GBAL's Quarterly Feature, Women in Agriculture - Leaders, New Comers and Inspirers is also featured in the 2nd Issue of our new magazine, the BioAg World Digest! Read the latest issue!
Guldal Zeynep Bakirci, Managing Director of Lances Link Turkey Affiliate of De Sangosse Sas- France
Guldal Bakirci was born in Izmir to an Engineer in Agriculture and a Doctor in Medicine. She had no idea that she would follow the path of her father in Turkey’s agriculture industry of Turkey. She completed her school education in Istanbul then went to the University of Istanbul Faculty of Letters for a bachelor's degree in Psychology. Her father Hasan Bakirci established Lances Link Turkey with his American partner Bruce Blackwell. Today Lances Link is a member of French Groupe De Sangosse and is growing with the support of R & D know-how in the Turkish Agriculture Industry. Lances Link represents a tradition of trustworthy product submission with innovative technologies and enriched human resources for sufficient, maintained, and quality crop production in the Turkish food value chain since 1988.
Q1. Tell us about your career path. Your father was an engineer in Agriculture and convinced you to join Lances Link Turkey. How was your transition into Agriculture?
A. My career change was due to my father's will to incorporate my talents into the business he was running. I was not totally in cognition of the reality of the business he was performing; agriculture has always fascinated me because of the genuine productivity requirements of the human population's nourishing needs but I had no clue about how different parameters were involved in its humbleness. I had worked as a hotelier in the service industry for 10 consecutive years before joining Lances Link. I had to observe a long time the rural /regulatory and technical aspects of the agriculture environment from a very amateur point of view while developing my technical and sales skills for the first 5 years. I had a great chance to have my father around while I was his administrative assistant taking care of his entire agenda including my introduction to his network in terms of commercial customers, international suppliers, third-party contracted companies, and governmental officers for regulatory issues.
After 5 years of a total internship next to him, at our regulatory department and next to his colleague and partners in Geneva/Switzerland head office, I was finally in charge of the sales and procurement part of our business. The following 5 years were very challenging as I had to become the Managing Director when my father was getting ready to be retired due to his health conditions.
Q2. Agriculture has been considered to be a male-dominated sector. Though in recent times women have been observed taking senior management roles and leading organizations. Undoubtedly, there are challenges, what are some that you faced as a woman leader and how did you overcome those?
A. I was lucky to start with my father and therefore I had all the support necessary from the Turkish agriculture business environment. As the daughter of a well-respected agricultural engineer, I was neighborhood watched for many years while he was actively working. After I took over the Turkish management of the company, I had a considerable amount of challenges to face not only from our competitor companies, farmers, customers but from within my male-dominated team as well. I overcame and gained trust due to the hard work.
After the acquisition of Lances Link Turkey by Group De Sangosse in 2014, the challenge I had to face was even difficult not only due to the workload to reach new prospects and targets rather become one of the recognized Turkish agricultural product distributor companies in Turkey but also due to being a part of a French Group active in many different pillars in agriculture business. I believe talent comes within the nature of the person by birth and some talents especially are not exceptionally given to males or females, they are not selective of gender.
So, with this strong belief and commitment to work, constant practice with improved learning in various areas of the requirements of business, I acquired experience and trusted myself, and then eventually my environment trusted me. Knowledge is the essence of success together with talent. Neither of them works well alone and respect is well earned when you make wise decisions.
Q3. Agriculture is a very dynamic industry and has been revolutionized by innovations. What is going to be the next big leap in the agriculture industry?
A. The leap will be accomplished with the technological, digital, and innovative approaches combining synergetic solutions for sufficient production. The next revolution will be with the use of sufficient agricultural plant protection and plant nutrition products at the correct stages of the crop growth to get the optimum yield at harvest and preserving the world's environmental resources such as soil and water which are fundamental for the future of earth with increasing population. This is what we observe when we look around and see multinational and giant national companies acquire more and more small family enterprises who invest in the know-how of this type of research and development technology.
Q4. Based on your experience and journey, what advice would you give to a young woman trying to establish herself in the industry?
A. I advise young women to design their career path with patience to start with their education based on a future goal in agriculture as where do they want to see themselves. Education in agronomy with specific competence in the desired field is always going to assist them to achieve their goals on a solid technical background. I had to work much harder to learn the technical aspects of the soil, plants, crops. I would also recommend them to learn foreign languages and follow up the global novelties. Foreign languages are always an additional asset to a woman to climb the ladders faster in the men world. I speak and write French and English fluently along with Turkish and this support of languages surely made my way easier to walk along with better communication skills. Last but not least; I would emphasize the importance of dedication and concentration. Focusing on their targets and proper use of time will lead them to be appreciated and acknowledged.
Q5. What are your future goals for Lances Link and sustainable agriculture? How do you want to get there?
A. As I had mentioned previously, we are a part of Group De Sangosse today and we are much in line with the Group's general vision for developing the portfolio in Bio solutions which consists of "Biofertilizers, Biostimulants and Biocontrol" products for a green approach to protect the environment while nourishing soils and crops. This is our utmost aim and wishes for the development of agriculture in Turkey too. To divert our product variety from conventional to integrated pest management solutions with an enlarged portfolio coming from our group companies and our historical long-term partner suppliers within this perspective is our planned agenda for 2025. Each year we are investing an important sum of financial resources for the registration of these types of selected products at the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry counters. We also believe that investment in human resources for qualified sales and technical employees for the promotion and introduction of these types of products to the Turkish farmers is essential to reach our goal in this prospect and also a civic duty in regards to the protection of the national treasury of Turkey.
Natalie Hubbard, Ph.D., Vice President, Regulatory and Government Affairs, Pivot Bio, USA
Natalie Hubbard leads Pivot Bio’s regulatory program, managing Pivot Bio products through the process of international commercialization and ensuring compliance with regulatory requirements and stewardship practices throughout product life cycle. A trained plant scientist and trusted industry leader, Dr. Hubbard brings extensive experience promoting science- and risk-based policy for biological products. Dr. Hubbard joined Pivot Bio after a 27-year career at DuPont and DuPont Pioneer where she held numerous positions, including Director of Regulatory Affairs, as well as roles in product registration, biotechnology affairs, and research. While at DuPont, she led the company’s U.S. product registration and managed relationships with the USDA, EPA, FDA, and industry partners. She also represented the company in trade associations during a time of regulatory turbulence for crops derived from biotechnology. Dr. Hubbard earned her B.S. in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont, and her MS in Crop Science and Ph.D. in Plant Physiology from North Carolina State University. Her research has appeared in textbooks and numerous scholarly publications.
Q1. Tell us about your career path. You have been in Food and Agriculture industry for all your professional years. How would you describe your journey and what has been your favorite part?
A. After earning my undergraduate degree in Plant and Soil Science from the University of Vermont, I found my way to a farm in Anson County, North Carolina. The farm was operated by a non-profit organization focused on helping local growers become more productive as well as agricultural policy. Soils in the area were very sandy with little to no organic matter so I designed and implemented field trials using cover crops to determine the best management practices for subsequent crops. After four years with the organization, I enrolled in graduate school at North Carolina State University to pursue a Master's degree, which was a continuation of my work with cover crops and management practices. I then earned a Ph. D in Crop Physiology.
I rather reluctantly accepted a job at DuPont as a bench scientist in the Agricultural Biotechnology group promising myself that if I stopped learning, I'd move on. My nearly 30-year career at DuPont offered both professional and personal growth opportunities leading me to Registration and Regulatory Affairs at DuPont Pioneer (now Corteva). Novel products, both genetically modified crops, and biological products created opportunities for interacting with industry partners and regulatory officials to ensure risk-based approaches for bringing beneficial products to growers.
Now, at Pivot Bio, I built the Regulatory and Compliance program to ensure the safety, efficacy, and product registrations of our nitrogen-fixing microbes so we may provide a new source of nitrogen for farmers. I feel I've come full circle. I am proud to be a part of a game-changing company focused on providing tools to farmers so they can replace synthetic nitrogen fertilizer thereby helping the environment.
As for my favorite part – that's a difficult question but I'd have to say it is playing a role in bringing tangible beneficial products to growers. It's been a lot of fun and very satisfying.
Q2. You have held so many senior positions in your career and continue to do so. What gives you the confidence to go forward and motivates you to be a women leader in bio-agriculture?
A. I have tremendous trust in people and trust in myself. The food and ag industry is filled with wonderful people and groups that do good work. We may go about things differently or focus on different aspects but I firmly believe we reach for the same goals – supporting the food, fuel, feed, and fiber needs of a growing population while preserving the environment in which we live.
Teamwork is very satisfying to me. I believe in the strength of bringing diverse perspectives, experiences, and knowledge together. It is from these cross-functional teams that some of the best ideas and products emerge. It's been wonderful to see more and more women participating in agriculture and related fields over my career and to find more women contributing to these teams openly.
I said that bringing beneficial products to growers was a favorite part of my career, but it wouldn't be possible without the people that contributed. They have been a source of tremendous support and have made it a fun ride.
Q3. If you had to explain to a younger woman, how you succeeded in your career, what would you tell this person?
A. It's important to embrace new opportunities and challenges so that you continue to grow personally and professionally. I mentioned I was reluctant to go to DuPont and promised myself I'd leave if I stopped learning. I was given many different opportunities and challenges which helped me learn more about myself and jobs I never knew existed. Consolidation in the industry and fewer opportunities at the company led to my revisiting my decades-old promise to myself. Making yet another change and moving to Pivot Bio has been fantastic and I haven't looked back. So, my simple message is to embrace new opportunities and continue to learn.
Q4. What is your belief for the next generation?
A. There are so many new and novel technologies that can bring real change to agriculture while helping the environment. Like so many, I am concerned about the climate and extreme weather conditions. There needs to be a concerted effort to use new technologies in a way that serves to minimize our impact. I'm very excited to see so many bright people involved in new technologies that want to use those new tools in a meaningful way.
Q5. What are your future goals for PivotBio and sustainable agriculture? How do you want to get there?
A. At Pivot Bio, we are working every day to continue our efforts toward replacing synthetic nitrogen on cereal crops with nitrogen-fixing bacteria. We are focused on reducing nitrous oxide emissions and nitrates in our water. We recently introduced a new product, called PROVEN 49, which enables growers to further reduce synthetic nitrogen on their crops.
Pivot Bio has products for wheat and sorghum with plans to continue its rapid pace of product development and commercialization to help farmers be more productive, make their jobs easier, and help them pass their land and love for Agriculture on to the next generation.
Iryna Brovko, Ph.D., Chief Operating Officer (COO) of BIONORMA, Ukraine
Born on October 26, 1984, in a small town near Kyiv, she graduated from the Faculty of Biology of Kyiv National University, majoring in microbiology. In 2017, she defended her dissertation in ecology and has authored more than 60 scientific publications. At the beginning of her career, she worked in research institutions of the National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine and the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences. Since 2018, she has been working in a group of companies "BIONORMA".
Irina has 18 years of professional experience; she went from a lab assistant at a research institute to the executive director of a group of companies in the agricultural business.
Q1. Can you talk about your career path? How did you start your career and is this you always wanted to do?
A. From the 2nd year of University I started to work at the Institute of Microbiology and Virology Ukrainian National Academy of Sciences as a laboratory assistant, and later, as an engineer. Initially, I was engaged in soil microbiology, a science that is inextricably linked with plants, and the agricultural sector. Thus, I devoted 12 years to the study of soil microorganisms and their relationship with plants at the institute.
Then there were postgraduate studies at the Institute of Agroecology and Nature Management of NAASU, where I studied pesticides and their effects on soil microorganisms. At the same time, I became the head of the laboratory of the ecology of microorganisms. And about the same year, the BIONORMA group of companies was born, where I was first the head of the production, then the director of the science department, the director of science and production, and I am the executive director.
Q2. What has been your motivation to become a leader that too in a new segment of BioAg?
A. For me, the countryside, agriculture, and later agribusiness have never been unattractive or uninteresting. I grew up in a very modern affluent village, where at that time, both crop production and animal husbandry were developed. There were vegetable growing, and large orchards. Employees of all levels, from ordinary to management, earned well. The farm at that time had excellent technical equipment, new equipment, including foreign manufacturers. Since childhood, I was surrounded by well-groomed fields, clean demonstration farms, and in general, the atmosphere of such ideal agriculture.
I was always fascinated by the scale of work from sowing to harvesting, and harvest festivals. There were conversations and discussions about how many and which crops were sown, how much grains were harvested. Everyone was looking forward to the district newspaper, which usually published a rating of farms based on harvesting campaigns. And very often, my village was among the first. However, the sphere of my interests at that time was much wider, so the decision to enter an agricultural university was not yet made.
Another passion for me since childhood was science, probably imprinted by the fact that my father is a doctor, so it is the science - initially to medicine -I wanted to dedicate my life. I had an extensive library at home, I read a lot since childhood, was interested in many things when I was at school, at the university, and during the years of work in research institutions. There were no crossroads for me - what to choose? I knew from the last classes that it would be biology.
The only choice was to choose a specialization in microbiology itself. So many people were attracted to medical microbiology, but I was intrigued by the world of soil microorganisms and decided to study these objects. I was fascinated by soil biota, the cycles of transformation of elements, everything that happens in the soil - it was just magic. Soil microbiology is the bridge that connects me, science, and agriculture, and since then, it has been my professional love for life.
Q3. If you had to explain to a younger woman how you overcame challenges and succeeded in your career, what would you tell?
A. In the modern world, agriculture is not a primitive industry but an innovative area in which a person of any specialty will realize himself. As for young women who want to be scientists but do not see any prospects in this, it is agriculture where they can become superstars, as chemistry, physics, engineering, IT, and microbiology in particular. Moreover, with organic products in the future, science is approaching the time when we can easily create food, cosmetics, and product packaging from plant material. I wish girls and women to be interested in innovations, appreciate eco ideas, choose any branch of science, and boldly seek realization in the agricultural sphere. And when it comes to soil microbiology, it's a fascinating, exciting world that can provide the researcher with unsurpassed emotions for many years to come. Young women and girls now need to look at agriculture as an area of their future profession because it is excellent, promising, and is future. A modern woman in agriculture in our country and the world is a professional.
“I am proud of my work in agriculture because innovations are created here.”
Q4. What do you want to see for the future of younger women in their career path in the BioAg Industry?
A. The first thing I would like is for women all over the planet, regardless of age, to be happy and realized, both in the personal and professional areas of their lives. I think that the agriculture industry is a unique niche that, firstly, can give a woman happiness and satisfaction. Secondly, it being a niche, needs specialists in many professions. For example, I want to see more women in management positions because historically, it has happened that a woman is a housewife who cares about everything around her. I think such skills will help to successfully manage the business and increase the wealth of the enterprise.
Q5. What are your future aspirations personally and professionally?
A. Initially, I was a specialist in the scientific field, and my new exciting professional area is management - personnel management, project management, building a business system. It is fascinating for me to combine scientific work and business to make these areas mutually beneficial for each other, as well as to increase the efficiency of both systems.