Cady Liang

Reshaping the food ecosystem.
Director of Sustainability - APAC
@
Compass Group

How did you get here?

Prior to my current role, I co-founded a start-up in the eco-driving space (we made telematics devices to help consumers save fuel by nudging behaviour change) and also spent about 3 years as a consultant at McKinsey & Company.

Within McKinsey, I joined as a digital strategist which meant my experience kicked off with digital AI, Agile focused projects. What I really wanted to explore however was sustainability - I always had an interest in environmental responsibility growing up, and also did my degree in Law and International Relations focusing on environmental law and energy policy.

There wasn't a whole lot in sustainability so I chased the experts in the firm to put my hand up for Energy projects. Eventually, I got exposure across climate risk and energy systems projects.

This really kicked off the foundations of my sustainability career - I started getting connected to opportunities both inside and outside e.g., we had a ‘start up club’ to help start ups - including those in climate tech within food and agriculture.

What options were you considering?

I always saw myself doing one of two things - either pursuing a career in Education or playing a role in Sustainability. When I was leaving McKinsey, I was pretty open to either path, but how I got to my current role was actually a turn of events.

I knew I wanted to take a break from consulting and pursue something new that I’m passionate about. I had actually been accepted for a Masters of Education (Neuroscience and Cognitive Psychology) at Harvard and was really excited to take it. Unfortunately however, it was right when Covid hit and so the idea of doing classes online wasn’t so exciting anymore.

At this point, I was offered a secondment opportunity as a ‘digital manager’ for McKinsey.org (where I helped set up a new recycling system in Bali and Argentina - including building local sorting centres, training local communities and setting up market infrastructure).

Of course, I took it and I loved it! Shortly into my secondment I’ve decided that I’d pursue Sustainability over Education given I had been deepening my expertise and connections in this field, and the types of career opportunities that were aligned to my experiences were more abundant.

There were a couple of pathways that seemed appealing to me in the Sustainability space - I considered 1) working in a VC with a specialisation in Climate Tech, especially FoodTech/AgTech investments, 2) working in an ESG function of a large corporate (e.g., Microsoft, Google - where they either have ESG investments or need to build an ESG strategy), or 3) driving the sustainability agenda in a FMCG or Food & Agriculture company.

Given I knew roughly what I wanted to do, it was just about talking to all the connections I had made over time to see what opportunities were available that were a great fit for me. I ended up landing two opportunities - one was a strategic role for a plastics recycling start up and the other was to support Compass Group (global B2B food services) with their ESG strategy.

I really wanted to explore both before making a commitment, and was really lucky they both offered an informal part-time opportunity so I could do just that. Of course, they both knew I was working at both companies at the time.

How did you make the decision to take your current role?

After a period of time of informally supporting both companies, I decided the latter (where I am at now) was a better fit for me.

I was solving for the potential future impact I could have, with the platform I’d be able to build. Taking the Compass role - given the scale of the organisation (multinational organisation, largest player in the global industry) as well as the breadth of the Director role meant I would be really pushing myself, and learning a lot. It was an offer I couldn’t really refuse, particularly as it was a newly created role.

The role at the recycling startup was also really cool - it would’ve been a dream job if I hadn’t landed the offer at Compass Group.

What are you doing now?

I’m currently the Director of Sustainability for the APAC region.

What does your day to day look like?

One component of my role is very strategic (i.e., diagnosing where the company is currently at, defining where it wants to be and then creating the sustainability plan for the next 5 years, for the 8 markets we have in the region). I also lead the strategic projects, with the support of country managers to bring this to life - e.g., one of our top priorities is halving our food waste by 2025 against our current baseline, another one is about shifting to a more plant-forward menu (e.g., cutting red means by 30% over the next few years).

Another part of my role is also being the subject matter expert for sustainability for the region - this means being pulled into client conversations to discuss how to approach sustainability, writing the proposals for potential partnerships, and developing and sharing best practices with the team.

What do you love about your job?

The thing I love the most is the potential for a positive impact in the world. Given Compass Group is the largest food service provider in the world (e.g., we serve 5 billion meals a year), any change we make to how people think about their meals is pretty significant - whether it’s about their nutrition, or how the food is sourced.

I do have to snap myself into reality sometimes - I feel very lucky to be able to be in a position to have this scale of impact at this stage of my career!

Role wise, I really enjoy the flexibility and control. As a Director I’m in charge of my job - which is very scary, but also very empowering in that I get to have the final say. I can choose which projects I focus on - including which ones I’ll be more deeply involved in, where I have a really strong interest in. I enjoy having the flexibility to choose when and where I do my job, as long as I get it done. It’s a pretty big change to the typical structured environment you’d find in consulting (such as the daily check-ins, check-outs).

I also love the people I get to meet and work with, who are from all walks of life and of all ages. A lot of the people I work with started out as a chef and moved into corporate roles over time, which means they are some of the most practical and action-oriented people I know. They’re the ones who teach me the most and really help me get the really high-level vision happening on the ground.

What do you not love about your job?

Like any position of seniority, it can be a double edged sword. It can be scary and lonely.

While I’m not the only expert on sustainability in the company, I’m the only one dedicated to work in this capacity – meaning it’s harder to find people to consult with on more technical or emerging topics (unlike the day to day team problem solvings in consulting).

Being a leader also adds a layer of complexity to socialising in the workplace as you need to think about having the right presence to have the right influence.

What advice would you give someone deciding what they should do?

It’s pretty magical when you do find a niche role where it’s perfect for you, but also when you’re also the right fit for the company.

What I found is that this takes a long time - to explore different options, to tap into your network to find leads, to talk with different people to effectively “create” roles. I took a whole year to find the right role, and could not be happier.

During the year I went through some periods where I had absolutely no idea what I was going to do - I knew I didn’t want to stay in consulting, my time at McKinsey.org ran out, I didn’t have any strong leads. This was hard as you start questioning yourself, but it was well worth waiting out for.

Another thing to keep in mind is that a lot of awesome job opportunities aren’t advertised. The opportunities I was considering all weren’t advertised, but rather, introduced via connections I had built over time.

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