Meet COS Distinguished Alumnus Eric Kuckhoff

Chemistry is something that Eric Kuckhoff ’84 knows well. It isn’t just the science behind polymers and reaction rates that this year’s Distinguished Alumnus from the College Science and president of the Alumni Association Board of Directors has mastered, but the delicate chemistry of business as well.

In 2002, Kuckhoff started his own company, Polystar LLC. The industrial chemicals manufacturer grew quickly from nothing to $50 million in just 10 years. He is currently vice president and general manager for North America at Cargill in the industrial specialties group.

Kuckhoff will be honored during Distinguished Alumni Award Week, April 11-15, in part because of his achievements as an entrepreneur and his contribution to RIT.

As with the chemical compounds he works with, Kuckhoff combined various elements to reach success.

He began his career at The Dow Chemical Company and then Cytec Industries, both large, multi-billion dollar companies. Kuckhoff thrived by listening to his customers and responding to their needs, but he saw gaps in these large organizations.

It was his innate desire to find solutions that led Kuckhoff to create and grow Polystar.

“There were so many missed opportunities,” Kuckhoff said. “What mattered to me was solving customer problems and creating an organization that could solve these problems, while doing it faster and better than the competitors.”

The relationships Kuckhoff forged during the early part of his career were also instrumental in Polystar’s creation.

The most striking example of this for Kuckhoff is the friendship with a former Cytec customer, which led to an introduction to the business partner who helped him start Polystar.

“The people around you ultimately come back around in ways that are hard to imagine,” Kuckhoff said. “You can never understate the value of relationships and hard work. Every now and then, you are going to have a brilliant person with a difficult personality who is successful despite themselves, but generally it is somebody who has the ability to form and keep relationships while delivering value.”

Another surprising element to Kuckhoff’s success—mistakes—ones which he feels fortunate to have made and learned from before Polystar.

“If you really want to be an entrepreneur, learn how to run a business from someone who already knows how to run a business. The real lessons are very subtle and not always obvious.”

The Distinguished Alumni Award is presented to a certified alumnus/a who has performed with distinction at the highest levels of his or her chosen profession or who has contributed significantly to the advancement and leadership of noteworthy civic, philanthropic, or service organizations over the course of many years. Those honored have brought distinction to their colleges and RIT through their professional, community and/or philanthropic achievements. Check back every Thursday for more from RIT’s 2016 Distinguished Alumni.


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