Al Ribes

Six Sigma Master Black Belt

The Dow Chemical Company


B.S., Chemistry, Autonomous University at Madrid, Spain

Ph.D., Electrochemistry, University at Buffalo, The State University of New York

Al Ribes spent 10 years in an analytical sciences lab after graduate school, first working in liquid chromatography and both ambient and high temperature size exclusion chromatography, then setting up an analytical lab for The Dow Chemical Company overseas. When he returned to the U.S., Dow was instituting the Six Sigma work process and Ribes volunteered to be trained and help institute the process throughout Dow.

Six Sigma combines the scientific method, project management, and team dynamics expertise for business improvements and innovations. The training levels are set up on a “belt” system akin to martial arts. Beginners start out at Green Belt level and proceed to Black Belt or Master Black Belt level. Ribes took on his current role as a Dow Chemical Master Black Belt in 2007 and became certified in 2009.

Ribes' career as a Six Sigma Black Belt covered a diverse range of projects: analytical chemistry, supply chain, procurement, contract negotiations, and human resources projects. Ribes continued to earn advanced certifications and progress in the Six Sigma ranks: as an improvement Black Belt (known in the field as MAIC—Measure, Analyze, Improve, and Control); Black Belt certification on Six Sigma innovation techniques (known as DFSS Black Belt—Design for Six Sigma); and Six Sigma Technical Leader (known as Master Black Belt) responsible for consulting (providing advice), facilitation (guiding teams through activities), and mentoring (guiding how something is done).

The three key ingredients for a satisfying career are: passion, competency, and alignment.

Typical day on the job:

  • Facilitating the work of teams, brainstorming, making decisions, strategy planning, managing meetings (30%)
  • Data mining and data analysis (30%)
  • Teaching, coaching, and mentoring employees on the Six Sigma methodology (20%)
  • Providing advice (consulting) on improvements and innovation (10%)
  • Leading projects (10%)

My job is very diverse as I work with multiple corporate functions such as commercial (sales and marketing), supply chain, R&D, manufacturing, public affairs, and environmental health and safety.

My job gives me the ability to bring and apply expertise for the benefit and success of my colleagues and the corporation. A corporation is a generator of wealth and I feel extremely privileged to be part of it. I enjoy the diversity of my job and the fact that I interact with colleagues from all over the world.

Work environment:

I work with a computer in a personal office or in a conference room. I spend a lot of time in phone conferences working with coworkers in other locations.

Work schedule:

I typically work 50 hours/week. Overtime is not required, but the environment is fast paced. 

Tools you can’t live without:

  • Mind Manager for brainstorming
  • Information-structuring software
  • JMP statistical software
  • Tableau Data visualization software
  • SharePoint team collaboration software
  • Adobe Acrobat
  • Corel Designer Technical Suite
  • MS Office

Best productivity trick:

Use the methodology of Getting Things Done (GTD). GTD is a time-management method, described in a book of the same title by productivity consultant David Allen.

The GTD method advocates moving tasks and commitments crowding the mind by recording them externally and then breaking them into actionable work items. These prevent people from forgetting things, they bring structure and flow to work and, and they help with focusing on taking actions.

Best career advice you’ve received:

The three key ingredients for a satisfying career are: passion, competency, and alignment. First, find something to do which you are passionate about. Second, develop expertise on it, be competent, know your stuff, be the skilled go-to person. And third, make sure that this something that you are passionate about is aligned to what the employer or institution needs to have done, and is therefore appreciated and rewarded.

If you lack alignment with what your employer needs, you are spending your time on a hobby and your job could be eliminated; if you do not have the necessary skill, you'll always be a rookie and will not be trusted; and if you are missing the passion, then you'll always be condemned to doing chores and not able to extract much satisfaction from them. Find the sweet spot and work will never feel like work.

It is hard to guess how one is going to like a particular job, so talking to others that are currently doing that job about what is it like and what they like and do not like about it is a great source of insight. Better yet is to experience the job yourself through trial periods or internships.

Skills or talents that make you a good fit for your job:

Attention to detail and natural curiosity. Finding collaboration with people enjoyable.

Essential habit you wish you’d started earlier:

I wish I had started as an undergrad attending national ACS meetings and engaging as a volunteer in local sections, divisions, and committees of the ACS. ACS meetings have given me the opportunity to present my research work and to learn from my peers. I have developed as a professional and have built my professional network by volunteering in local sections, divisions, and committees of the ACS. I have developed my leadership skills by agreeing to lead subcommittees and committees.