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Q&A: Jacqueline Applegate’s Perspective on Embracing Change

The ability to embrace change has propelled this leader through the ranks at Bayer.

“We are in a time of transformation,” says Jacqueline Applegate. “We are starting to see a convergence of data science, biology, and technology. All of these technologies are coming together at this point in time, which is really accelerating change.

“Historically people looked at change as finite, so you go through change and it stops. What I see when I look fundamentally at agribusiness as a whole is the market is changing at a very rapid pace, which is influenced by changes in technology. At the same time, we see large macro trends, including water management, the need to be more sustainable, and a consumer market more interested in how their food is produced.”

How can farmers and agribusinesses best adapt for this time of transformation? Embracing change is key, says Applegate. That’s a concept that Applegate has embraced wholeheartedly since she started at Bayer as a process development chemist in 1992. Over the last 27 years, Applegate has moved through the ranks at Bayer, which included moving from Missouri to Germany (where she learned to speak German) to Australia to France. Last year, she moved back to the U.S.

In St. Louis, Applegate is now the head of Bayer’s global vegetable seeds and environmental science units. Bayer itself is going through unprecedented change after its acquisition of Monsanto, which was completed in June 2018. Applegate shares her thoughts on change management, her career, and what’s next.

SF: How do you help your team embrace change?

JA: I think one of the most important things about change is being clear and transparent about the change that is coming. Effectively communicating and explaining to people what is coming, and helping people understand what’s in it for them is critical to individuals and teams embracing change.

Also, to be clear that it’s a journey, because people think you flip on the lights and we change. That’s not really how it works. It’s more like a dimmer switch. There’s a ramp up to it and if you manage that ramp, it allows people to move at their own pace. One of the greatest things a leader needs to understand is everybody goes through change differently. In times of change, leaders need to really fine-tune their own social skills to have the ability to listen to what their people are saying and to meet them where they are on the change curve.

SF: How did you get to your current perspective on change management?

JA: When I was first starting my career, I went back and got my executive MBA. One of my focuses was on organization behavior. I started my journey there. After that, I was a self-learner. I’m a big, prolific reader, so I try to keep up on the newest books. Then it was by trial and error. You have the opportunity to learn, win, and fail. I always say that failure is an opportunity as long as you learn from that and progress forward.

One of the greatest things is learning that it’s not just about the hard skills. Soft skills are important in times of accelerated changes. Leaders in times where we’re using lots of technology need to strengthen their interpersonal relationship skills.

SF: When you started your career, did you picture yourself getting to where you are today?

JA: I knew when I started out in production that I wanted to have the production site manager’s job after I’d been there a year. Then I moved on to another job. I realized after being in Germany for a couple of years that I wanted to be a head of portfolio management or to run a country. As I grew and learned in my career, I always had greater ambitions.

I’m totally purpose driven. As a company, Bayer’s overall purpose is to better life, using science, innovation, and knowledge. That’s something that has always resonated with me from the first time I interviewed with the company.

SF: What’s next? Are you headed for CEO?

JA: I would like to be CEO of my company. Absolutely. I am a CEO in my own right because I run two global businesses. I think I have the experience and skill set. With greater learning and over time, hopefully my organization would see me as having the potential to lead the company in the future.

SF Bio

Name: Jacqueline Applegate

Title: President of Global Vegetable Seeds & Environmental Science at Bayer

Education: Applegate has a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Wright State University, a doctorate in organic chemistry from Iowa State University, and an MBA from Rockhurst University.

Family: A 16-year old son, Matthew. Applegate’s husband, David, passed away in 2018.

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