From the Grassroots up

By Seth Robinson

Leesa Chen came to Melbourne Business School as a Westpac Future Leader Scholar to study in the Master of International Business. Before this she worked with Bega Cheese in a role that opened up her understanding of the agricultural supply chain.

Leesa grew up in Sydney, where she completed her undergraduate studies in commerce and arts, with majors in International Business and Chinese Studies.

“When I finished my undergrad I thought I would go work in China, because that’s what I’d studied, and that’s what you do, right? China is booming and it’s where everyone wants to go.”

But a job offer in regional New South Wales opened up another option, and a change of track that Leesa hadn’t anticipated.

“I ended up taking the job at Bega Cheese, thinking, it’s in NSW, so is Sydney, how far can it be?” she laughs. “it turns out, very. A great part of being in the Bega Valley is that you’re surrounded by farms. I have a lot of great friends in the Valley now, they’re proud dairy farmers and they’ve taught me how to milk cows.”

Working with Bega Cheese gave Leesa an insight into the dairy industry, and the greater agricultural supply chain. It was an area she had never considered during her undergraduate studies.

“I love being part of the Australian agriculture industry. They have really ambitious goals to increase farm gate output to $100 billion by 2030, and you think ‘how do you do that?’ Personally, I’m interested in innovation in the industry, and balancing environmental limitations. You want to be producing better, not producing more. You don’t just want to increase your supply, so it’s not the simple buy-sell-trade model, it’s ‘how do you actually understand culture and add value, then bring it back to Australian farmers?’”

Leesa Chen
Leesa Chen, photo courtesy of Westpac Scholars.

It was this future thinking that inspired Leesa to seek out a postgraduate qualification in the Master of International Business.

“I wanted global breadth, and I thought the University of Melbourne could offer me that. There are courses I want to take – like the Global Business Practicum – that offer that overseas experience. I’m really enjoying the classroom experience as well. It’s a simulation of an international environment, so you can make those connections and ask questions like ‘how does this work in Italy or China?’ I’ve also met lots of students from China, so it’s a great way for me to practice my Chinese.”

Leesa was also fortunate enough to be named a Westpac Future Leader Scholar, which has provided her support in returning to her studies

“I was at a point where it was a good time to say ‘look, I’ve had two years’ worth of experience, how do I build upon that? How do I change the way I think?’ Learning is hard, unlearning is even more difficult. That’s why I decided to apply for the Westpac Future Leaders Program, it’s not just a scholarship program. There is a whole leadership team to back you. There’s a leadership coach, and a great cohort of people who all want to see you do well. It’s all about backing Australian ideas and young people who want to drive change in Australia.”

Now, Leesa is happy focusing on her studies, but her graduation will most likely see a return to the agricultural sector, and the world of international business.

“Agriculture affects the entire supply chain, from farming to management, to sales, to innovation. It allows you the opportunity to be part of something bigger, and it transcends borders.”