Why I Chose FBN®: Sophie Gaillardon, Senior Manager, Global Regulatory
Our ‘Why I Chose FBN’ series features stories from employees across different roles, teams, and geographies on how they got to FBN, what it’s like to work here, and how their teams help fulfill our mission of putting Farmers First®.
When did you join FBN, what is your current role at FBN, where are you based, and what are your responsibilities?
I joined FBN in February 2021 as Global Regulatory Manager. I work remotely out of Salt Lake City, Utah.
I lead the Global regulatory team for FBN Direct® and my six teammates are located across Australia, Canada and the USA. We are in charge of product registrations and other regulatory requirements for FBN’s proprietary products portfolio of Crop Protection, Adjuvants and Crop Nutrition products.
Although we are part of the product development team, our activities are spread over the entire product life cycle. This includes new product development, dossier preparations, registrations with relevant regulatory authorities, maintenance of registration, review of marketing material, etc.
What was your previous work experience before joining FBN?
My background is quite varied, both geographically and in terms of experience. I studied and worked in 9 countries, and experienced large corporate companies like Syngenta and Sanofi, as well as small family owned-business and non-profit organizations.
I have a strong technical background with a master in chemical engineering from CPE Lyon (France) and a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Oxford. At that time, even though I came from a farming background (with a dad who is a farmer turned winemaker and both sets of grandparents also farmers), I had never linked chemistry with Ag. Like most of my classmates, I was planning for a pharmaceutical career.
Serendipity had me interview at Syngenta as I was graduating from my PhD, and I first joined Syngenta as a postdoctoral fellow in their research facilities in Switzerland. I really enjoyed the industrial setting, but I was looking for a role that would allow me to experience the whole lifecycle of a product. I joined Syngenta’s Global Regulatory team knowing almost nothing about regulatory and fell in love with the field. It was an amazing learning environment, as I was surrounded by experts in the fields of regulatory, toxicology, environmental fate, environmental toxicity, product chemistry, etc. and started to understand how it all comes together to assess the risk profile of a product and its safe use in the market.
Six years ago, my husband was offered a professorship at the University of Utah and we moved to Salt Lake City. Although wonderful for its scenery, Utah is not a major Ag state and I was really surprised to find a small family-owned business that made proprietary fertilizers, biostimulants, feed additives and aquaculture products. It was a pretty drastic change as it combined going from a large global team to a 1-person department and learning about a new set of regulations, since these Ag inputs (fertilizers, biostimulants, etc.) are regulated very differently than pesticides.
All of these experiences armed me with a set of tools that became very handy as I joined FBN.
What did you first find compelling about FBN that led you to want to learn more?
I heard about FBN through one of my friends and former colleagues, who sent me the job description for my current role. At the time, I was a program manager of medical devices, and I was really missing the regulatory work in the Ag industry. I had heard a lot about Silicon Valley start-ups and was eager to get a feel for it, but never really thought it would be an option in my field dominated by large companies like Bayer, Syngenta, BASF, etc..
So when I started looking up FBN online, I was very excited to see that it was a start-up, but what caught my attention was the company’s unique set of offerings guided by its unique Farmers First vision. FBN seemed to be one-of-a-kind and I was curious to learn more!
Why did you ultimately decide to join FBN? What did this thought process look like for you?
I was first impressed with the fact that every person I interviewed with was talking about the company’s mission. In my previous experiences, the company mission was that corporate statement must-have that no one ever remembered. And it did not stop at the interview. Since I joined, I have realized that FBN’s mission is embedded in everything we do and how we think as a team.
In addition, I interviewed with Eric Carnell, our Chief Legal Officer, and it was clear that if FBN is Farmers First, it does not mean compliance is second! That was a key factor for me, as in our industry compliance is not a “nice to have.”
Finally, FBN was not just unique as a company, but also in the opportunities it would bring. As the first internal hire in the regulatory department I would have the opportunity to build a team and create the department's processes from the ground up! That is not the kind of opportunity that presents itself very often and would have never happened at an already established company.
Now that you’ve joined, how would you describe FBN’s culture and what it’s like to work here?
I am loving it! I have never worked in such an energetic and energizing environment. What is even more incredible is that the majority of the employees have joined during the pandemic, and therefore remotely, and that has not prevented me from feeling that I “belonged” right away. All video calls are done with the camera on, and everyone is engaged.
Everyone at FBN is very excited about the Farmers First mission, and this creates a unique drive to get things done as a team even though we are spread around the world and across different functions. I have yet to find someone who was not willing to help me even if my requests were outside of their usual scope. It is a high-speed environment with very challenging objectives, but because of the shared Farmer’s First drive, we always tackle challenges as a team and we are pulling in the same direction.
After experiencing both large companies and old family businesses, it is exhilarating to be part of a vibrant company that is not constrained by inherited processes and policies. Yes we have our share of challenges, but we are all part of the solution and building FBN.
Last but not least, I love the diversity of the challenges I am facing and the fact that sometimes people come to me, not with a regulatory question, but a chemistry one! We are still small and people’s skills are not limited to their job description! We all pitch in for the better good, and this is truly inspiring.
What kind of impact are you and your team having on the company’s future?
The regulatory team, along with the product development team, are key to FBN Direct’s future, as we are responsible for the development and registration of FBN’s own proprietary products.
This allows FBN to control products’ destiny, from the manufacturing all the way to distribution to our farmers. This is one of the main reasons that FBN was able to supply crop protection products to our members in a very strained supply chain situation.
How does FBN’s mission come to life in your day-to-day work? How does your work positively impact farmers?
FBN’s mission is profoundly embedded in our day-to-day work as well as longer-term strategy. Hearing the following sentence “I hear what everyone is saying, but ultimately what is the best decision for the farmers?” is business as usual at FBN! From the choice of the products we decide to develop, our product labels, packaging, etc. we always think: “what would best serve our farmers?”
A very concrete example is how we developed the labels for the Farmers First Crop Nutrient products this year. We really focused on ensuring the label would contain all of the practical information a farmer would need to make the best use of the product. So in addition to the mandatory regulatory guarantees and information, we added general descriptions of the product, tank mixing compatibilities, mixing order, time of application, etc.
We know you have a life outside of work - what kinds of things do you do for fun?
I am a big outdoorsy person - so activities vary with the seasons as Utah is an amazing playground. Any chance I get I spend hiking, mountain biking, skiing with my husband and our 3-year-old strapped to one of us, or tagging along!
Coming from Europe, I fell in love with the open spaces of the western states and the diversity the national Parks have to offer. We have hiked most of them, with the Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim being the biggest challenge so far!
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone considering FBN?
Ask questions, and see if you can relate to the culture and our Farmers First mission. If the answer is yes, you are in for the ride of a lifetime no matter what position you will hold.
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