Women in agriculture: Meet Carla Jackson

Jan 10, 2020 | Articles

As we continue our series on the outstanding women of Trouw Nutrition who are breaking new ground in the industry, we would like to introduce you to Carla Jackson, Quality and Food Safety Director at Micronutrients in Indianapolis. She talks about the twists and turns in her path to animal nutrition – and why it’s ok to go to plan B – and the thrill of helping to create something that will last far into the future.

“My path to animal nutrition? I’ll put it this way – it’s not something I had planned [laughs]. Although science has always been my thing. I enjoy everything about it. But as a young girl, I wanted to be a doctor. However, once I started my premed studies in college, I began to have second thoughts. These were reinforced when I worked as a pharmacy technician during my studies. I loved the people and learning about the different medications, but not the bureaucratic side. It was heartbreaking when people came in with prescriptions for medications they couldn’t afford because they didn’t have the right insurance, and there was nothing I could do to help. I wanted to pay for all their prescriptions (and I even did a couple of times) – but I couldn’t survive doing that long term!

“I decided I needed to make a change. The hardest part was breaking the news to my parents – they were disappointed because they’d seen me on the path to becoming a doctor all my life. But I had to be true to myself – even if a part of me was wondering whether I’d made the biggest mistake of my life.

“One thing I was still sure of was my lasting love for science, so I continued studying biology and chemistry. My first job was in analytical chemistry – with a commercial environmental laboratory, Heritage – and I fell in love with it! After a number of years working in this field, I ended up back at a pharmaceutical company. Though we were doing important work, the environment and culture were a terrible fit for me.  It was here that I had my next “moment” where I had to look hard at my career and decide whether I was happy or needed to make another change. I took a big risk and quit my job! My friends and family couldn’t believe it, but I knew it was the right choice for me. I believe you need to have faith in your decisions and always know that another door will open. And for me it did. One month later I reentered the world of animal nutrition by joining Micronutrients – a company that was then owned by Heritage, and is now part of Nutreco – and I’ve been here for thirteen years!

Micronutrients offered me my first managerial role, and I worked my way up until I joined the management team as Quality and Food Safety Director this past January. This role has been a huge change – I’ve moved from having a more narrow, day-to-day perspective to taking a long-term view of what is best for the whole company. Now I have a 360-degree outlook on the business, and I can determine where we can make the biggest impact from the Quality side.

Being a woman in the industry has, at times, been challenging. I have had to work hard to make sure my voice is heard. I look at it strategically, like a scientist: considering what I need to do and who I need to talk to in order to get from point A to point B. The important thing is to be persistent and keep looking for other paths to get to that point B if your first path fails. For example, when the Food Safety Modernization Act was about to be implemented, I was leading the preparations and some colleagues weren’t sure I was ready for such a huge challenge. It involved creating an entire food safety plan, improving quality management and everything else we needed to get ready to comply with this new law that changed our whole industry. I took the responsibility very seriously – I felt that if I failed, we failed as a company. So it was a great success for me when everything was finally in place.

Every time I enter our new plant, I’m reminded of another achievement I’m very proud to have played a part in. When I started as lab manager, I worked for the head of R&D. At the time, we only had one production facility, and were looking to expand into new products, which would require a new facility. We began to prepare our strategy, doing bench trials and R&D. It was a lot of work – and we had both successes and failures. But when we got to the point where they said ‘yes – this is viable’ and decided to build the plant…do you know how proud I was? I was part of something that will be there forever. What a feeling!

What is most fulfilling about my job overall? Definitely the people. Seeing how my team can improve what we do – that’s what excites me. It’s important to understand where people want to go in their careers and help them get there. Sometimes it means that they end up leaving us for a new opportunity, but that’s ok – it means we’ve helped them grow.

As a woman in the industry, you have to make your own way. The advice I’d give to young women is that it’s ok to go to plan B. Where I’ve ended up today wasn’t my plan, but that’s alright. I chose a different path and it turned out to be the best for me. Sometimes I think we also put limits on ourselves. But I believe, as a woman, you need to live a limitless life. I recently interviewed a lab technician for a job and asked her about her plan for the future. She said she wanted to manage a lab someday. And I said, ‘why not think bigger? Why not aim to own a lab some day?’

“Success takes perseverance. And you will face obstacles – but you need them, because they only make you stronger!

by Lisa Brandl