Skip to main content Skip to Footer


Connections with Leading Thinkers – Rafael Navarro

Armen Ovanessoff and Eduardo Plastino of the Accenture Institute for High Performance interview Rafael Navarro as part of a research project on collaborative innovation.

As part of the Accenture Institute for High Performance's mission to develop cutting-edge new ideas and insights, researchers often seek the views of academic leaders, business executives and industry analysts. The Connections with Leading Thinkers series captures some of those interviews, showcasing interactions and discussions with some of the world's leading experts.

Executive Rafael Navarro discusses innovation from the point of view of a highly innovative, large Brazilian company.

Rafael Navarro is the executive in charge of innovation management at petrochemical giant Braskem, a collaborative innovation champion. Eduardo Plastino of the Accenture Institute for High Performance interviewed him as part of a research project on innovation in the Brazilian economy.


Braskem has a large product portfolio. How do you focus your innovation efforts?

Our goal is to develop new technologies that meet Braskem’s specific necessities, which in turn are aligned with the company’s strategy. This is how we define where we will seek to innovate. One example is the development of chemical products with renewable raw materials. So far, we have achieved one huge success here: the development of our “green” polyethylene. But we are working on new projects in this area. In any case, at the end of the day, Braskem’s main objective is to produce, not to develop new technology. We develop technology because we need it for production. If the technology we require exists out there, we prefer to get the license to use it. Why would we enter the costly, risky process of technology development? Technology is the means to producing something, not an end in itself.

Braskem has become known as a fervent proponent of collaborative innovation, an approach still relatively rare in Brazil. How did the company conclude that this was the best option for innovation?

For us, it is a natural consequence of the realization that we do not, and cannot possibly, know everything. We work with people outside the company when we realize that we don’t have the necessary capabilities internally. For example, the capabilities needed in the area of biotechnology to transform renewable raw materials into chemicals are very limited in Brazil. We are developing those capabilities, but we still lag behind other countries. So Braskem has partnered with US biotechnology companies Genomatica and Amyris to develop “green” butadiene and isoprene.

How do you build a collaborative relationship with an innovation partner?

Having a common objective is absolutely key. You define your objective and then look for organizations that have the capabilities you need to achieve it. Of course, this means that each case is different, so you have to conduct a new analysis of the situation in each case.

Does Braskem prefer to collaborate with other companies or with universities?

It doesn’t really matter. The same logic applies to both. If you don’t have all the capabilities you need, you have to look for them elsewhere. And those capabilities may be in universities or in other businesses. So you have to, first, identify who has them; then, present them with your objective; and finally, discuss how you can collaborate with them. It’s also not an issue for us whether our partners are based in Brazil or elsewhere. Again, the same logic applies—what we need to find is a company or university that has the capabilities and skills required for what we want to do.

This makes sense, but how does this process work in practice? What kind of situation kicks off a collaboration?

It depends on the case. Let me give you an example. We recently entered the market for PVC tiles. This was not a Brazilian invention; the technology to build these tiles was already available in other countries. But, for various reasons, our customer could not use it in Brazil. So we brought our broad experience and worked with the client and additive suppliers, because the tiles are 50 percent PVC and 50 percent other inputs. This way, we developed a solution to meet the needs of the Brazilian market. How can a polymer be specific to a national market? Here’s a simple, but important example. In Brazil, fire-powered balloons are often used during the traditional Saint John festivity celebrations in June. It’s illegal, but very common. That means it is especially important for tiles to be flame retardant, which is a solution we were in a position to provide.

So in that particular case, your client learned a lot from you.

Everyone learned a lot from the experience. It’s very unlikely that people would be able to learn as much from, for example, any training program we could offer. Only collaboration allows this kind of learning. In fact, our experience overall indicates that developing something alone is very difficult. Collaboration levers the innovation process. We can extrapolate our experience to the Brazilian economy as a whole, because the country needs to determine how to foster this collaborative environment.

In this case, your innovation efforts were driven by a specific market demand. Is this always the case?

Our innovations arise from the strategy of different Braskem business units. These departments identify market opportunities and define their strategies. Based on those strategies, projects are designed and defined – and it is those projects that lead to innovations.

What is it like to collaborate with Brazilian academia on innovation?

In the end, it is all about people. Unfortunately, people who share interests with you are not very easy to find in Brazilian academia. They often have different objectives, especially publishing. In fact, this is a good example of how different objectives make collaboration difficult. And then, clearly, we also lack the collaborative spirit found in places such as Silicon Valley, where people often help first and only then see if that will lead to something relevant. But there are exceptions. For example, we have had excellent experiences collaborating with the universities of Campinas (UNICAMP) and São Paulo (USP), as well as the federal universities of Rio de Janeiro (UFRJ) and Rio Grande do Sul (UFRGS), among other important universities in the country.

How do you plan for innovation collaborations? Do you have established procedures?

It is difficult to create blueprints, because each case is different. The different actors involved, as I said, must share the same objective. But they also have different interests. So taking part in similar projects with a specific partner or set of partners will be at least slightly different from taking part in the same project with another partner or set of partners. You must be flexible and adjust to the interests of all involved, while staying focused on the shared, central goal. Moreover, circumstances always change as projects develop, and you have to adapt to those changes. This means you start your work with a plan and you finish it with a different plan. The only thing that doesn’t change is the objective.

What about internal innovation rules – things that must be done no matter what? Is there a place for them?

We have rules for innovating, as in all corporate activities. They exist because we think they are helpful. And for them to be helpful, it is paramount to remember that each case is different. So rule number one is flexibility to work with different partners and to adapt to changing circumstances. Let me give you an example. An essential rule is to have a contract with someone who collaborates with you. This contract lays out, for example, how each part will benefit from intellectual property rights that result from the joint effort. But our collaboration contracts don’t all have exactly the same terms. We do have a template, what we could call a relatively well-defined legal tool. But the final format of each contract will vary, depending on a number of issues, such as the views expressed by our partner’s legal department and the specifications of each project.

Thank you very much. This has been a very interesting and useful session.

It’s been a pleasure; thank you.


Learn more about Accenture Institute for High Performance

Read more Connections with Leading Thinkers