Beakers to Bonds: How Gloria Biard Formulated Her Path as a Product Development Chemist
In celebration of Women’s History Month, we caught up with one of our leading ladies, Gloria Biard, to discover her powerful story of challenges, tenacity, and perseverance. Learn how she formulated her career path in the field of chemistry, and how her history influenced her evolution to become a Product Development Chemist at LA-CO Industries, Inc.
Failure. It’s not a word many people these days seem comfortable hearing. Gloria Biard, Product Development Chemist, is a firm believer that the word failure is just that, a word. One that doesn’t need to be reframed. There’s much more substance to her beliefs about the definition of failure, as it underlies her motivation to conquer obstacles she’s faced while forming her career path in science and chemistry.
“My family moved here from Puerto Rico, probably late 40s, or early 50s. We moved into a German-Polish neighborhood, but I grew up in a Hispanic household. In those days, it wasn’t expected of girls to go to college or get a job that required higher education. It was more along the lines of getting married, having babies and that’s the end of it. So, I didn’t go (to college) right away,” Gloria reminisces.
“Even in high school,” she continues. “I was told, unless you’re a straight-A student, you’ll get a job as a file clerk. That’s what you should aspire to. It always stuck with me in the back of my mind.” That statement, on top of being a self-proclaimed average student who struggled with advanced mathematics, triggered Gloria to make a life-changing decision in her 20s. She decided to enter college in the field of chemistry. “I decided to pursue something difficult for me. Something that would discipline me,” Gloria recalls. “So first, I took a lot of math. When I began to take chemistry, I realized how much I enjoyed the subject and became immersed in my studies.”
Through dogged determination, Gloria achieved her goals and obtained her degree in organic chemistry with a minor in math. She was the first in her family to break the mold, go to college, and graduate. “It wasn’t easy. I worked full-time and went to school part-time. It took me about 8 or 9 years to finish.,” she says, “When I got that degree, it was an affirmation that I had the drive. That I could do it. I didn’t need somebody telling me I could be a file clerk when I could be a chemist.”
After graduation, Gloria began looking for her first job in the field. The goal was to be able to support herself and stand on her own two feet. “I thought I could just work for a place doing tasks like washing beakers all day or be a lab tech,” Gloria remembers. “But my first manager, he saw something in me. He thought that I would be a good research and development person. That became my first position.”
Gloria studied, researched, and learned during her time in R&D. She found that she had a natural skill for it and gained the confidence she needed as an adult entering the workforce at a later stage in life. This instilled an excitement for her work that she continues to carry to this day. When asked what she likes the most about her field, she says, “It’s challenging. You have the science to prove what you’re doing is right. The challenge is developing a formula that will work. You also need creativity to think out of the box. I’m good about that.”
Making ink or paint doesn’t follow an exact science. “It’s a little bit of everything – science, math, materials, and creativity – it’s like cooking.,” she says. “You can make up a recipe based on theory and know-how or have one ready to cook. Sometimes it doesn’t work. You need to keep trying with different variables. Once you have success, it makes up for everything else.”
Reinforcing her outlook on failure, Gloria emphasizes the need to be willing to keep trying and problem-solving, no matter how many times it takes. “You have more failures than successes in the development industry. The science of chemical reactions doesn’t necessarily achieve what you’re attempting to put into place.”
“Development failures are roughly around 90% and the success rate is about 10%,” she continues. “You need to be thick-skinned; should love the science that goes behind it and enjoy working in a lab-type environment. It's fun, it's challenging and it's frustrating. It’s for the type of person that’s not willing to give up. To me, that’s the satisfaction of being in this field and my definition of achieving success.”
There were more successes and failures on Gloria’s journey. When asked what she considers one of her most memorable lab moments, Gloria recalls something she learned from her beginnings of product development. “Once I had developed a product for a company that was never tested in production. It didn’t work. That became a lesson learned to never develop without verifying success in production. It’s not that you’re failing, but you’re learning along the way. You find out what not to do and what doesn’t work the way you may have expected. That leads to success down the road.”
Gloria says her defining moment came when she received Excellence Awards for the innovation of two products that were developed for the Electronics and Semiconductor Industries. “I wasn’t expecting it (the awards) but that was the moment for me,” she said. “It was a team effort and that’s the moment where I thought, ‘I’ve made it.’”
Achieving success has never been a solo endeavor according to Gloria. She fondly cites several people along the way that had an impact on the way she views life and her career. “My mom became such an independent woman when she came here,” she says with a proud smile. “She didn’t know English, so she had to learn. She didn’t have a choice. She had to do what she had to, to survive. She worked many different jobs and was an incredibly strong person. She was very creative; I think I got that from her.”
Included in her attributions were mentors and managers that put faith in her abilities during a time when she was having doubts. “They were instrumental in helping me,” Gloria credits. “I can’t say I’m successful because I did this, or I did that. It’s always a team effort. My success was dependent on everybody that’s helped me along the way. My success was their success.”
That’s a mantra that Gloria carries forward through her work at LA-CO Industries, Inc. For over twelve years, Gloria has had her hand in developing many popular products for the globally known Markal® brand, which makes marking tools for industrial professionals, tradespeople, and DIYers all over the world. She’s also a point of technical contact as one of LA-CO’s Lab Tech Experts, assisting customers with product questions and technical information.
“I started right off the bat at LA-CO Industries in R&D. It was a completely different industry for me since it was paint,” she says. “It doesn’t matter what you formulate with because you have that knowledge. Solvents will react a certain way, resins, and so on. My manager at the time was Tim Torkelson and he was great at this. He showed me how our products are made, and with his guidance, I was able to come up with new products and modify others.”
“We have several product categories,” she continues, referring to the brands Markal® markers, LA-CO® chemicals, Tempil® temperature indicators, All-Weather Livestock Markers®, and Tempilink® inks for specialty applications. “I’ve been fortunate to be involved in processes for each one of them, developing, modifying, or helping in production. There are so many different products that we develop and manufacture at LA-CO Industries; it's always an interesting and exciting challenge."
Gloria has had her hand in development across a spectrum of products, from livestock markers to sterilization inks, and even more recently formulations designed for aerospace. To name a few products specifically, Gloria has worked with many of our liquid paint markers like Paint-Riter®+ Rough Surface (XT) and Paint-Riter®+ Heat Treat (HT), as well as solid paint, like All-Weather® Paintstiks® and the Quik-Stik® line of markers.
She’s additionally embraced opportunities to mentor and help recently graduated interns get started looking for positions within the field. Whether it’s testing out the latest formulation or shaping the upcoming generation of chemists, Gloria’s style is thorough explanations that include why she does something, not only how.
“Some people don’t give an intern much guidance or advice, but there's a reality to life. When you're younger, you're on top of the world and think you have nothing to worry about. Life is not easy, or always black and white. It’s gray. You must be flexible. If you want to do something that you like, you should sit down and write what you want to do. From there, go and seek positions that interest you,” she advises. “They’ve always called me the Lab Mom for things like that.” By the grin on her face, you can tell she loves the nickname.
When asked what it’s like working in the lab at LA-CO Industries, Gloria smiles and says, “We love the lab, we have fun, we work, but we laugh and enjoy our jobs. If somebody needs something or struggles, we’re there to help each other. We sometimes disagree with each other, but at the end of the day we have each other's back.”
Well, it’s time to get back in the lab, Gloria. There are more "failures" to explore to reach the next innovation in industrial marking. 😉
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