As Bunge’s current Vice President of Industrial Operations, Eugenia Zorila is one of the agribusiness and food giant’s top female executives and one of its key decision makers. She also finds herself in the unique position of being in charge of an area of the business that is very male dominated and is committed to creating more spaces for women in her teams and inspiring them to see her field as a viable option for them.
Ms Zorila’s ascent to occupying one of Bunge’s top positions has given her great insight into what it takes to be a good leader and how to create teams that can deliver. What’s her secret? It’s all about the team. According to her, being a great leader is about supporting your team members and ensuring that they have what they need to not only successfully tackle any current projects, but also to mature, develop and grow in their careers.
In the below conversation with WFA, Ms Zorila shares even more tips on being a female leader and how to inspire teams to achieve their goals. We also talk about some of the challenges that she has faced on her climb up the corporate ladder and how she is supporting the advancement of women, and diversity and inclusion in her area of the business.
[WFA] Ms Zorila, you first joined Bunge in 2004 as Commercial Director. Can you please tell us about how you came to be VP of Industrial Operations and what this role currently entails?
[Eugenia Zorila] My educational background is in engineering and international business, and my experience prior to Bunge was in industrial operations. Accepting the offer as Commercial Agribusiness Director for Bunge Romania in 2004 was a conscious decision that aligned with my development goals and ambitions at the time. However, after a few years when I was given the opportunity to return to operations as Operations Director for Bunge Romania and Bulgaria, I was happy to accept it as it meant the expansion of the geographic scope of my responsibilities plus involvement in the development and execution of the Bunge strategy for the Danube region. From then on I have had roles either fully or partly connected to industrial operations.
[WFA] You’ve spent 18 years at Bunge (so far) and in that time you’ve held various commercial, ops and management roles. During this time, what has been the achievements that you are most proud of?
[Eugenia Zorila] Each one of my roles at Bunge has been extremely rewarding, filled with both challenges and achievements. But what makes me most proud are the teams that I have worked with and the people whose development I have supported. I am also particularly proud of the time spent mentoring colleagues, my contributions to driving the D&I agenda for Bunge, as well as the excellent safety record of the operations I have been in charge of. In addition to that, I am also happy with the transformational role I have played at Bunge, including my involvement in the Bunge Global Internal Audit transformation, the global Food & Ingredients department transformation (which I led from 2015 to 2017), and in the integration of the Loders Crooklan industrial operations into Bunge. And of course, I have also overseen large construction projects across the world, from Romania, China, and India to the US, Ghana, and the Netherlands.
[WFA] Looking at your entire career, both inside and outside Bunge, what were some significant career barriers that you overcame? How did you navigate them to continue climbing the ladder?
[Eugenia Zorila] The barriers I have faced are not uncommon. At times I did not have all the support or resources I needed to accomplish my business objectives, or other times my views were not aligned with those of my peers, my team or my bosses. There were even times when my ability to influence situations failed me or I felt stuck in a certain role and could not see my next move. How did I overcome these situations? I have built and, to this day, rely on a strong internal and external support network which consist of both informal and, when possible, formal mentors and sponsors. Through these networks I have continued learning, I have stayed connected and, most importantly, found the motivation to continue working hard and uncover the necessary solutions needed to overcome certain barriers.
[WFA] What is your secret to being so adaptable to various roles? What would you like other women in our sector to know that find themselves considering taking on new career challenges?
[Eugenia Zorila] I am very curious, and I love a challenge. I always want to learn more, and I do not like routine. Plus, as a leader, I always surround myself with people that are experts in their respective field and that I can trust and lean on for their opinion. Regardless of the area we operate in, as leaders our number one responsibility is to assemble the best team possible and make sure we work on motivating, engaging and developing that team.
[WFA] What would you like organisations in the agrifood industry to understand about attracting and retaining female employees long term?
[Eugenia Zorila] To attract female employees, we need to make our industry more visible and more attractive. We have a noble mission of providing food to all corners of the world, and we need to learn how to communicate that more widely and be more vocal about it. We also have to continue to deliver on our diversity and sustainability commitments, because these are values that make us more attractive to the modern job seeker.
I also believe that to retain talent organisations should have flexible work policies, clear development programmes, have a strong social agenda and be very pragmatic about their employees having a work-life balance. In addition to that, to attract, develop and retain female talent, we need dedicated policies for working mothers, including paid maternity leave.
[WFA] And how have you personally as the VP of Industrial Operations ensured women could thrive in what can be seen as a very male dominated area of your business?
[Eugenia Zorila] I have always tried to make sure that my passion for the job, for people, customers and cultures has been visible. I am a strong believer in ‘walking the talk’ and so have always trusted that being a strong example for other women and them seeing the joy I am deriving from what I do, will inspire them to take the same path. In more practical terms, I have made sure that the teams that I oversee have diversity targets in place and make efforts towards minimising hiring bias. I also check in regularly with female talent, including sitting down and listening to the women at our plants and encouraging them to speak up when they need to, raise their hand and just go for it!
[WFA] As you have mentioned, you have overseen some massive building projects, which I assume has involved leading mainly male workforces. What advice do you have for other women that find themselves in this position? How should they navigate potential resistance to female leadership?
[Eugenia Zorila] I believe that women are good at “reading the room”, and intuitive enough to easily understand what goes on behind the scenes. We understand what makes people tick and can use that positively to influence and lead.
I am not sure my advice is best, but what helped me was to be clear about my goals, confidently stay the path, surround myself with the best teams and supporting my teams to continuously develop. On the more personal side, I have made conscious efforts to carefully build and manage my image, or my personal brand if you will, so that I am always seen as a strong, trustworthy leader.
[WFA] Let’s look into the future a bit. What are the main goals/projects that you would like to realise as VP of Industrial Operations at Bunge in the next few years? What are the ideal projects you’d like to see happen?
[Eugenia Zorila] My main goal has always been, and continues to be, to build strong talented and diverse teams, to strive for excellence, and to deliver the multitude of amazing growth projects we have in the pipeline. And, of course, to also help as many individuals as I can along the way to progress and fulfil their dreams.
[WFA] Lastly, we often see D&I budgets being first on the chopping block when though times hit. Why is it important for organisations to continue investing in these initiatives during these times?
[Eugenia Zorila] I am optimistic and believe this is a changing trend. ESG is driving the agenda of organisations today and we see D&I being prioritised all around us. Companies are embedding D&I in their strategies and structures with clear goals and KPIs and are determined to continue to make progress. This is what our employees, communities and customers expect from us so, I believe, this is what we need to continue doing.