Interview with Nattawadee Wattanapongchart

Business Administration Manager for Benchmark Genetics Asia, Nattawadee Wattanapongchart discusses how her role has taken her across the full spectrum of aquaculture activities, ranging from visiting production sites to attending government meetings with the Department of Fisheries, and how entering a local government election 15 years ago changed the course of her life.

How did you come to work in the aquaculture industry?
Prior to Benchmark, I worked in the Thai food manufacturing industry, specialising in seaweed, whilst also serving as a local politician. Thereafter, I moved into aquatic business management for another prominent company specialising in animal health. The move to Benchmark followed a very nice meeting with three of Benchmark’s directors at a VIV Asia event in Bangkok – that was 8 years’ ago now.

Tell us what your job involves?
This is a great question, and my role is far-ranging. On paper, my role in Benchmark is in business management and administration, which includes input and oversight of the day-to-day business operations of the teams within which I work. In reality, my business role since I joined Benchmark in 2013 has taken me into the full spectrum of aquaculture activities, from visiting production sites, R&D facilities, labs, shrimp fairs, and into Government meetings with the Department of Fisheries, across all key disciplines of health, production, genetics, nutrition, education, and training.

Do you think aquaculture is a good industry for women to work in?
I must admit that before I started working in aquaculture, I thought that it might be a male dominated industry with production in a wide range of demanding environments. While the gender split may be skewed towards males in some production industries, in Asia there is a much better gender balance – perhaps a third of the work force represented by women. Women play key roles in all aspects of the value chain not only the processing plants and on production sites but as managers overseeing, for example, the financial management, business administration and production logistics.

Namsai Farms visit, Bangkok, June 2014

What did you think when joining the industry versus what you think now?
I think my views on aquaculture before joining the industry were, like most people, quite naïve. I was not aware of all that is involved. From my time with Benchmark, I now know that aquaculture is an enormous 120+ million tonne industry that embraces the production of almost 600 species. I now know that farming can be tough, it is a 24-7 commitment and there are a huge number of factors that dictate successful production. In addition, there is a complex network of interconnected industries covering a wide range of disciplines that work to ensure not only the growth and sustainability of the industry but also the health and welfare of the animals, systems and communities with whom we work. Also, I have learnt that although fish or shrimp cannot talk to let you know how they are feeling, there are a number of key behaviours that you can look for to better understand their welfare status.

What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you at work?
In February 2020 I was attending a shrimp fair and I organised a meeting with the Department of Fisheries and Shrimp Farmers to discuss the SHRimp project. During the fair there was a short marathon that had been organised by the shrimp club and the Benchmark Advanced Nutrition sales team encouraged me to join the marathon prior to my meeting. It was so unexpected, I didn’t even have any clothes to wear for the marathon, so I had to buy some new ones. I had no experience of taking part in a marathon before, so it was very fun and stimulating for me to do this. I’m really grateful to the Benchmark Advanced Nutrition team for encouraging me on that day. It remains a great memory and helped me realise that I could work and have fun at the same time.

Nattawadee running her first marathon

Have you ever made a decision that didn’t seem very important at the time, but really changed the course of your life?
When I entered a local government election 15 years ago I was the youngest candidate in the team and had no experience in local politics at all. I was a shy woman.  We had a consultant who set the campaign run for an election. He conducted a private training course for me because the leader of my team was afraid that I may not be selected in the election. I had to practice talking to more than 200 people in the city where I live, and I did not know them personally. The election campaign program ran for 2 months, from day to night, every day. As a result of my hard efforts, I was selected to be a local politician. I feel that all of the work that went in to that campaign made me braver and more  willing to face challenges. It really changed the course of my life.

What are the most important qualities you can have when interacting with others in the workplace?
Honesty, empathy and respect.

How do you manage a good work/life balance?
If I am honest, I am not sure that I have managed this yet. My close working colleagues are located in territories ranging from America, Europe, and Asia. I love to help people and I am a strong believer in One Benchmark – working to bring people closer together.

What do you think your spirit animal would be?
Definitely, a cat. I have had many cats over the years, but I’ve never actually bought one from a pet shop, they just come and live with me. My mother thinks they might be relatives that have been reincarnated as it has happened so many times.

What is your favourite aquatic animal, and why?
Sea turtle – ever since I was little, I was told they are the grandparents of the sea.

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