Sometimes, when you plant a seed, it just takes off. Whether it’s the weather, the soil, the water or just good timing, some seeds become plants that just can’t stop growing, can’t not thrive. Rachel Palumbo’s career is one such thing. A devotion to hard work, education and people has ensured Rachel has been able to pack a lot into her life and, like a plant fed on a never-ending stream of good water and nutrients, Rachel has just not stop growing.
After just two years at Nufarm, Rachel has sent down some solid roots and is flourishing.
Leading the team at Nuseed Australia, a subsidiary of the Nufarm Group, Rachel is responsible for ensuring Australia’s canola farmers have the best start to develop the best crop, as well as working on establishing other new technologies in the Australian market.
She leads a multi-dimensional leadership crew of eight across four locations in Australia, managing 65 staff across a range of skill sets and areas and overseeing the company’s overall performance.
High levels of achievement have ensured the company has blossomed under her leadership which, actually, fits Rachel’s raison d’etre perfectly.
“I have a motto,” she tells us.
“Leave something better than you found it.”
A surprise inspiration to spark a career in agriculture
But, if we return to that plant theme, this path to growth and success had a somewhat surprising nutrient in the early days.
“While working for an American software company, I realized that I really enjoyed the marketing communications side of my role,” Rachel explains.
“And among my inspirations to make the career change were the public relations aspects of two TV shows: Absolutely Fabulous and Sex and the City! A career I otherwise had never considered.”
“Looking back now, who knows what I was thinking, but I was in my early 20s! – I decided to apply for a post-graduate diploma in public relations, which I aimed to complete part-time while I was working.”
Rachel was able to complete her studies and landed a job at a major multinational agricultural supplier in Australia. During her 13 years there, she was able to pursue her studies, completing a Masters in Communications and an Executive MBA, and moved swiftly up the company’s leadership ladder. By 28, she was running their Australian marketing and licensing operations.
“I am a strong believer in lifelong learning, nobody can ever take your education away from you, invest in yourself.”
How to balance work and life
As for many of us, Rachel was obliged to think about her life and her future somewhat during the COVID period.
“Using the time off to reflect, I knew I wanted to continue working in a company with science, innovation, and customers at its heart.
“And after working overseas for international companies for a number of years I really wanted to work for an Australian company, so that my contributions were helping Australian industry.”
This led to the opportunity from Nufarm Group, to lead the Nuseed Australia business.
The move has been perfect for Rachel, her husband, and daughter.
“While I love what I do, and could easily be consumed by it, I have made a conscious decision that while my daughter is young, I will dedicate as much of my time as possible to my family, outside of work. Each weekend is filled with adventures the three of us take on – whether that is a trip to the Queen Victoria Market, the beach or somewhere more exotic.
“I still take some me-time, but this is usually after she has gone to bed and includes Pilates or dinner and drinks with friends.”
Find the right people to help you build a successful career
The secret to maintaining balance, she says, is nurturing the things that will deliver the solutions you need.
For Rachel, that means she works with those around her, those who can help her achieve her goals and help her family thrive.
“There are never enough hours in the day, and no working mothers I know have a secret recipe. But someone gave to me an important tip which I have gone back to time and again, and that I am happy to pass on: you need layers of childcare that you can tap into when something doesn’t go to plan and you cannot take the reins.
“Invest in the layers.”
This devotion to people is something that Rachel carries through her work life too.
“I feel fortunate to lead a team of folks that deeply care for the business, the industry we operate in and each other. It’s unique and refreshing.
“My interactions at all levels across Nufarm Group and Nuseed are overwhelmingly positive, the can-do, caring culture that truly is focused on improving the experience for employees and our customers shines through with each interaction.”
She adds that, “Helping my team members reach their goals and potential is what I am most proud of. Watching them grow as individuals and professionals, then watching them help others grow is a fulfilling experience. I urge my leadership team to empower others.”
Nufarm is creating more pathways for women
An important part of Rachel’s people-focussed work is ensuring clearer and wider pathways for women in her field.
“I have often been, and often continue to be, the only woman in the room, particularly in industry interactions outside of Nuseed and Nufarm. It’s humorous to watch the look of confusion when I introduce myself and they realize I am the General Manager and not the assistant.”
Rachel has taken on those biases and framed them as challenges rather than as insurmountable obstacles. Part of that challenge is to work to develop better access for women to agricultural careers.
She is particularly active in Nufarm’s equality initiatives to drive progress on workplace inclusion and equity.
“Our I&D Council has identified some key actions that will facilitate the creation of a more equitable Nufarm, particularly when it comes to gender diversity,” she tells us.
“Across our business, we’re putting practices in place to remove the potential for bias to impact on our recruitment process, such as ensuring the inclusion of more women in interview panels.”
She adds that Nufarm is also gathering data and building metrics to ensure better development pathways for women within their organization, as well as succession plans to get more women in executive and board positions.
“Personally, I’m determined to use my position to drive change by addressing any instances of bias that I encounter, and encouraging a culture here where we all feel empowered to do the same.”
“There is never a day I wake up unhappy to go to work” says Rachel.
“I love what I do. I love the opportunity to lead a team that delivers sustainable plant-based solutions in Australian agriculture and value chains.”
From unexpected sources, drawing on wacky TV comedies, Rachel has planted herself right at the forefront not only of the agricultural sector in Australia, and globally, but as a changemaker in workplace diversity.
It’s a growth strategy that can’t fail for both Nufarm and for Rachel.