FOR CONNIE Kang, an ability to adapt to new working environments has not only helped her career progression, but also provided her with an edge in coming up with ways to improve the livelihoods of ordinary farming families in Thailand.
Kang credits her background as a third-generation Korean-Chinese in enabling her, from a very young age, to broaden her perspective and look at issues from different points of view.
And that’s also to the benefit of Bayer Thai, where she has risen to become the smallholder-farming manager for Southeast Asia at the German multinational.
Kang, who has been with Bayer for nine years, believes adaptability is the key component in the success she has enjoyed in boosting farm incomes for Bayer clients.
Kang started off with Bayer in 2009, working as a sales manager for Bayer Crop Science Korea Ltd for more than three years and then as sales excellence manager, covering 14 countries in the Asia Pacific region. Kang has also worked in China as the company’s national channel manager.
In her current role in Thailand with a focus on smallholder farming, she is also responsible for the company’s activities in this field in Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines.
Her bachelor’s degree in German and a master’s degree in linguistics helped Kang kick off her career with Bayer almost a decade ago. But it was not by chance – she always had the dream to work for a German multinational company.
“I wanted to work in a German company because I thought the German working culture was very structured, efficient and productive,” she recalls. “This led me to apply for a position in Bayer in South Korea where I worked for Bayer Korea for three and a half years.”
In her current position, Kang is responsible for the development and implementation of business models for smallholder farmers in the Asean region.
“My current goals are to improve the livelihoods of farmers and to ensure sustainable value creation in the segment. In Thailand, with the local team, we are continuously working to identify the needs of smallholder farmers in the rice industry,” she says.
“My aim is to provide holistic and innovative solutions that can empower smallholder farmers to unlock their farming potential. The effort goes to providing good agricultural practice training for smallholder farmers, as well as introducing new technology such as the drone application to local farmers in the region.
“There are many people who cannot adapt to new working environments, especially when they move abroad. I believe my unique cultural background allows me to approach problems from both a South Korean and a Chinese point of view when working in both South Korea and China respectively.”
She has always had a passion for learning, understanding and adapting to different cultures. That passion powered her aspiration to work in Southeast Asia.
“When I opened myself to different cultures, I could see a lot of new opportunities in different markets, and I started to wonder what Bayer could do to help farmers in different markets in Asia, especially rice farming in the Asean region,” she says.
Kang’s open mindset and adaptability also allowed her to overcome one of her biggest challenges while working with Bayer – helping the company to be more customer-centric.
“When I first entered the company in 2009, it was undergoing a holistic transformation to become more customer-centric,” she says. “This meant reaching out more to customers in order to gain a better understanding of their needs, before developing new technologies to improve their livelihoods, as well as focusing more on their feedback about our products.
“Customers’ satisfaction means a lot to us. It was an important mindset shift. We had to make sure we embed a customer-centric approach in everything we do.”
Kang looks back on the period as having presented a steep learning curve.
“But this helped me to grow in a very short time period, “ she says. “There was excitement in working to transform the company in such a drastic way, but at the same time, the intensive workload and the uncertainty which came with the transformation process was also a key source of stress for me.
“I overcame this challenge by identifying and adapting to the higher stress level, so I started to use this stress to drive me forward. I started to communicate more with my colleagues and fostered a trusting relationship with them.”
Kang found that, by being as open as possible with her colleagues, this approach helped with the transformation process. She was able to explain to them why the company was so rigorous on certain issues, such as the need for a change in working styles.
“Transforming a company involves collective determination and effort from all employees to change both the mindset towards work and the execution of various tasks,” she says.
Hence, when she gained understanding from her colleagues, she was able to push for the transformation that the company needed.
In the coming years, Kang aims to work more closely with farmers either as a general manager in one particular country or in a specific topic covering several countries. This is because either path would allow her to have more direct contact and communication with local farmers, stakeholders and local colleagues – a key aspect of her work that motivates her to further improve Bayer’s services.
“I find that interacting with local farmers is a very meaningful experience. Bringing services to these farmers and improving their livelihoods is something very valuable,” she says. “Not so long ago a farmer told me that after this season’s harvest, they were going to be able to afford a new door for their house. It is conversations like this that push me to improve Bayer’s services for our local farmers.”