A Conversation with Laia Bosch

Good morning, Laia, and welcome to Commodity Conversations. Please tell me a little bit about your role at ADM.

I work for ADM’s Global Trade team in Rolle, Switzerland, managing vegetable oil trading in 20ft containers. I have a team in the Netherlands and Singapore, and we move crude or refined vegoil from ADM or third-party plants to customers across the globe.

Are these containers tanks?

You can fill a container with anything from televisions to dry bulk or with what we call flex tanks for moving liquid products. A flex tank is a type of bulk liquid pouch or bag that allows shippers to fill dry containers with liquids.

You mention that you trade both crude and refined vegoil. Why would somebody want crude oil? Would they refine it themselves or use it in their food processes?

We sell vegoil to food manufacturers like FMCGs and mom-and-pop shops, but we also sell to biodiesel manufacturers and vegoil refiners. A food manufacturer will refine crude oil before using it.

Is shipping refined food-grade oil more challenging than shipping crude vegoil?

The challenge in shipping refined oil is freshness. For example, we ship to New Zealand, which is almost two months of transit time. Some parameters, for example, peroxide values, increase over time. It’s still edible, but the quality deteriorates.

What types of vegetable oil do you ship? Is it mainly soybean oil?

We do mainly soy and rapeseed because that’s what comes out of our crush and refinery, but we can supply a variety of veg oils.

Do different customers want specific types of oil?

It often depends on the region and its intended use. There are regions where they might prefer soybean versus sunflower oil. Other regions prefer rapeseed. Some regions are more price-sensitive and want the cheapest oil available. It depends on the region and the specific application of the customer.

You must handle thousands of containers every year. What are the main challenges involved in managing all those containers?

We have hundreds of containers moving around the world each day. It is challenging as anything can go wrong in a shipment. A container may miss a ship or have the wrong documents. It may have quality issues. Sometimes, we must export containers from a war zone. Every container is a potential source of problems, but we work with excellent partners, freight forwarders and shipping lines. They know where our containers are. They track them. We do not have many scares.

Is the process digitalized?

We can access the shipping line’s digital platform. We know the location of each of our containers at any time.

Are they intelligent containers with GPS tracking?

Not as far as I know. We don’t need it. We use the shipping company’s platform to keep an eye on where the container is, and which ship it is on.

Container rates increased dramatically post-COVID. How did that affect your business and the trade flow?

It was a challenging period. Rates increased, and reliability decreased. Trades continued to happen; our customers still needed oil, and the flow continued despite the spike in freight rates.

On our side, we developed more intra-regional supply chains. It allowed us better control of the supply chain and container freight.

Are you a trader, or are you a supply chain manager?

I call myself a trader, but a significant portion of my role is managing a supply chain.

ADM is super strong in managing complex supply chains for customers. I can give you a couple of examples. We supply customers in the middle of Africa or the Pacific Islands who have been buying from us in containers for years. We have been strong in exporting oil in containers from Ukraine during the war. We have a robust global footprint and a network of ADM people working with customers at destinations.

What do you like most about your current role?

I like my job because I see the sense, the need, and the purpose of it. It’s a job full of stories. It could be a Caribbean mayonnaise manufacturer or a Pacific fish canner without a refinery in the country or a neighbouring country. They need to import a container of oil to their facility.

Another example could be a food manufacturer in a market with only one supplier that wants to import oil to lower their ownership price. Or a small crusher in Ukraine that wants to export its oil but doesn’t have enough capacity to fill in a big vessel. They all rely on us.

I find this is very satisfying. It is what I most like about my job, that I see the purpose of it.

How do your friends react when you say you’re an agricultural commodity trader? Do they say, oh, that’s terrible, you’re a wicked speculator, or do they say, you’re helping feed the world?

They usually ask a lot of questions. I explain my vital role in moving oil from surplus to deficit areas. I do have friends who are critical, but I think I have more supporters than critics.

I was keen to talk with you there because you started as an analyst and moved to procurement and trading. You’ve covered the whole gambit. But how does procurement differ from trading?

Procurement is about price risk management, negotiating, and cost savings. It’s not an income-generating activity by itself. If you manage cost savings and price risk management well, and the brand is selling well, then you see the returns of your job. What I like about trading is that you see your PNL daily; it’s a business by itself.

Which do you prefer? Procurement, analysis, or trading?

They all have their charm, and a nice link exists between them. I’m happy to have gone through the three.

Was it a shock to move from analysis to procurement? Was it a difficult step?

None of the steps I have taken in my career have been a piece of cake. But I think it should be like this, right? If you move, you move to stretch yourself. I was lucky enough to have people that believed in me and trusted and supported me. I would be lying if I said it was not challenging, but that’s what I like as well.

How do you see your career developing from here?

I see myself trading for many years ahead, eventually moving to another product or managing a destination office.

How many people do you manage?

Four – in the Netherlands and Singapore. And we are hiring two more.

COVID-19 led to a broader acceptance of working from home. Do you work from home, and if so, how has it changed your life?

I enjoy the flexibility of working from home, but I still prefer to go to the office and interact face-to-face with people. My team is remote, so I trust them to do their job independently of where they sit.

Do you work one day at home on a regular basis, or do you just work from time to time from home?

I sometimes work from home, but I’m in the office 90 per cent of the time. Occasionally working from home has improved my work-life balance.

Is commodity trading still a 24/7 job? And if so, how do you manage your work-life balance?

I have an intense job in terms of watching the market, my position, and my shipments. But I’m a mom of two children. I don’t know if it’s because of them, but I know when to stop before being overworked.

I also make sure I do things outside work and family. So that’s how it works for me. I think we work a lot and are always alert, but I still want to keep time for myself.

Do you find that more women are joining commodity trading firms? And, if not, how can we get more women into the commodity trading world?

We have a traineeship program at ADM for young graduates, and we see more women joining. I don’t think the issue is with attracting women to the sector but with how we retain, develop, and promote women within the sector.

I don’t see any reason why women should not be interested in trading, nor why they should not stay in the industry.

What advice would you give to a young woman seeking a career in ag trading?

I would suggest you find a woman who inspires you. Ask her to mentor you – and then to give it back to the industry, your company, and women in general. Be a mentor to another woman.

Thank you, Laia, for your time and input.

© Commodity Conversations ® 2024

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