Carlos Eduardo Hernandez
Ph.D. in Food Engineering, DTAIC, NPUST
1. What are the major duties for your current position?
Currently, I have two responsibilities, one as manager of my own company and second as professor at National University in Costa Rica. The first role is not time consuming since I have great employees working under my supervision (most of them from my own family), however my duty is to lead and determine the right strategy and to take major decisions. As a professor I teach normally one course each semester and focus my efforts on research and extension. My research is directed towards the field of food quality and its link with the geographical origin (agro ecological factors determining the characteristics of agricultural products and the construction of quality by several actors).
2. How did you get this job?
The company is the product of an entrepreneurship. My job as professor was possible due to my active and permanent relationship with the School.
3. What are the required capabilities for your current position?
As an entrepreneur all is required is will power, a lot of effort and vision, and strategic networks. As a professor it is required to have postgraduate studies on the related field, besides it was desirable to have international experience, a second language, and creative research proposals in order to develop innovative projects.
4. What are the fundamental and professional capabilities for being involved in your industry?
In the food business (production and retailing) and in the agricultural food research area it is required to have a holistic and systematic comprehension of the industry, the market, the policies and regulations, and the technological trends. Formal studies are desirable but knowledge of international sources and potential partners is fundamental.
5. If you are hiring, what are the critical capabilities (or personalities) for your new employee? Why?
An employee should take the performance of the company as his or her own goal, it is a matter of identifying oneself with the company’s success or failure. Loyalty not in terms of contracts; although it is absolutely acceptable and desirable to dream or to wish moving to a different company or position, while having specific responsibilities one should yield the greatest efforts taking it very personal and as a matter of honor. This kind of personality is getting rare nowadays and will definitely differentiate a person.
6. Regarding to above mentioned capabilities or personalities, are they your selecting criteria? Or what are the most important selecting criteria among them?
It is almost impossible to know exactly how someone will perform before hiring. People could change a lot after being hired or after developing specific relations with other employees which could affect, condition or fade someone’s good qualities. Selecting is done in terms of the evident data, curriculum, past responsibilities and possible connections, but that’s about it, it takes a certain degree of intuition to preliminary understand a personality.
7. Is your current job challenging? If yes, in which aspects? (please share couple examples with us)
Both jobs are very challenging. Setting up and running your own company, regardless of the size of the business, is a great responsibility because not only your investment or debt is being gamble, but also people who you hire will depend on your decisions and performance. Markets changes fast, competitors emerge instantaneously, several forces struggle and in the middle of all your small entrepreneurship must exist; so, it is an absolutely dynamic world where not only a huge amount of information is required but a great number of strategic connections.
In the academy it is hard to evaluate or judge the performance of a professor since his or her tasks are problematic given the fact that the objects of studies are equally complex while the institutional environment might be difficult. Whether your object of study is in the social or scientific fields complexity arise from the nature of the object itself in combination with a diversity of approaches demanded from society. The bottom line is that resources are limited and accessing them not only takes academic justification but also political lobby. At the end, building connections and sustaining them is the challenge.
8. Could you please briefly describe the promotion, development, and future prospect of your current job?
My personal goal is to continuously work in the private and the academic worlds. I believe it is possible and also necessary in my field (to have some experience in the private sector enrich a professor while lecturing future professionals). In the business my role is to lead and define the strategy; in the academy my aim is to develop research that impacts the productive sector, promoting innovation and increasing the quality of agricultural products not only in Costa Rica but also in the Central American region. I expect to build a bigger company, as that’s the logic of such endeavors. In the School we expect to develop a specialized institute for the Central American region which will require stronger connections with international partners from the public and private sectors. I expect that as my research group grows I will earn promotion, however my promotion is secondary.
9. If this job has the potential for promotion, what are the capabilities that you need to have to get promoted?
In the academy it is possible to get promoted towards the direction of the department or faculty, however it might also mean to leave the specific tasks that were the previous priorities. For most professors getting promoted in terms of higher management positions is not exactly a goal, however if that is the case the major capability could be to have a strong understanding of the whole department needs and to work towards the right political and corporative connections.
10. What are the unique characteristics or capabilities of you make you successful in your career life?
In the business vision and persistency are obligatory. In the academy, a desire for innovative research and the identification of fundamental needs in the productive sector; impact in society is what defines success in the academy.
11. When you recall, what did you learn in schools? (including on and off campus experiences). Among them, what are very helpful to your career life after graduation?
I value enormously my experience in Taiwan. I took Taiwan as my second home country and appreciate things most commonly people will take as granted. Curricular education, I must say, was conservative following actually most western standards (not bad but not distinctive). However, society in general had a huge impact in my learning experience, including relations with mentoring professors and other academic staff, relations with locals and friends, interactions with farmers and industrial sectors, retailing and consumption culture, etc. Taiwanese in general have a strong capability to work with persistency, understanding their limitations but not underestimating their potentials, that was one of my fundamental lesson. This is a feature that could be observed in the way professors look for a new design (product or process), but also in the way farmers or businessmen design their competitive strategies. Consumers on the other hand are expose to a diversity of offers and they demand innovation at higher degrees than western markets, this therefore promotes a much more dynamic industry, which consequently determines the way research is performed in Universities.
Even though Taiwan is isolated by an international well known political agenda, Taiwanese are always building networks locally and internationally; this is a valuable working framework and culture that I could adopt in my daily professional life, and which I believe should somehow redefine curriculums in schools.
12. In your opinion, what are the capabilities that can be acquired in the university?
Universities of course must offer a well-designed curriculum; instrumental abilities and knowledge are the basic elements of this package. However, as mentioned before a culture and professional approach must be promoted in interaction with society (in collaboration with actors from the private and public sectors).
13. What do you suggest the juniors to learn or prepare in school for entering your industry?
In the food science and technology area it is important not only to understand the scientific aspects of foods but also the market trends and dynamics, how consumers are changing and how quality is constructed. At the end, regardless of what research you do innovation in food and agricultural products should be a response to such changes and trends. There are many intrinsic aspects that permeate the food and agricultural business (for example: environmental impacts, policy and regulations, demand and new technological alternatives) which should be considered beyond the classroom. Therefore, professors and students should look for more interactions with actors out of campus.
14. When applying for a job, what are noteworthy?
Applying for a school and later for a job are stages separated by years. A vocation and affinity to a study field initiate such journey, and normally as a far distant event one goes to apply for a job in a discontinuous matter. So, continuity is the key, constructing and sustaining relationships through graduate or postgraduate years with potential employers is essential. How much you know about a company or working area would ultimately determine how familiar and confident you are as a future employee.
15. Finally, is there anything you want to add on? Any suggestions or advices for the juniors?
It is important to be flexible, nothing in this life happens exactly as we plan. No matter how good we are at designing a strategy, events will always constrain our paths. So, we kind of have to acquire mixed capabilities, different so that they can enrich us but close so that they can complement us.
Some extra classes in a related field, language abilities, an online course, or voluntary work at a nearby farm would be examples of extra-curricular activities that we could enjoy.