Lance Wang moved from China to Hong Kong in 1993 with a university degree in industry management, and not much else. He couldn’t even speak the local dialect. So, he attended a church study group to meet people and improve his Cantonese. As fate would have it, one of the hosts happened to be the general manager of Monsanto Hong Kong, and he offered Lance a start at the company.

“He asked me if I knew computers, and I said ‘Not really’, so he said, ‘Do you want to learn?’ I didn’t want to tell him that I didn’t, so I agreed to meet with his IT manager,” he laughs. “Probably because I was friends with the big boss, the IT manager was really nice to me and helped me as much as he could. But after nine months I accepted that I had no talent for IT and couldn’t foresee my future in it.”

Lance Wang leads the charge towards sustainable farming

Lance held on just long enough for another door to open. Monsanto had decided to progress with its expansion into greater China and required translators. The position fell into Lance’s lap when a manager for crop protection ran into him waiting for the elevator, and asked him to join his team.

He translated during negotiations, for market intelligence, and as part of the marketing department, before the company paid for him to attain his MBA at Saint Louis University in the US. He then spent 12 months working with the strategy group at the US head office.

Fast-forward 20 years, and Lance is now based in Singapore as the vice-president of Monsanto ASEAN, Pakistan and Partnerships, leading the charge towards sustainable farming. “The growth of the middle class in places like China, India, and Indonesia means we will need to produce more grain to meet the demand for nutrition and proteins,” he explains.

Lance Wang Vice-President of Monsanto Asia

The growth of the middle class in places like China, India, and Indonesia means we will need to produce more grain to meet the demand for nutrition and proteins.

“There are limited resources on earth, and agriculture uses 70% of the available fresh water. Plus, there’s not really any new land available, so it’s all about how we produce more with less input.”

Monsanto Asia embraces new technology

To achieve this, Monsanto is constantly developing technology and practices to improve the efficiency of farmers. In Lance’s jurisdiction, 90% of the growers are smallholders, so while they are more difficult to manage, their combined land is critical to the overall effort.

“We are developing a smallholder strategy that will enable us to effectively reach them and demonstrate our value,” he reveals. “One challenge is getting to know them and the other is the cost and time it takes to educate them on farmer yield and technology. Because generally speaking their literacy level is not very high.

“To adopt a new technology, to buy a new seed, whether they are progressive farmers or more cost-sensitive farmers, they all relate to ‘seeing is believing’,” he continues. “So we do demonstration fields and invite farmers to check out the field at every stage of the plant. At harvest time the farmers can compare the yield between Monsanto seeds and the ones they are currently planting.”

Keeping the team motivated

In his role, Lance travels the countryside and often gets to see first-hand the positive impact Monsanto has on its customers. “Here in South East Asia, we work with smallholders and when you produce more yield for them or reduce the harshness of their labour, it can really be life-changing. They have the extra money to send their kids to school, for example,” he says. “When they tell us these things it’s very rewarding, and it keeps our team motivated.”

I made it a priority to keep morale high and provide an environment where people weren’t afraid to tell me bad news.

While it may sound like a throw-away line, Lance insists the team’s drive has been the difference between failure and success. “I guess when I started here we were going through a difficult period, not selling enough seed. So I made it a priority to keep morale high and provide an environment where people weren’t afraid to tell me bad news. We held weekly meetings to ensure we stayed upbeat and my door was always open.”

The leadership traits you’d expect from a man whose Monsanto journey began in a family studies group at a Hong Kong church, a little over two decades ago.