Sandra Mercier didn’t end up in this sector by chance. She comes from a family of brokers and traders and started out doing placements with a number of different grain trading firms, including Louis Dreyfus. After completing her studies in the United States, she started working as a grain trader with Alfred C. Toepfer in Hamburg. In 1999, Sandra seized an opportunity to join Channoil as an oil broker and went on to build up a portfolio around the Mediterranean. Keen to move to Geneva, in 2001 she started as Relationship Manager at BNP, before moving to the West Africa desk. She subsequently joined Trenaco as Head of Trade Finance. Sandra currently works at TELF AG where she specialises primarily in coal and Ferroalloys products, managing the trade finance, Treasury and risk management team. TELF AG exports mainly from Kazakhstan and Russia and imports throughout Asia, the United States and Europe.
#1/ What is the best moment you can remember in your career?
The best moment so far has to be my time at BNP. It was a period when we helped small trading firms to grow. It was a very business-focused, hands-on role that involved lots of learning, risk and life analysis and identifying and approaching prospective clients. I was lucky to have the opportunity to learn and develop by working with Christopher Slaboszewicz.
I remember finding myself catching a plane to help a client sign a contract in Russia, having just spent 7 hours in negotiations at a refinery. This job was the one that gave me the biggest rush.
BNP had seen that I was someone who could open doors. I built up a portfolio from scratch on two separate occasions in what was a highly competitive internal environment. It was extremely challenging and rewarding.
#2/ If you had to give just one piece of advice to a junior starting his/her career, what would it be?
I find that young people tend to lack appetite and want to move too quickly. My advice to them would be to be patient, curious and to accept that you have to start out at the bottom. I would also say that if you don’t get a buzz out of a job, you should stop doing it – a stimulating environment is key to build a career. If you love what you do then you’ll always do well, whatever your job may be.
#3/ Do you have a Motto/Lucky charm?
I have several! For me, what’s important is doing something you love. If you want to get ahead, progress and become good at what you do, you have to really enjoy and be driven by your work.
I would also say that even the smallest things are important – to go far in your career you have to have an eye for detail.
And last but not least, be honest!
#4/ What do you enjoy the most in your day to day job?
The fact that no two days are the same! You can establish a bit of a routine, but when you get into work each morning you never know what the day will bring. This is largely because current affairs are constantly changing, so it’s important to stay up to speed with what’s going on around the world.
#5/ If you had to do it again would you choose the same career path?
I would do exactly the same! I’ve got so much out of all the roles I’ve held. I’ve worked in different jobs, in different countries, and each stage has allowed me to seize the next opportunity. I’ve developed a much more holistic vision of the market, in terms of both geographic regions and different commodities, as well as some interesting insights into geopolitics.
#6/ What is the biggest challenge for a woman in the trading industry?
For a long time, the challenge for me as a woman working in this sector was commanding respect. Certain situations when I started working with Russia at BNP spring to mind. As a young woman, I had to work twice as hard to gain the confidence of my contacts there. These days, I don’t see this difference in treatment. Lots of women work in the sector and this no longer seems to pose any particular challenges.
#8/ How could you qualify your relationship with Ampersand World?
Excellent! I’ve spoken with Penda on many occasions and I have to say that I’m impressed by the reputation that Ampersand World has built up.
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to work directly with Ampersand World, but they would be my first port of call for any future recruitment or training requirements. Their specialist knowledge and expertise in the commodity sector is invaluable!