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Burns, Stephanie Ann

Published onAug 04, 2021
Burns, Stephanie Ann

(January 24, 1955 -)

Quick Facts

Alumna Stephanie Ann Burns is a chemist who served as President and CEO of Dow Corning from 2003-2011. She specialized in organosilicon science, spearheading moves to capitalize on the global market for sustainable products, especially the use of organosilicon materials in solar technology.



Burns was born January 24, 1955 in Torrington, Wyoming. Growing up, she loved math and science and was a diligent student. Her father was a history professor and college administrator who encouraged her to go for the biggest challenge.

Her family moved to Miami, FL where she attended community college. She was 19 when she and her husband had their first child while both were taking classes. Her mother encouraged her not to give up her career. She took off one quarter before returning to school, baby in a backpack. Burns said, “This was not going to slow me down. Whenever I was faced with a decision, I always chose education. I was one of the fortunate few who encountered very little, if any, discrimination.” She graduated with a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Florida International University/Miami.

She decided to pursue graduate work at Iowa State and study with Professor Tom Barton, someone she only knew by reputation and the recommendation of her chemistry professor. She said, “I had a strong interest in silicon chemistry. Barton treated men and women equally by setting very high standards and demanding a high level of perseverance.” Burns earned a doctorate in organic chemistry with a specialty in organosilicons which is the study of compounds made of carbon and silicon.

When she completed her degree, the natural choice was Dow Corning, the world leader in silicon chemistry. The company hired her and her husband, Gary, also a PhD chemist, as a dual-career couple and supported her decision in 1982 to pursue postdoctoral studies at the University of Montpellier in France for about a year.

Burns joined Dow Corning in 1983 in France as a researcher and specialist in organosilicon chemistry. Burns conducted much work into silicones, exploring new ways to make heat-resistant rubber and is credited with inventing a new silicon-containing polymer for which she holds a patent.

She gradually worked her way into Dow Corning corporate management. In 1993 she was put in charge of leading women’s health at the time of the controversy over the safety of silicone breast implants. She had a combination of understanding about business, health care and the life sciences and could communicate well. She attended court proceedings, testifying as a scientist. Burns was also part of Dow Corning’s Chapter 11 management team.

In 1997, she relocated to Brussels initially as director of science and technology for Europe and then as director for two of Dow Corning’s industries, electronics and life sciences. Dr. Burns served as Product Development Manager where she led advances in ultraviolet curable coatings and materials for device protection and electronics adhesives.

Upon her return to the United States in 2000, Burns was appointed executive vice president of the firm for global operations and three years later became its president, the first woman to do so. She served as the President and Chief Executive Officer from February 2003 to her retirement in December 2011. She also served as Chief Operating Officer from January 2004 to May 2011 and as Chairman from January 2006 to December 2011. She served on the Board of Directors at Corning Incorporated in 2012 and also served as a Non-Executive Director.

Under her leadership, Dow Corning expanded to more than 7,000 its inventory of silicon-based products. She oversaw extensive diversification of the company’s reach, geographically and into new markets. Among the most significant of these transformational shifts was her early commitment to renewable energy. Under her guidance, Dow Corning spent approximately 5 percent of sales revenue on research and development and consistently introduced new and innovated products and solutions for customers, fueling company growth. She spearheaded Dow Corning’s investments in emerging markets including China, India, Russia, Turkey and Vietnam.

Her vision translated into business success: Dow Corning’s sales grew to the 2009 level of $5.09 billion from $3.37 billion after she became CEO in 2004. Dow Corning’s 2009 net income reached $579.6 million, up from $238 million during that time.

During this time, Dr. Burns maintained an energetic schedule of appearances before government committees, visits to presidential cabinet officers and interviews with journalists to advocate for expansion and development of advanced manufacturing. She was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President’s Export Council. She consistently and eloquently, internally and in public, enhanced awareness of the megatrends shaping the future of the planet, urging scientists to press for silicon-based solutions to water shortage, energy poverty, urbanization and healthcare.

Burns served as honorary president of the Society of Chemical Industry, as chairwoman of the American Chemistry Council and on numerous boards, including those of the Michigan Molecular Institute, Society for Women's Health Research, the Kellogg Company, HP, Inc., ManpowerGroup Inc, Chemical Bank and GlaxoSmithKline plc. For several years she was on Forbes magazine’s “100 Most Powerful Women” list and was recognized in 2010 by Financial Times as one of “Women at the Top Ranking” of 50 prominent businesswomen around the world.

Dr. Burns adopted science education as a special personal focus, promoting teacher training, scholarships and events that bring together students and educators for hands-on chemistry activities. She received the 2006 Vanguard Award from the Chemical Education Foundation in recognition of her advocacy.

In 2011, Dr. Burns was the first woman awarded the prestigious International Palladium Medal in recognition of her distinguished contributions to the chemical industry and to the enhancement of the international aims and objectives of the Société de Chimie Industrielle. The medal recognized the enormous contributions she made to the success of her company and her service to the chemical industry as a hardworking and innovation-minded chemist and industry promoter. Burns also was appointed by President Barack Obama to the President's Export Council.

Selected Sources › Community, American Institute of Chemical Engineers, 2010.10.20

Wikipedia -

"Dr. Stephanie A. Burns, Chairman, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Dow Corning, to be Awarded the 2011 International Palladium Medal". 2010-10-12.

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