Meet Fernando, Business Development and Commercialisation Manager – South

Date: 16 Oct 2020

image of Fernando Felquer
Fernando Felquer, Business Development and Commercialisation Manager – South

Fernando Felquer, where did you grow up and where do you live now?

I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, and grew up in a small town/suburb on the outskirts of the Greater Buenos Aires area. I briefly lived in that city before moving to Adelaide in the year 2000. I’ve lived in Adelaide since. For the past 12 years we’ve been living in the eastern side of town.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?

I always wanted to be a scientist, which I got to do early in my career, before moving to the commercial/business side of research and development.

Current description of job with GRDC?

My substantive role is Business Development and Commercialisation Manager – South. I’ve been acting as Head of Business Development since March this year.

What has been your career path/journey to this role?

I initially studied a Bachelor of Science (Biochemistry) in Argentina. I had a few odd jobs in Argentina including Quality Assurance Manager at a toothpaste factory and as a medical equipment sales representative (more on this later). After moving to Australia, I worked briefly as a research assistant at the old Institute of Medical and Veterinary Science (now Hanson Institute for Cancer Research) before starting my PhD at Adelaide University. After finishing my PhD, I did a postdoc at Adelaide Uni in stem cell research. I saw that field as having strong commercial potential, and I was already thinking of transitioning to the private/commercial sector. Unfortunately, stem cell therapies haven’t lived up to the initial expectations yet!

After three years, I moved to a local contract research organisation called vivoPharm, initially as the head of one of the laboratories and later as vice-president for business development. I really enjoyed that part of my career as I got to grow that business internationally. Unfortunately, that international expansion took the business’s head office away from Adelaide and to the USA. I decided to stay in Australia and start my own consulting business, which I ran for about five years before joining GRDC. During my consulting time I worked with innovative start-ups and small and medium-sized enterprises, and gained exposure to fields other than the biomedicine/pharmaceutical industries. These included remote sensing, which got me interested in agriculture. I joined GRDC in December 2017.

What was the worst job you’ve ever done, why was it terrible, and more importantly what did you learn from the experience?

Fresh out of uni in Argentina I got a job as a technical sales rep. It paid well, but I hated it. I went to uni to be a scientist! Since then, I have focused my efforts on only taking roles that I feel passionate about and for organisations I believe in. I need to have a bigger purpose to feel motivated to perform at my best. The vision of GRDC’s chairman and MD back in 2017, when I applied for the role, was what sold the opportunity to me – more than anything else.

What do you see as the key/s to being successful in your current position with GRDC?

There is a lot happening at GRDC at any given time, so being organised and on top of things is critical. Internal and external consultation is very important. The number of stakeholders we need to think about is extensive – something I wasn’t used to, coming mostly from small businesses. From a business development perspective, we need to be creative, proactive and push the boundaries a bit (within reason, of course!).

Who do you admire in the grains industry and why?

This might sound cheesy, but I really admire the Australian grain grower. Having grown up in Argentina, a land of fertile soils and a very benign climate for cropping, sometimes I can’t help but be in total admiration of many Australian grain growers who manage to grow a crop under some challenging conditions. And all of this while being one of the least subsidised producers in the world.

What is the most important lesson life has taught you?

Take your chances, be grateful, enjoy life. You only get one.

How have you got through COVID-19 – any tips?

I have done well in general. We at GRDC are very lucky to work for a very supportive organisation. Getting to keep your job, when millions of Australian jobs are at risk or lost, must make you feel quite grateful. Also, I do like working from home. No real tips, but for those that are struggling: it will pass, just hang in there.

What advice would you give a graduate/student who is keen to join the grains industry?

This is difficult for me to answer given I am relatively new to the grains industry. Having worked across a number of industries, I can say that there are a lot of advantages working in the grains industry. For starters, resilience is built right into the grain growing community, as demonstrated by the relatively positive performance of the sector during COVID-19. The only advice I can give is quite generic: know your customer/user. Whether you are an agronomist, researcher or work in commercialisation, make sure you understand the grower’s and overall industry’s needs and constraints.