Katie Gray is about to start her third secondment after completing 12 months at the Syngenta HQ in Basel, Switzerland. The group 50 Trainee was thrown straight into the deep end, adapting to a corporate environment in one of the largest crop-protection companies in the world. Katie kindly offered some insights into how she adapted to a new business in a new country and her top tips for adjusting to new workplace environments.

Hello! My name is Katie Gray, I’m in Group 50, and I’m currently seconded at Syngenta in Basel (Switzerland), as a Junior Project Manager for the Africa Middle East Team. I have been in Basel for almost a year now, with my first six months being involved in the Global Disease Control Marketing Team.

Before MDS

I am from a farming background; my family have a mixed farm in North Northumberland, and I studied Agri-Business Management at Newcastle University. All my previous work experience before MDS was with small family businesses or start-ups. Getting work experience in these small businesses gave me the opportunity to get stuck into everything; I had to be versatile and willing to try new things.

Why MDS?

I decided to apply to MDS because I enjoyed my studies, and I wanted to see all of the opportunities the industry had to offer. I enjoyed learning about the food supply chain during my degree and was interested in finding out more. MDS seemed like a no-brainer as it helped me to gain exposure to all areas of the supply chain.

First Secondment

Since my previous work experience had been with small, local companies, I had zero experience of working in a corporate environment before starting the programme. So, when I got the opportunity to move to Switzerland at the start of my journey, I couldn’t wait! I was looking forward to trying something I hadn’t done before.

I moved to Switzerland without really thinking much about what was instal. Moving to a new country had its challenges, particularly when Covid rules still existed. It was the first time I had gone abroad or taken a flight since the pandemic started.

Overcoming Challenges

There were several things I had to tackle that I had never faced before at work. It certainly wasn’t great when I couldn’t find the main entrance on my first day!

Because of my previous work experience, I was used to being a jack of all trades and getting involved in whatever needed to be done at the time. However, working at a large multinational company, I had my specific role that fitted into the hierarchy and structure of the organisation. I needed to adapt to this new way of working. Luckily, the teams that I worked with directly were still quite small, so it didn’t feel as daunting.

Working with Syngenta

Syngenta also encourages you to network with colleagues from all over the organisation, regardless of their seniority. Once I started to build my network, it was amazing how closely connected everyone was to other colleagues, and I soon started to recognise plenty of familiar faces in the office.

Growing up in my home town, it was quite rural, and I didn’t get to experience working with different cultures. This is what made working at Syngenta HQ such an amazing opportunity. I was thrown into the deep end, working in a global HQ with people from across the world. In fact that most of my colleagues speak at least three languages!
At first, it was a bit of a learning curve, flexing my communication style to meet a variety of different preferences, but the experience has been so enriching.

It has been great to gain exposure to a multinational business despite being so early in my career. It has really expanded my knowledge about how many different opportunities there are within the industry.

My advice for anyone who is adapting to a large corporate environment for the first time would be:

  • Network – being part of a large organisation, there are so many departments that you can learn and find out about. If you have an interest in a particular field in the company, don’t be afraid to ask to learn more.
  • Be curious – even if you feel that you have a stupid question, don’t be afraid to ask! Especially when you are new, they are not expecting you to know everything, and they will appreciate you engaging and wanting to find out more.
  • Be open-minded – working with lots of people from all different works of life, you interact with lots of different characters. Be open to learning about different cultures and broadening your horizons. This can help with integrating with others and can benefit you to learn the best ways of working with your colleagues.