
Borrego is constantly working with different project teams on different tasks in different technology fields. “Stepping into new projects keeps work fresh and really interesting,” he says. “You have to be quick on your feet and quickly shift from one set of issues to another.”
“The greatest thing I’ve learned is that change is always constant. I’ve learned to become comfortable with change. I look at challenges as opportunities to make me better, to make me think.”
Some of those issues are on the business side, while others involve using the company’s innovations to think about how to change the world.
“BASF is the world’s innovation leader,” Borrego says. “We talk a lot about using the chemistry we’re developing here to find long-term solutions to environmental and economic problems to create a more sustainable future.” That includes discussions about how to feed the world’s growing population and get clean, safe drinking water to people in all corners of the globe.
While scientists are hard at work trying to find answers to the planet’s tough questions, Borrego is busy protecting what they discover. “My role is to protect those innovations so BASF can bring them to the marketplace for both public and company benefit,” he says. He also plays an important role in mergers and acquisitions for BASF, including a large deal several years ago that dealt with a business-swap with Honeywell, Inc.
“Both businesses were fairly large, so the transaction itself was very complicated, but interesting,” Borrego says.
Constant change has not only been present in Borrego’s work life but also in the city of Detroit, where he has lived and worked for decades. In Detroit, Borrego wants to get involved with promoting STEM education to students, particularly minorities and women who are not entering the sciences in large numbers. “I want to motivate kids to take a look at those fields and think about finding their own interests there,” he says. “I had people in my own life that encouraged me, so I want to pay it forward.”
While the city has been through a difficult time recently, Borrego says all signs point to resurgence. For a city in recovery, just like in building a successful career, Borrego says creativity is key. “Don’t always go back to your stock answers for questions that you get time and time again,” he says. “Keep an open mind to all possible solutions and think innovatively and strategically.”
“Right now is a great time for Detroit,” Borrego adds. With a new mayor, a retooled, smaller auto industry, and an influx of young people moving to the city to open new restaurants or businesses, the future looks bright. “It’s had it’s challenges, but I think the best days for Detroit are ahead.”