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Dr. Alfred Oberholz (1952-2012)

By Rebekkah Marshall, with Kathrin Rübberdt, Dechema |


Last month, the chemical process industries (CPI) lost an influential leader. Dr. Alfred Oberholtz died February 2, 2012 unexpectedly. He was 59.

As former chairman of Dechema e.V. (www.dechema.de), Oberholz was often found at the center of a global stage. Dechema, after all, is the organizer of Achema, the world’s largest exhibition-congress for chemical engineering, environmental protection and biotechnology, which takes place once every three years, including 2012 (June 18–22; both Frankfurt am Main, Germany).

Whoever knew Alfred Oberholz immediately mentions his enthusiasm for innovation and his aspiration to think in unusual categories while also motivating others to do the same. Whether in his professional life or his many honorary engagements, he brought new things forward. He has left a large gap.

Oberholz was born in 1952. He studied chemistry at the RWTH Aachen and did his Ph.D. research with Professor Hammer and Professor Keim. He became a member of Dechema in 1977. His professional career started in 1980 at the Chemische Werke Hüls in the process engineering department. After having held several positions, he became a member of the board in 1998. From 2001, he was a member of the board of Degussa AG and from 2007 to 2008 a member of the board of Evonik Industries AG.

Throughout his life, Oberholz worked in honorary capacities. He stayed close to his university and was chairman of RWTH’s university council. From 2002 to 2008, he served on the board of trustees of the Fonds der chemischen Industrie, from April 2006 as its chairman. From 2004 to 2009 he was chairman of Dechema and from 2006 to 2008 chairman of ProcessNet, the joint platform for process engineering of Dechema and VDI-GVC (the Assn. of German Engineers — Society for Chemical and Process Engineering). After his retirement, he worked for regional projects like InnovationCity Ruhr, which aims at establishing an energy efficient model region.

In all his functions, progress was close to his heart. He always kept the actual issue in focus and did not accept structural limitations. The current shape of the European platform SusChem, which he chaired from 2005 to 2008, is a testament to his initiative and ideas. When he thought that cooperation would be useful, he brought disciplines and organizations together. Early on he recognized the growing importance of Asia and especially China and established contacts between Germany and China during his many journeys. He also spoke up for industrial biotechnology and did not stop at verbal support; when he deemed it necessary, he invested time for personal meetings with responsible parties in politics and funding organizations.

Right from the start of his chairmanship at Dechema, he actively shaped its strategic orientation. He put emphasis on formulating a clearly defined core mission that could give orientation for Dechema’s work. Even after his tenure, he made a significant contribution to the restructuring of Dechema as a member of the special commission of the board. Intellectual brilliance paired with sovereignty and the ability to express strategic visions clearly made him a personality who advanced ideas and enabled their implementation. His messages got through clearly, and he always was fair. In the board of Dechema, he promoted a culture of discussion and openness and encouraged everybody to actively participate.

Despite his calm and seriousness, he allowed his humor to show at appropriate occasions; whether at Achema Gala Night or the Max Buchner Evening, his lively speeches set the tone for many a societal event. His presence of thought, his sharp wit and his strategic mind set have greatly enriched Dechema’s work and given many impulses. We will miss Alfred Oberholz.

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