Therese Log Bergjord, CEO of aquaculture feed company Skretting, was named the 2020 IntraFish Person of the Year at IntraFish's Salmon Leadership Series online event on Wednesday.
Never afraid to speak out, Bergjord has tirelessly pushed the feed sector to innovate and change, pulling people together to talk openly about the challenges around reducing the aquaculture industry's footprint and enabling sustainable growth.
Born in Norway in 1965, it didn't take long for Bergjord's leadership qualities to be discovered, and by the time she was 25 she was the commercial head of a department for US multinational energy corporation ConocoPhillips, a company she stayed with for 16 years.
Making her foray into the aquaculture sector in 2003 as commercial vice president, she was part of a team tasked with turning around stressed salmon farming company PanFish (now Mowi). This, she says, is where she met her lifelong mentor, Atle Eide, then CEO of PanFish, now a private equity investor, and the reason she came to the seafood sector.
In 2006 she made her first move into feed, starting as global sales director at Nutreco-owned Skretting, before taking on her first managing director role at Compass-owned ESS Support Services in 2009, eventually becoming country manager for Norway.
Then one day she got a call from Knut Nesse, who she had already worked with her first time around at Skretting. He asked her to come back to Nutreco to head up his newly formed aquaculture division. "I didn't need time to think," she told IntraFish. "I just thought that was perfect. And it was."
The rest, as they say, is history. Come November, Bergjord will have been leading the group for three years.
Putting action behind the words
In her short stint at the helm, Bergjord has had inordinate influence over the feed and broader aquaculture industry, pushing a firm agenda of sustainability and transparency.
Why she has chosen to be this voice is simple: "When you go below the surface on the sustainability topic, it becomes very complex very fast, and you realize that if you don't at least first start talking and then doing things together as an industry we will only get to limited progress," she told IntraFish.
And it is progress that Bergjord drives for in every area of Skretting's work.
"I came to the feed industry and realized that 95 percent of our footprint comes through the raw materials we use in the feeds," said Bergjord.
"I also see that when we talk about our business as sustainable, 'sustainable' is just a word. It doesn't mean too much until you put facts into the underlying business you do."
'Not a risk taker'
Partnering with Atlantic Sapphire on land-based salmon feed, and with startups such as Protix and Veramaris on alternative feed ingredients, under Bergjord's steer, Skretting has been at the forefront of investing in new technologies and innovations in both aquaculture and feed developments. But she is no risk taker, she tells IntraFish.
"We are not big risk takers," she says of the leadership board of the Nutreco investment arm she sits on. "But we are willing to spend where we believe in industries and companies and startups when we think they can make a difference from a raw material standpoint."
But what is clear is that while she may not classify herself as a risk taker, she is not afraid of change or new ventures.
Those new ventures extend to new geographies, and Skretting is one of the few seafood sector companies globally with operations on the African continent. It is work that Bergjord is proud of. With businesses in Egypt, Nigeria and Zambia, it has been a steep learning curve for the managing director and her team.
"It is not a linear development. It's dependent on nature to be successful," she tells IntraFish.
"The feed is one thing, but it's the water quality and amount of water that's available and the knowledge of the farmers around us. It's the size of it all, the lack of industrialization."
The challenges are completely different to those in the salmon sector, from which Bergjord's team had largely gleaned its expertise. She and her team have had to learn to adapt to a drastically contrasting operational landscape.
But as they set up a new feed mill in Nigeria, Bergjord is audibly excited about the possibilities, citing estimated population development from 200 million to 700 million people in the country by the turn of the century.
Population growth is obviously a draw for any consumer industry and, as a supplier to a consumer industry, Skretting is no different.
When looking to where to grow there are two things to consider, said Bergjord.
"You should be able to produce aquaculture, and where the population growth is, the consumer will come.
"It is scary in many ways, but also very attractive in others. It will just take a lot more time."
A leader of people
One of Bergjord's cornerstone strengths is clearly her ability to bring people together to find solutions.
It is, she says, a lesson she learned over the 16 years she spent in the highly professionalized oil and gas and foodservice sectors.
"Every single person has a small responsibility, so you depend on people working together to get an end result," said Bergjord.
"Whilst in the service industry, we were many people, and if you could make small steps of improvement along the process they made a big difference."
It is an ethos reflected in Bergjord's work at Skretting, where she proudly rules by committee. "I've never lost sleep and I've never had doubts. When I have a problem that I have no clue how to address, I mobilize people around me."
It's one of several leadership qualities she thinks makes her successful.
"I am generally happy. I try to be calm when it's really busy around us. And I'm very open," says Bergjord, adding that she talks to her team about everything that is going on.
"I've never regretted that once. Not once," she says.
While some may disagree, Bergjord is humble in her estimations of herself. "I am not exceptionally clever and I'm not exceptionally anything, but I really like to work with people.
"I just want to play my little role here. There's no quick fix and no magic powder here ... but there are so many people that want to play a part. So let's just help them do this thing the best way possible."