A global career, from Japan to Geneva
It’s a long way from rural Japan to Geneva. But the mountains and lakes have helped Tetsuya Watanabe, Global Trading Manager for feed grains at COFCO International, to feel at home in Switzerland. His journey to Geneva has been long but underpinning it has been his interest in agricultural commodities.
“It’s a pretty different environment here, compared to the countryside in Japan where I grew up. But there’s a lot of nature, mountains and lakes there and it’s pretty similar here. That’s something that makes me comfortable in Geneva,” Watanabe says.
“At the beginning Geneva is a bit boring. It’s a small city and I used to live in Tokyo, so there is no comparison. But then I started to explore the region outside Geneva and it reminded me of home. It’s great for the kids and very international.”
Watanabe's journey to Geneva has been long but underpinning it has been his interest in commodities. Originally from Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, Watanabe originally had no idea that this would be his career. He studied economy and politics, which included some units in commodities, and that set him off on a new path.
“When I was a child, I didn’t really think that I was going to go into commodities trading. When I was in college, I did some studying of commodity markets and I found it fascinating. Then I was lucky enough to find a job as a commodities analyst, in soft commodities and grains, and after that I thought I should be doing something more. I wanted to trade what I analyse, and that’s why I started my career as a trader,” he says.
The centre of everything
Watanabe studied first in Japan and then the UK before becoming a commodities analyst in New York, and returned to Japan in 2009, when he moved into physical trading with Noble Group. He moved to Geneva in 2014, following COFCO International’s acquisition of Noble’s agriculture division.
“Geneva was a great opportunity as it was a global role and gave me a new perspective. I love grain trading, because we see it every day in the supermarket, so it’s tangible and something that everyone understands. It’s very easy for me to explain what we trade, and it’s something I really like about my job,” he says.
As head trader of the global desk, Watanabe’s role now is to optimise the global trade in feed grain, mainly corn, for COFCO International by connecting origins and destinations. This involves setting and delivering on strategy, covering 30 million tonnes of corn traded by the global corn trading desk between more than 30 countries; managing risk to cover exposure in physical markets; and coordinating the global network of trading desks to ensure the team is working together, while still delivering on their individual targets.
“There are two essential parts of our role. Firstly, we need to ensure we hit our targets, and if we have too much exposure then we need to hedge. Secondly, we are a central desk and are in the middle of everybody. We make sure our trading teams work together collectively. Each desk has its own defined profit and loss account, and we make sure there is no conflict of interests,” he says.
Support from the research team is particularly important regarding risk factors such as weather. This can have a significant impact on yields, so accurate predictions are key to assess particular risks to supply.
“The research team give us a headsup on a potential risk and we try to translate that into what it means for production. We include that in the supply and demand equation and that improves how we assess and predict the market,” Watanabe says.
A taste of home
Since moving to Geneva, Watanabe’s family has expanded. He loves the environment that his two children, a daughter aged 8 and son aged 5, are growing up in. His job as Global Trading Manager is demanding and it is important to switch off sometimes.
“Family is very important and always part of my motivation. I enjoy cooking and it helps me to relax and spend time with them. Sometimes during the day, I think too much about the market. Then I spend some time in the kitchen and it allows me to focus on something else. It allows me to recharge and come in the next day ready to go again,” he says.
Watanabe aims to create a taste of home by cooking Japanese food. He values the opportunities that living in Geneva brings for his children but wants them to remember their roots.
“Whenever we want to eat Japanese food, I cook. When we want to eat something else, my wife cooks or we do it together. It’s nice for me to teach my kids how to cook so they can learn,” he says. “Where I grew up in Japan, in the country, we saw no foreigners. Now the kids are growing up in this international environment with all these languages. I’m so happy to give them these opportunities.”