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People - Illovo sugar

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People - Grad girl in china

Aga Szkurlat

European Business Unit Director

Kings Lynn, UK

The Faces of AB Sugar
Aga Szkurlat European Business Unit Director Kings Lynn, UK

Aga is a passionate advocate for always being open to new opportunities. Having spent 14 years at Germains Seed Technology, part of the AB Sugar Group, she has progressed from the role of Process Analyst, through to European Head of Operations and most recently as European Business Unit Director.

We spoke to Aga about her career journey, and also what it means to her, to work in a leadership role, where she can inspire the next generation of future leaders in the workplace.

You’ve worked in many different areas within Germains, which do you feel helped you grow the most?

"Having worked in many different teams across the business, from quality to commercial, and supply chain to my current role in operations, I’ve learnt a great deal across the years about the business and market which definitely helps in my role today.

"Each new opportunity throughout my career has been a learning curve. It’s been challenging at times, but also extremely rewarding. I’d say my biggest challenge and where I learnt the most was as part of the commercial team. I was managing customer accounts and working together to develop solutions to their problems. I learnt a lot, from customer partnership and expectation management through to product development and value proposition. I was also exposed to marketing which isn’t something I’d come across before.

"There is always opportunity out there, and what I like about Germains is that people development is central to the business’ success. I am an example of that, having been with the business for so many years and getting the chance to work in many different areas."

The operations sector has historically been heavily male dominated, how important do you think it is to encourage change and attract a more equal workforce?

"I think it’s very important to remember that people, no matter what their gender, beliefs of colour, should be recognised for their skills, knowledge and experience. I used to think that was the case, but the hidden bias is so strong that even we sometimes don’t recognise it. As this year’s International Women’s Day calls for, it’s time to #BreakTheBias, to ensure that we recognise, acknowledge and call out the bias, then make the necessary change. With that we can become better individuals, leaders and businesses.

"As a mother, I think the world is preconditioned to assume that women may require more flexible working patterns, which can in some instances act as a barrier to bringing women into senior positions. But it’s important to reflect that such assumptions are not true for everyone. Flexible working can be of huge benefit to a business, something we’ve seen here in Germains, and it doesn’t need to be seen as a compromise. Re-shaping the thinking around this will, I hope, help pave the way forward in gender-dominated industries.

"I’m proud that at Germains we have a lot of great female leaders. It’s inspiring to see and for those starting out, it shows that anything is possible if you want to achieve it."

Speaking of female leaders, you stepped into a leadership role during the Covid-19 pandemic, what’s been your experience so far?

"At first, I felt challenged. Challenged to find myself within the team I was a part of, and challenged to find my leadership style, all whilst working remotely and not being able to visit the sites that I was now responsible for across Europe. I found myself adopting to others’ beliefs and ideas, not because I believed in them, but because I was trying to find myself within the new world.

"As soon as I realised who I am and what type of leader I want to be, I stopped spending my energy on trying to be a different version of myself. I could instead use more of my energy to encourage my team, input into business strategy and keep on top of performance. It’s a freeing feeling to just be who you’re meant to be."

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