We caught up with Hugo Gaignebet, Technical Support at the Aqua4D HQ in Sierre, Switzerland.
So, Hugo, tell us a little about yourself.
Well, I was born and raised in Paris then studied Mechanical and Industrial Engineering in Lille at the same school (Arts et Métiers) as Charly, our Chief Technical Officer. Charly posted the job offer on the Alumni network, and that’s how I ended up doing Technical Support here at Aqua4D.
What does your day-to-day at the company look like?
I am at the office around half the time. When I’m here I follow up ongoing projects, help the marketing team, train newcomers, and do some sport with the team – most of the office often take a break to play “baby-foot”. When I’m on the road, my work consists of follow-ups with clients, checking the system installation, setting up a validation protocol where all the success criteria of the project are stated and agreed upon.
What’s the most rewarding part of your job?
The travelling allows me to get in places I would have never gone to, far from the tourist spots, and by meeting clients and colleagues from different cultures I manage to steer clear of a “routine”. The company’s also very flexible in terms of working from home or merging private and professional schedules, meaning I can also do a bit of my own travelling and combine it with the job. The open communication also allows trust to grow between the bosses and myself; they often listen to what I have to say and I feel my opinion is taken into account when decisions are made. I feel like I’m considered and that what I say and who I am matters to my colleagues.
Aqua4D is a cleantech company – what does that mean to you?
Well, the product we sell is ecological, and after production does not create any waste and gives our clients better control of their water and fertilizer consumption. Since I started working here I’ve realized that water quality is worsening in many parts of the world, at the same time that consumption is increasing. Our system offers great solutions while not polluting or using chemicals. Meanwhile, we are in charge of most of the production process in-house so we can control its impact and also keep transportation costs down.
What do you think sets your company apart from its competitors?
Simply put, excellent project follow-up on an international scale. Every question we are asked gets an answer from our team and most of the time in the language it was asked in. This is a big strength of our company – its international nature. We have many smaller competitors but I don’t see one that can handle projects in so many different countries the way we do. Rigor and seriousness also plays a big role. We are constantly collaborating with universities and doing research in the fields we work in; basically it never stops and validation studies are ongoing all over the world, all with rigorous Swiss follow-up by our technical team.
We live in challenging times – what are the impacts of climate change on agriculture?
Climate change is definitely already happening, with temperature rises and extreme weather already noticeable. A good example of impact is one of my clients in the south of Spain. When we installed in his field at the end of 2015 he was telling us that we didn’t have to worry about rain because it was never raining there. Since then he has had snow, floods, haze and more which often destroyed his crops. This is one example but I’ve got dozens, from flooding in Peru and Brazil to higher temperatures and water scarcity in Arizona.
So do you think your company can contribute in some way towards alleviating these problems?
Well, climate change is everybody’s challenge. We can help only by changing the way we consume, as people, but our product cannot perform miracles. Agriculture essentially takes up around 70% of this planet’s drinkable water, and because the market sets the rules, there is about a 30% waste even before it reaches our plates. There is also destruction of biodiversity in the soil, and significant water and air pollution. The fact is that everybody needs food and the population is growing, but the food production system as a whole needs a transformation. For our part, our system certainly helps growers reduce their water and fertilizer consumption, so we are certainly doing our bit to reduce the industry’s detrimental impacts.
What first brought you to this company? Do you have any stand-out memories of your time there so far?
I come from an industrial and mechanical engineering background, with previous work at Airbus, Thales, a start-up doing an online MBA and a consultancy company. So the agriculture business was completely new to me, but this has quickly become my favourite job. With its challenge, everything is always new: new people, new culture, new way of working. Seeing the company growing is very interesting, after having worked for a start-up I get to see the next phase of a company and selling a product all over the world. I have some awesome memories since I started. There’s a great company spirit – barbecues, laser tag, wine-tasting, games of “baby-foot” and squash with colleagues. Otherwise, travelling for work with George, staying with Phillip in California, discovering hidden places in Mexico with Ramon, and learning every day with Charly. It is definitely intense and full of awesome memories.
What does the rest of your 2018 look like, what projects or highlights have you got on the horizon?At the moment I’m mostly focusing on California and Spain, with maybe a project in South African vineyards; I’m the one who goes to do some reporting and gather information for the Swiss office. With our new building too on the way, there’s certainly plenty coming up.