Although Julia Hart is seen as a veteran in corporate business, she’s a newbie in agribusiness. Besides her work as author and executive coach, Julia Hart is also director of corporate communications at Nutreco. “The more I read about agribusiness, heard people talking about it and saw what was going in the sector, the more I wanted to be part of it.”
Looking back at the start of her career in large corporates, she has come to the conclusion that she was rapidly forced to abandon her strengths and way of doing things. This led to her feeling conflicted, stressed and artificial. "Working in large organisations is fascinating and educational," says Julia Hart, "but at the same time it’s challenging and difficult."
However, that period when Julia felt she wasn’t acting in accordance with her values didn’t stop her finding her way to the top. "I found out what you really have to do to be successful in international business." Julia was born in England. She studied journalism, and worked in senior communication roles at Fortune 500 companies. She acquired in-depth knowledge about the communication needed to successfully build and protect reputations. Julia advised CEOs and management on a wide range of issues related to reputation and communication.
Julia has now been working in the world of business in the Netherlands for more than 25 years. She has her own coaching firm with a track record in coaching managers and high-potential senior executives. Julia also wrote the book "Career Secrets”, which discusses avoiding pitfalls in the office.
Success in a corporate environment
‘During my career, I’ve mainly seen young people struggling with certain issues. They don't know how to behave, maximise their performance, or make an impression." With her book and work as a coach, Julia provides tools on being more successful in a corporate environment.
Until two years ago, agribusiness was an unknown industry for this high-flyer. "When I was invited to take the position of director of corporate communications at Nutreco, my immediate thoughts were something like, ‘OK, that's another option’. However, the more I read about agribusiness, heard people talking about it and saw what was going in the sector, the more I wanted to be part of it. I noticed, for example, that Nutreco really is trying to make a difference. ‘Feeding the future’ is a commitment and a future that I believe in!"
Although Nutreco’s importance appeals strongly to Julia, it did mean she again decided to work in a corporate environment. Nutreco is a major multinational, active in more than 90 countries on all five continents, with more than 12,000 employees in 37 countries and a net turnover of € 6.4 billion in 2018. “It’s the first time I’ve worked in this business, and I’m enjoying it more and more. People here are down-to-earth, open and accessible, which isn’t the case in every industry. It’s a real no-nonsense culture, where people know what they want and margins are tight. Cash isn’t thrown about like it is in other sectors."
That attitude has given the Dutch company a dominant position in animal feed. Nutreco is a leader in aquafeed, with its Skretting brand. Insiders say that this is an excellent combination with animal nutrition under the brand name Trouw Nutrition. It means the sectors can learn from each other, and exchange information, as Julia confirms. “How do you sustainably convert vegetable protein into fish and meat, while remaining aware that the world has to be fed? It’s important to strike a balance. Where will we be in twenty years, and what does that mean for us today?"
Julia believes that the stories which answer those questions need to be told. "This industry is so important, but far too modest. Farmers need help to cope with contemporary challenges. We believe that our position as a global leader means we’re responsible for highlighting certain issues. Assumptions in society are often wrong, but it’s difficult to reverse them in a couple of headlines. In my opinion, education is the root of everything; passing on the correct information, so that everyone knows what’s what. As an industry, we have to find enjoyable ways of talking about what’s happening throughout the value chain."
Another challenge facing the sector is sustainability; produce more, with less input. "Some companies claim they’re working on it, but when you get inside you discover a different reality. At Nutreco, I can see that everyone wants to make a difference. Specific targets are linked to our ambition to contribute sustainably to producing sufficient high-quality and nutritious food for a growing world population.”
Nutreco puts a lot of effort into finding alternative raw materials for animal feed products, for example. “How do you replace certain ingredients with others that provide nutritional value but don’t damage our planet? What raw material can be used to replace a scarce one? Fishmeal is one example which could be much better utilised. If we can get results in this area, the impact will be felt worldwide, and that’s virtually as good as it gets."
The door is open
On whether she has any advice for the ambitious agri-professional, Julia’s says it’s about being simple but effective. “Always act from an authentic part of yourself, and create a kind of informal advisory board around you; people from different disciplines who can give you advice. Early on in my career, I needed a tip from a manager. At the time, I thought there was a ‘professional me’ and a ‘private me’, and that the two had to be kept separate. As a result, I came across as quite loud. He said, ‘You always come in through the window, even though the door is open.’ In other words, you don't always have to be tough. He taught me that being 100% myself was good, and that I should soften my stance. That change has helped me a lot. If you try and give the impression of being something that you’re not, you’ll end up unhappy and stressed out. Know yourself! Take it from me; don't do things that don't suit you.”