I joined Louis Dreyfus Company (LDC) in July 1992, as a Trader Trainee on the Soybean desk in Kansas City, US, soon after finishing Trinity College in Connecticut, with a double major in International Political Economy and Russian Language and Literature. I decided to accept the job at LDC largely thanks to the Louis-Dreyfus family’s interesting history of exporting grain out of Russia before the Bolshevik revolution. I can’t tell you much about my first day at LDC, but there are things about that time that stayed with me. I remember a lady who would drop off 50-page copies of the market wires that would come through overnight by fax; I also remember daily early morning conference calls with export traders at our office in Wilton, Connecticut, asking us when local farmers would start selling corn.
It was a great working environment, because all trainees learned together. As a young group of graduates, we spent a lot of time at the office, working and learning the commodity business. Most of us had transferred to Kansas City, so we also spent time together outside the office; there was a lot of comradery. Senior traders practically competed to teach us more than the others. One of our assigned mentors would start explaining something, and before you knew, we were all in a conference room, traders and trainees, discussing (or debating!) a specific topic.
When I first started out, my medium term ambition was to be a physical grain trader outside of the US. My goals changed over time, but I got that international experience in 2013; I was appointed Head of Grain for Asia, and for two years, I managed a trading and marketing team outside of the US. I was based in Singapore, LDC’s hub in the region, and was responsible for our Grains trading operations in Australia, China, India, and Southeast Asia. This was a great experience, because it taught me how different cultures conduct business: their priorities, what drives their decisions and how they may interpret the same information you have in an entirely different way from you. My challenge was to find out how LDC could service their needs and grow our businesses, together with our customers.
While I haven’t been in my current role for very long, I’ve been involved in research and analysis in all the roles I’ve had at LDC, with the exception of my time in Financial Risk Management. In a nutshell, this area of commodity research analyzes supply and demand to identify deficits or surpluses that may influence price or relative prices. The function has evolved a lot over the years, and today the market has access to a lot of information. For instance, more sophisticated weather data and satellite imagery can predict yields in different regions more accurately, which will in turn have an impact on pricing. Because of our presence in the physical markets around the world, we may receive some information more quickly than other merchants. And because of our long history in the industry, we have the experience to interpret it. Our main challenge is to be the first to draw the right conclusion based on the vast amount of information available. Part of my role is to look to the future, to find ways to increase efficiency when coordinating research analysis with a team that is spread all over the world, and to make sure LDC is always at the forefront of Grains market research.
One last thing…
What do you enjoy most about working at LDC?
There are a lot of smart people working for LDC, and I like being in an intellectually challenging environment. The company also gives you the flexibility to develop professionally; how far and how quickly you advance is based on your performance. As you show that you are ready for more responsibility, more is given to you. Your growth isn’t defined by which positions are available in your department – you may want to cross over to a different platform or function or region. This makes it a very dynamic place to work.
What would you tell the ‘rookie’ you if you could travel back in time?
I would tell myself: “When the internet is invented, don’t stop talking. Take the time to call rather than email or text. And don’t take it personally when colleagues challenge your ideas – we are all trying to reach the best estimate or solution for the company. Everyone has a different way of understanding, explaining and debating.”
Is there one LDC commodity that you couldn’t live without?
This is a tricky one, as there are substitutes for most of them though not necessarily in the quantities the world needs. So if the world stopped growing corn, for instance, everything we consume would become a lot more expensive, and we wouldn’t be able to feed a population of 10 billion. But I am biased because of my work in the Grains Platform. And I do like a good corn-fed beef steak every now and then, so I’d hate to see those disappear!