14 November, 2022
At WFA we share the career stories of senior women in the industry to gain useful advice and showcase different career paths. From financial roles to the country head of Turkey, Andreea Popa has had a diverse career in her 15 years at Syngenta, a leading agriculture company. Now working within the business’ Seedcare department as the Global Key Account Lead, she has recently been involved in developing collaborations with other innovative companies in this space.
Business to business partnerships can strengthen and diversify the offerings of organisations in the food and ag sector, but there is a lot of work behind the scenes to get these agreements established. Challenges can arise and these sorts of deals often fall through, so it is vital they are approached in a reasonable way and with a personal touch. We sat down with Andreea to learn more about her career path, advice on developing collaborations with external companies, how bringing together individuals with varied backgrounds aids innovative ideas in the sector and advice for women looking to progress in the industry.
[WFA] Can you start by telling us about your current role and career background?
[Andreea Popa] I’m the Global Key Account Lead for our Seedcare business. In my role I look after key customers and also work with our teams all over the world to implement our strategy. I joined Syngenta 15 years ago in the finance management programme which is a rotational programme which helped me to gain experience in a few different areas of the company and also allowed me to move to different countries. Mid-way through my career I changed from finance to commercial when I became the country head of Turkey. After Turkey I moved back to Basel, Switzerland and I’ve been here now for the last 3 years.
[WFA] Your role as the country head of Turkey must have been a great opportunity in a growing market. Did you have to overcome any challenges as a woman in a senior position in this region?
[Andreea Popa] The excitement about the new role was much higher than any concerns I had about its challenges!. I soon found I didn’t have any problems being a woman running our business. Once the customers and team realised that business carries on despite changes in leadership I was embraced and able to implement my vision. The one thing I did feel that some people found unusual was my age. I was in my early 30s when I moved to Turkey and stereotypes often suggest that a country leader should be older. However this was never a blocker for me and the four years I spent in Turkey were one of the best experiences that I’ve had in my life, both from a from a professional and personal perspective.
[WFA] You work for the Seedcare arm of Syngenta. Why do you think this is such an exciting field to be operating in at the moment?
[Andreea Popa] The Seedcare business unit in Syngenta is looking after seed applied treatments. When I was not in Seedcare I remember looking at the team and activities and thinking that it must be pretty good working there! Having joined the team around 3 years ago, I continue to enjoy working in an entrepreneurial and creative environment, with a high performing team that is fully focused on delivering value to the customer. In my role I look after our global key accounts but I’m also involved in a number of strategy projects. The openness to try new things is really energising – we are an agile team and if someone comes up with a business idea that can create value for our customers, we can provide “seed” investment to get it off the ground and test it with our clients. The focus on collaboration and innovation to support farmers are the core values of our team and Syngenta overall, and it’s something that really resonates with me.
[WFA] You have recently overseen an interesting collaboration in this area – can you tell us more about it?
[Andreea Popa] We recently announced a collaboration in the space of biologicals seed treatment with Bioceres Crop Solutions, one of the leading seed treatment global biological companies in the world who are very active across South America. Biologicals are a key pillar of our strategy and we wanted to broaden our offer and capabilities in this space. We strive to be the most innovative and collaborative partner for our customers and wanted to complement our value proposition with biologicals. For us it’s about creating the tools i.e. the portfolio but also developing capabilities and building credibility in this space. This is how the collaboration with Bioceres began. We didn’t start the partnership from scratch as we have been part of a long term, successful collaboration with them in Argentina, so we started by asking ourselves how we can expand our collaboration to the whole world. The collaboration allows Syngenta to develop our tools and capabilities in the seed treatment biologicals space and by leveraging our wide reach, Bioceres’ technology will be able to bring value to so many farmers around the world.
[WFA] When entering into this partnership did you face any challenges that needed to be overcome while developing the collaboration?
[Andreea Popa] From the beginning of entering discussions about a potential collaboration we were very clear about the benefits for both companies and customers. Often, despite the overall vision alignment, discussions can be long-winded and lengthy, especially when you go into the detailed deal mechanics. But both parties knew what we want to achieve. What really helped here was the commitment of the teams to achieving a balanced approach which I believe is fundamental for any successful collaboration. As elusive as the win-win outcome may have seemed at times, the perseverance and solution-oriented approach of both teams got us through to the finish line.
[WFA] What benefits can diverse individuals from a range of backgrounds bring to the table in a partnership like this?
[Andreea Popa] Quite a few friends of mine are working for start-ups in various industries, and I am fascinated by their stories of innovation and creativity. I believe pockets of innovation are being developed at an accelerated pace outside the more traditional R&D space. It’s hugely important to be open to different ways of doing things and surround ourselves with people who don’t always think the way we do. The next big innovation may not necessarily stem from our labs but from the ability to harness diverse ideas through collaborations within and outside our industry. I strongly believe that companies that are relentless collaborators and take the customer view, have better chances to succeed and remain competitive in the market.
[WFA] Finally can you share with us what your advice would be to women looking to progress their careers in the food and ag sector?
[Andreea Popa] I think my advice is applicable to everyone. Especially at the beginning of one’s career I believe it’s really important to be open to new experiences which may not necessarily fit your life plan. For example, taking an assignment in another country and immersing yourself in a different culture is one of the most enriching experiences out there. Another example could be taking a role that maybe was not exactly your dream job – all knowledge is great knowledge and give you the opportunity to absorb as many learnings as possible. Equally important is to find mentors, be them colleagues or line managers, to draw on their huge wealth of experience and advice.