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 email@example.com.