Network Insights: Commodities, Finance and Pricing with Preet Toki

Preet Toki – Pricing Manager, Nufarm

Starting off in commercial accounting, Preet Toki’s career has taken him through multiple roles and industries – with time spent working across the finance, telecommunications and agricultural commodities sectors.

As the previous Lead of YSPN’s Melbourne Chapter, we were very excited to be able to sit down and hear some of the insights he’s picked up along the way.

Q: What is your job title/role?

Pricing manager in a ASX 200 commodity manufacturer.  The role lies within a relatively flat senior organisational structure, where I work with the heads of multiple departments and answer directly to the CEO of the Aus and NZ business.

It’s a dynamic role, and requires me to keep up-to-date with the wider supply chain, commodity markets, customer positioning, and form interpretations on how the business should price it’s offering in the future.

Q: In what industry/field?

Agricultural manufacturing – many of the products we supply are used within the wider farming industry in Australia as well as globally.

Q: Did you migrate to your current country?

Yes – came to Australia as a 7 years old.

Q: How was this experience?

From year 3 – year 11 I was the only Sikh kid at school, and really the only non-white kid at all. Migrating across at a young age, I remember it was a strong culture shock for both me and my family.

I remember starting at school and one of the first things someone said to me was “Wow – you must have gotten really tanned over summer”. The people I was around genuinely didn’t understand what it meant for someone to be brown.

At a young age, you have to sort through a lot of issues on culture and identity. Dealing with things like bullying and culture and standing out. By the time I got towards the end of my schooling I’d developed a strong idea of what I wanted out of life, and developed a bit of a thick skin along the way.

Q: What helped you through the experience?

What made a big difference was having a sense of community growing up. In a big way, I credit having my elder cousins and the other kids I got to interact with through Sikh Youth Australia and the Gurdwara to help normalise life in Aus. I had people to look up to and at that time, just having other kids with their little jura’s to play cricket with made a big difference. I found having the wider community around me, gave me a foundation to build connections which supported me through the challenges I was facing.

Q: What advice would you give to other migrants?

Growing up in Australia, I achieved a good year 12 result, received a scholarship for accountancy in university, and graduated with distinction – but when you get to the corporate world none of that matters.

In the corporate world, how well you articulate your message, how you take people on your journey – that’s key.

During my scholarship I took part in a co-op position, working in a prominent telecommunications company. The role was a temp. position within the treasury department, and I was responsible for handling the paperwork for some massive transactions. I still remember the rush I felt going to the bank to cash $999,999 cheques on the company’s behalf.

When it came time for me to finish up my role, they were looking for someone to fill my position permanently. The treasury director called me in and asking me to reflect on the work I’d been doing, to have a look at some resumes for who could take over my role full time and give my recommendation.

So I was 19, and I went through the resumes and I picked the candidate with the highest qualification. He’d done an MBA and a whole host of certifications and to me looked the most qualified for the role. The director looked back at me and asked me “Do you understand that these people are more qualified than I am, to do my role?”

For me, this was a bit of a slap in the face. It showed me what Australian culture was like. It’s not about the qualifications. If you want to succeed in the Australian corporate culture, you have to be able to know how to communicate your message and use the softer skills to advance in your career. 

Q: How did you get into this position or career?

I never planned to end up in this role. I’m a chartered accountant by background, but went straight into working in the commercial sector.

My advice here is not to be fixed on the journey steps, it’s important to understand that your overall career journey will be a mix of positions and industries. Often times you’ll learn the most by jumping around different roles.

I initially did a lot of business partnering roles, went through management reporting – then to planning, and from there moved into pricing. I’ve found that a career isn’t just thinking about your next role. It’s about where you want to be in 10 years. If you’d asked me 10 years ago how I’d step out of accounting finance, I’d never have seen the steps that lead me from there to here.

Q: Were educational credentials important? If so, what did you study?

Personally I have an accounting degree and have completed my Chartered Accountancy accreditation. I observed that it was difficult to break through middle management in accounting finance without having a CA.

Since then though I have observed that while there’s a lot of prestige overseas surrounding qualification, it’s not really how things are done in Australia.

For some of our migrants I’ve observed that it’s quite a negative experience to not get recognition for your qualifications, and I empathise since often those accreditations required a lot of hard work and perseverance.

What I’d say is, believe in yourself and your qualifications, and focus on communicating the value you can create for the company. They’re enough to get your foot in the door, and once you’re in, your intellect will shine through. 

Q: What is a day in the life of a Pricing Manager like?

Rather than day-by-day, I approach things one week at a time. Every Monday I list off that week’s priorities, start flagging things ahead of time and box out time for different activities.

A large part of my role requires engaging with many stakeholders within my team so there are many meeting I get invited to, though more and more I’m learning there’s an art to knowing which ones are necessary and which less so.

In addition to this it’s important to do the groundwork to understand the wider market. Keeping up to date with movements and changes across the wider field.

Initially, when I started working the tasks I did and the way I spoke to managers was slighty more one-directional in manner. Managers will ask you to complete tasks, and you’ll report back to them with relevant information. As I’ve advanced in my career, I’ve found that a lot of my work involves having conversation along the lines of “this is what I’m thinking we need to do, how do you feel this could work out?”. It’s a much softer approach to working, requiring interpersonal skills, but it’s the finesse you need to use to make things happen.

Q: Any Likes/Dislikes?

A key thing that I enjoy in this job is the ability to do long term, lateral thinking and strategy. It’s quite enjoyable to be able to study the market, and personally drive a part of the organisations key operation.

A challenge of the job though is the heavy reliance required to influencing people more senior than you. In corporate teams the “right” answer isn’t always the right answer. It’s by building trust within your organisation and clearly and carefully messaging the journey you’re proposing, that you can create value.

Q: What’s the best and worst thing about the job?

There’s a limit to how much data can talk. The best and worst things about the work is that it’s a juggling act of communicating empathetically and building relationships that allows your work to make an impact. It’s a very human way of working, and so sometimes the outcomes are also very human in both positive and negative ways. 

Q: What’s the hardest and easiest thing about the work?

The easiest part of the job is when you get to share good news. When you get the right price point and things are working smoothly, it’s great to be able to share in the good news within the wider team.

The hardest part can be dealing with when things fall apart for reasons you couldn’t know how to account for. If I’ve proposed that we position our products in a particular point, and then for example flooding in parts of China changes demand for our products, all of a sudden we’re caught off guard and you have to adapt quickly.

Q: What fulfils you in this role and what do you find unfulfilling?

The fulfilment of the role is a double edged sword – we work in business-to-business sales. Think of our supply chain like we’re Cadbury and we sell to the wider retail network.

When things work and you get your strategy on point, it’s very fulfilling to know that your strategies and vision have directly lead to business growth. But when things go wrong in pricing, that’s when the finger pointing can start. Overall you need to have a thick skin and belief in your system to weather the highs and lows.

Q: What advice would you give to people who want to enter this industry?

It’s important to build emotional intelligence – in a role like this, you have to carefully manage many stakeholders to come to an outcome. For example, no sales manager wants the price to go up, but no production manager wants prices to go down. You’ll often find yourself at cross roads, and sometimes things can go wrong. It’s just a part of the job and as you get your bearings, you start to back yourself and develop a thicker skin.

Q: If you’re open to people connecting with you on social media for more information and guidance, where can people contact you?

Happy for people to reach out – the best way would be to touch base on

Network Insights: Bio-tech, Research and Product Development with Yadveer Grewal

Yadveer Grewal – Research Scientist and Product Manager, Xing Technologies

Q: What is your job title/role?

I’m a Research Scientist and Product Manager at a biotech start-up specialising in developing in-vitro diagnostic medical devices.

Our organisation has a very collaborative structure with a small team reporting to me directly, and several people in other functions also having significant influence with the projects I work on.  

Q: In what industry/field?

 In vitro diagnostic medical device development.

Q: Did you migrate to your current country?

I was born in Melbourne, before my family temporarily returned to India. We eventually followed some family friends to return to Australia in the late 80s, and settled in Brisbane.

Q: How was this experience?

Growing up in South East Queensland, there weren’t many Indians or other ethnicities in my school environment or in our neighbourhood. This meant the cultural experience was both very anglo-focused and a little challenging.

Q: What helped you through the experience?

Back in the day there were only a dozen or so Indian families in the South East region. Although we were few in number, we still had a real community feeling. For most of my childhood, we didn’t have any family here, so our family friends were our adopted extended family.

To keep this community spirt going, our families would frequently visit one another for get-togethers. Growing up I didn’t just compare myself to the kids directly around me at school or my suburb, but also to the kids in these other Punjabi families who I grew up with. This set a healthy benchmark academically, and also how to conduct myself in my personal life.

There’s a well-known philosophy, that the five closest people in your peer group are crucial to your success. They have the most influence on you. So, I looked at what my peers were doing and tried to emulate that success. I think it’s common in our community to look at the success of others and frame it negatively, “such and such is doing this, why can’t you do better?”, or to say “why is that they have so much success?”. Personally, I think we can look at other people’s success and aspire to meet them at their level, rather than being negative and trying to chop people down. This tall poppy syndrome is common amongst many Australians, so it’s hard mindset to get out of, but once you do, you can open yourself to learn from others and find constructive ways to lead a better and more fulfilling life.

Q: What advice would you give to other migrants?

On reflection, community is a very important aspect of the migrant experience. My family were fortunate to find families from a similar background to us, who we connected with very well. The Gurdwara also formed an important connection point to the local migrant community.

We also found it helpful to reach out and befriend to our neighbours and other migrant groups within our community. That outreach developed some life-long friendships. Advocacy groups such as YSPN are also good means to meet like-minded people and help navigate professional life in Australia.

Q: How did you get into this position or career?

After leaving high school I initially started studying IT, but found that I didn’t enjoy the subjects and so transferred into a double degree in IT and Science. At the time I’d thought I could working towards a position as a lab scientist. But as I came close to graduation, I felt undertaking an additional honours year would enhance my career prospects. From there I did so well in my honours research project, that I felt a PhD would be a natural next step to develop my skills as a scientist and provide me with the greatest capabilities to make a difference.

For my PhD, I decided to pursue independent research in the field of  nanobiotech, which I found an interesting mix of biology, physics and chemistry. My PhD research also turned out well, and from it I was able to generate intellectual property. Though the pathway was completely unplanned, it was through this IP that I could take up an opportunity to commercialise it through my PhD supervisor. He started his own biotech company as I was finishing up my thesis and the IP that I developed with him was one of several that was licensed to this company to commercialise.

Q: Were educational credentials important? If so, what did you study?

In my experience a PhD is generally a minimum requirement if you want to lead independent research. This high level of training also provided soft skills, such as collaboration and clear communication, that also greatly benefited me in my career.  

Q: What is a day in the life of a Research Scientist/Product Manager like?

At my level I’m no longer the person who physically conducts the lab work, I have a higher  objective in mind – bringing a product into the market – and I set the product roadmap and get stakeholder alignment to ensure it happens.

This involves activities like working with our  scientists on experiments, or our quality team to ensure our products are adhering to the correct regulatory framework as well as strategic planning with the CEO and COO  about how to fit the product to the market.

Though I’m the technical expert of the technology – it’s not about dictating my vision to the wider team. I give them an overview, and then get feedback. It’s important to bring everyone on the journey to aim for the same goal.

In terms of hours, in practice I don’t work set hours, but it’s normally more than the standard 40 hour work week. I generally make myself available during normal work hours, so that I can meet team members and external stakeholders, but I have have independence to set my work times to suit the workload required.

There’s no strict dress code here, it’s smart casual. This fits in with expectations of biotech start-up, with many of our employees coming from strong technical backgrounds. As a split of demographics – I’m probably more centre of the group, we have a few more junior positions. And then the senior managers are in their 50s and 60s.

Q: Any Likes/Dislikes?

I like the variety, that there’s a new challenge everyday and I can utilise my technical skills in creative ways. I also enjoy the strategic planning aspects of the role; I feel that having a solid technical background provides me with insight that are invaluable to the company. At the end of the day, we’re developing something that will make a positive impact in people’s lives.

A big reason why I went left academia to work in industry is because I wanted to do something with a tangible outcome. In academia, writing papers is good, and I think about 5% of the papers written are really good and useful to know. But there’s a lot of papers which get written purely to get grants. I like the work that I do, because what I work on is beyond just a cool idea on paper – it’s something I can hold in my hand and know that it’s something many people could be helped by.

As for dislikes, the worst thing about science-based business is the risk that your product doesn’t live up to its initial promise and fails pre-clinical or clinical work. It’s the nature of science, R&D involves trial and error. When something doesn’t work, we always have to have a plan B. The conversation after a failure is always one where you analyse why something didn’t work and then reassess and pivot as necessary.

It can be tough, but a lot of this mentality gets ingrained while you’re conducting your PhD. Even in very successful PhD’s, you still hit a wall many times over and over. You learn a tremendous amount of professional resilience through this process.

Q: What’s the hardest and easiest thing about the work?

The hardest thing about this work is that in Australia there is not much in the way of local companies conducting R&D.

Many of the biotech companies conduct their development overseas which only leaves a local sales and support team. You don’t have many high-quality companies to choose from, and there aren’t many people who’ve have the experience to translate ideas from the lab into a commercial medically regulated product.

If our company was operating in the US market, we’d have easily 10-20 times more investment capital available to us, and investors more willing to invest in higher risk initiatives. In Australia, this is less the case. As a nation we love investing in things that come out of the ground – they understand that well. But there’s relatively less understanding within the Australian market about science based businesses. For example, an American investor might invest in 10 businesses and expect one to two of them to wildly succeed and cover the losses of the other eight. In Australia, the culture is that they’ll invest in up to two businesses and expect both to perform and provide a solid ROI.  

The easiest thing about working in start-up would be the relatively flat hierarchy and lack of internal bureaucracy. I can’t speak too much about the wider industry, but I’ve found that we’re actively encouraged to work in with everyone across all the different levels of the organisation to get successful outcomes.

Q: What fulfils you in this role and what do you find unfulfilling?

Fulfilment is something of a double edged sword in this work. The reason I became a scientist was because I wanted to have a big impact on the wider community. Science is quite unique in how it can have a huge influence on millions of people if you get it right.

The flip side of this though is that, because of the inherent risky nature of R&D, when a medical product doesn’t make it into the hands of the community it can feel very unfulfilling.

Q: What advice would you give to people who want to enter this industry?

If you’re interested in becoming a scientist, it’s not necessarily important to start your education with a science degree. If you’d like to do medical research, study something medically related, or if you’re more interested in the physical or chemical sciences, maybe consider starting with an engineering discipline. Starting out with a science degree can make you overly specialised early on.

In my case , I intentionally made a conscious decision to become a product manager to broaden my skill set and career pathway.

Q: If you’re open to people connecting with you on social media for more information and guidance, where can people contact you?

Happy to connect. The best way to reach out would be via LinkedIn.