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25 March 2021

Benchmark women making a difference in aquaculture: Aga Jagiello-Johnstone

This month Marketing Manager for Benchmark Health, Aga Jagiello-Johnstone talks about how growing digitization in the workplace can be a game-changer for women, the positives that aquaculture brings to society and the economy, and how, as a perfectionist, she’s learnt that it’s sometimes okay to be ‘good enough’. 

Aga Jagiello-Johnstone

How did you come to work in the aquaculture industry?

Pure luck. Before I moved to Scotland, I worked in consumer goods and electronics, managing EMEA and global projects. I had a profile which didn’t really fit into a Scottish job market. The key sectors of the Scottish economy are whisky, aquaculture, research and higher education. I worked as an independent marketing consultant prior to finding Benchmark® Health. I found aquaculture fascinating as it was so very different to what I was doing before and with an important mission to help feed the world. Benchmark seemed a great mix of purpose and science-led organization. Moreover, the company’s offices are a 10 minutes’ drive from my home which made my decision to join this great business much easier.

Who has supported you on your way?

I was very lucky throughout my childhood and youth. I had strong female role models in my family, both my grandmothers worked, my maternal grandmother was an entrepreneur and an artist while my mother has been on a mission to save the world as a microbiologist. My sister, who I am very proud of is a heart surgeon and specialises in heart transplants. My parents always shared family responsibilities equally, I grew up in a home with a true partnership between my parents.  My sister and I were raised with an understanding that education and hard work is key to success and personal fulfilment in life. I am a ‘child of socialism’, being born in Poland in the seventies. While there was surely a lot that was wrong with the political system, the equality between women and men was a main pillar of the socialist doctrine. I was brought up with equality being one of the key values in life.

Aga with her mum and sister 

Tell us about the team you work with

Firstly, I am very lucky to have an amazing team of professionals around me. We are a scientific organization and I learn a lot on daily basis from my colleagues who are mainly vets and marine biologists. It takes years to develop a product and I admire my colleagues’ determination and patience in their drive to bring solutions to market which would help our sector to grow. Benchmark Health is a part of Benchmark Group with Advanced Nutrition and Genetics marketing teams being part of the group too. We work together on the Group-wide projects like major events, for example. We share experiences, best practice, and resources. The wider marketing team is geographically spread, and includes ten different nationalities from very diverse backgrounds. I find it rewarding and refreshing when we come together to work on a project.

As a marketer, can you tell us why marketing is so important?

In short, marketing is knowledge about the market. How could anyone make a product or service a success without knowledge about the market they operate in? Marketing is a social science. It has a lot to do with people’s needs, wants and behaviours and how customers make a purchase decision. Business leaders and some marketers tend to think quite short term, particularly now, in these uncertain times. But we should switch the focus onto the future, onto predicting future needs, wants and behaviours. Marketers are often treated as a service function in companies, especially in the B2B world, we are on the receiving end of the business decisions. Marketing as a function should play a key role in the business strategy formulation; predicting future trends is a difficult task but without continually trying to do so the businesses risk much more – they risk taking the wrong turn altogether. Without a strong marketing function some businesses might find their product or service completely irrelevant and unsuitable for the future market which would have changed and moved on without them even noticing.

Aga presenting at a customer conference

Is growing digitalisation an advantage for women in business?

Yes, I think it is. Remote working and flexible hours became a necessity due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Businesses were forced to revisit their policies in this respect and many decision-makers realized that it is perfectly fine to work from home and be productive and efficient. For women who have families or other responsibilities outside of work this new approach can be a game-changer. Growing digitization should also make it easier for women who are not based in cities, or close to industrial hubs, to access the job market. I hope women who decided to stop their careers to support families might think of returning to work now. Apparently 17% of women in the UK who had careers before having kids, leave the workforce permanently following childbirth. This is a huge waste to the economy and to society, in my opinion. While I do not want to diminish in any way the hard work that mothers do at home while bringing up their kids (I am a mum of a 4-year old and I think raising a child is the hardest ‘job’ I have ever had!), I know that some of these women would be happy to go back to work if they could. Digitalisation might be of help here.

Why is it okay to not be perfect?

I have a good story for that one. Throughout my life I have been a perfectionist. For me, for years, if something was not done 100%, it was simply not done at all. I applied this rule to others and to myself. I put a lot of pressure onto myself in both my private and my professional life. When I was on maternity leave, I struggled. I could not cope as well as I wanted to. I could not adjust to the new ‘rules’ of being totally dependent of somebody else’s needs. I was exhausted. It did feel like my daughter didn’t sleep at all for the first 6 months of her life. I remember that one day I was ironing when a good friend of mine called and I burst into tears. She said ‘just stop ironing, why are you even doing it? Who cares if the clothes are creased?’ Funnily enough this was a life-changing conversation for me. It introduced the concept of ‘good enough’ in my life. I gradually started relaxing more and more and, yes, I am now proudly less ‘perfect in everything’ but instead much more understanding and accommodating. We are only human after all.

Who is a female leader in the industry / or broader you consider inspiring?

There are a lot of female leaders that I find inspiring, but I would like to mention two of them: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s First Minister and Angela Merkel, the outgoing Chancellor of Germany. Every time I hear Nicola Sturgeon speak I admire how clearly she expresses her thoughts and how composed she is, always, even in the most challenging situations. Ms Merkel is another striking example of a dedication to the role of serving her country. The level of scrutiny both of these female leaders receive is enormous but they are both up there at the top, with their heads up. And they should be. They were both born to be leaders. Ms Merkel once said: ‘You could certainly say that I have never underestimated myself, there’s nothing wrong with being ambitious.’ This statement is a good motto for all women out there who feel they should do more.

What recommendations would you give to upcoming female leaders?

Know your worth and always speak up. Women should feel as important as men simply because when it comes to business and professional capabilities there should not be any difference at all. If anything, women typically are better than men in multitasking, we are natural team players and, therefore, predestined to be leaders. All we need is more confidence and more focus. Women tend to ‘worry for millions’ while we should try to be more like men – if you want something, just go and get it!

What are your core values at work and why?

Respect above all, honesty and collaboration. If we do not respect each other and if we are not honest, we make collaboration impossible. Without collaboration there is no progress. People perform best if they feel valued and relaxed at work. They need to be able to express themselves freely. If there is a problem, I always talk things through. We all bring uniqueness to the workplace, whether it’s our views or ways of doing things and there rarely is just one right way.

Aga with Advanced Nutrition colleagues at the event in Turkey

What do you think are the most important issues facing the aquaculture industry?

Aquaculture is being scrutinised more and more these days. There is a growing awareness among retailers and the general public of fish farming and some of the issues the sector faces. While there are surely areas for improvement in aquaculture, like animal welfare, there is also a lot of positives the sector brings to the economy and society. Aquaculture creates jobs in often remote locations and produces nutritious, protein-rich food for humans. I think we, as a sector, should shout louder about how good we are, and also what we do to improve the current issues. For instance, Benchmark’s #CleanTreat® solution paired with our novel sea lice control medicine is a prime example of how the sector can actively tackle environmental and animal welfare issues in one go. At Benchmark we expanded our regular portfolio and moved into the water purification area to help solve the sector’s most pressing issues. As an industry we should strive for a collaboration among wider stakeholders’ groups to increase the public awareness of what we want to achieve and how we want to do it. I believe that much closer and structured cross-stakeholders collaboration is needed to enable continued sustainable growth of the sector.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

I have always tried to keep a clear division between my private and professional lives. This was my understanding of what work-life balance means. And then I met a fantastic business coach #Kim Harrison Brain-Based Coach and the first thing she said was that I was wrong with this approach. There are different roles we play in life, but our different roles are still played by the same person. We should not fight an internal battle on ‘which role is more important? Or which role should take more of my time etc?’ The key is a smooth integration of all the roles in one person. This feeds back to the ‘good enough’ concept too. You cannot be the best in everything, all the time. This is simply physically impossible. But… you can be the best you can be to yourself. Start with you, be good to yourself and the rest will fall in place. Eventually.

If a movie was made of your life, what would the genre be and who would play you?

It would definitely be a road movie. Occasionally I feel the ‘wind of change’ which urges me to get packed and move somewhere I have never been before. As a matter of fact, I have moved 23 times in my life so far! I am an explorer, the change and unknown motivates and energises me. Who would play me? Hmm… someone versatile and funny. A mix of Audrey Hepburn, Frances McDormand and Woody Allen would work well!

Which decade do you love the most and why?

The Jazz Age, the 1920s and 1930s. I am a ‘jazz girl’ as my daughter says. Apart from music, I absolutely adore the fashion of this period and I would certainly move back in time if I could.

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

I read a lot and I write too (to the drawer for the time being). I love running and I take on a new running challenge every year to raise money for charities. This year I will run my first half marathon in support of the Macmillan Cancer charity. I also do a fair share of gardening and renovation projects in the house. If I weren’t who I am I would possibly be a builder of sorts 😊.

Aga in the midst of one of her renovation projects