Career Path: Julia Cohen, Business Development & Corporate Strategy at Bowery Farms
What does a day-in-the-life look like for a professional in Business Development & Corporate Strategy at Bowery Farming?
We interviewed Julia Cohen to find out!
Where did you grow up? What did your parents do for work? What was your very first job (before any internships)?
I grew up outside Boston, MA. Both of my parents are therapists (I know…). In spite of that, I had a pretty normal childhood, but we probably talked about our feelings more than the average family.
My parents always encouraged me to find something that I was passionate about, and where I felt like I could make the biggest impact on the world around me. In high school, that thing was ice cream. I worked as an ice-cream scooper and occasional cake decorator at the local ice cream parlor. I also ate a lot of free ice cream.
After graduating from Penn, you were an Assistant Brand Manager at PepsiCo. Which products did you work on and how did that job lay down the foundation of your career?
As evidenced by my ice-cream scooping days, I’ve always been passionate about food and the power of shared experience. After college, I knew I wanted to do something in that space that combined hard business skills with creativity and innovation, so I joined PepsiCo. At Pepsi, I worked across our North American Beverage portfolio on brands ranging from Pepsi to Aquafina, and spent time working on product innovation across the portfolio.
Pepsi laid the foundation for both how I think about the transformative power of business and its responsibility to society. It also sparked my initial interest in sustainability. CEO Indra Nooyi defines Pepsi’s guiding philosophy as “Performance with Purpose,” which essentially holds that businesses can do well by doing good. In her 12-year tenure, Nooyi has transformed PepsiCo’s portfolio to include healthier products and reduced global environmental impact, all while maximizing shareholder value.
PepsiCo defines sustainability as meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Bowery takes that notion one step further with its mission to grow food for a better future by revolutionizing agriculture.
What prompted you to go back to business school at HBS? Based on the clubs you were involved in, it looks like you were interested in entrepreneurship. What sparked that interest?
While undergrad was a mind-expanding opportunity to learn about a broad range of topics, business school was an opportunity to go deep. It tends to foster this weird, amazing ecosystem of incredibly passionate, engaged, and interested people who are willing to openly and honestly share their experiences and learn from one another. Starting my career in brand management was a great introduction to product and P&L management, but I wanted to round out my holistic knowledge of all of the functions and idiosyncrasies of running a business. I learned immensely from the people around me.
From the time I was a toddler who would set up my own nursery school at home on the days school wasn’t in session, I’ve always been an entrepreneur. I love building things. At business school, I had the opportunity to flex that muscle and ended up spending time throughout consulting for a range of startups through InSITE Fellows, helping a friend with his emergency response communication platform, and even starting my own women’s intimate apparel line.
After spending a year and a half in strategy consulting, why did you decide to join Bowery Farming?
I am grateful for the time I spent at McKinsey, which I view as a continuation of my business education; however, I always knew that I wanted to join or build a company after business school. Consulting taught me the value of strategic and structured thinking (who doesn’t love a good framework?), which has proven incredibly valuable in the ambiguous, amorphous, evolutionary environment of an early-stage, high-growth startup.
After about a year and a half I started to pick my head up and think about what I wanted to do post-consulting. I kept a list of all of the companies that piqued my interest as they popped up in tech headlines. At its core, my interest lay in companies that were using technology to offer a product or service that would make the world a better place for this and future generations. I remember reading about Indigo’s Series C in the summer of 2016 and thinking that was such an incredibly cool company (but what would I DO there?) I started to think more seriously about agtech, and was introduced to our CEO Irving Fain through a VC friend. At the time, the company was five people, but I fell in love with the vision and the opportunity to be a part of what Bowery was building.
Can you share the high-level responsibilities of your current position in Business Development and Corporate Strategy?
I’ve worn a number of hats throughout my time at Bowery, and have spent a lot of time working on all aspects of the commercial side of our business (from marketing to sales and product). In my current role, I am responsible for developing and executing partnerships and supporting strategic initiatives that accelerate Bowery’s growth. This can be anything from cultivating major sales and distribution-related partnerships, to managing go-to-market, product and growth strategy. I love my role at Bowery because it’s highly cross-functional and touches many critical pieces of the business.
Any tips for someone considering a similar career path?
If you had told me 10 years ago that I would be working at an indoor farming company today, I would not have believed you. That’s actually pretty much how I feel about every single career- or life-defining choice that I’ve made to-date. There is no perfect path, so don’t put too much pressure on yourself to follow it. Instead, think carefully about all the things that matter to you, force rank them, and use that as your decision matrix when evaluating a new opportunity.
Day in the Life
Coffee, tea, or nothing?
Iced coffee, 365 days a year.
What time do you get into the office?
Depending on whether I’ve made it to the gym in the morning and what I have going on that day, sometime between 8:45 and 9:30. If it’s a packed day and I need some quiet time to work in the morning, I’ll head in earlier.
Every day is different, but can you outline what a typical day looks like for you?
I try to spend the mornings on “deep” work if I can avoid meetings because I am the most productive and focused then. Afternoons are usually spent hopping from meeting to meeting, and working on day-to-day work and cross-functional projects. I try to spend about an hour wrapping things up and cleaning the slate for the next day before I head home for the night or grab dinner with friends.
What time do you head out of the office?
Usually around 6:30-7:30.
Do you log back in at night or do you shut it down completely?
I aspire not to (with varying success).
Any productivity hacks?
Everything in my inbox gets labeled and archived, or moved to the “To Do,” “Follow Up,” “In Progress,” or “Parking lot” section of my inbox.
What are the 3 apps that you can’t live without?
iMessage, Spotify & Gmail.
What professional accomplishment are you proudest of?
Trying and failing to start my own company.
Who do you admire or call upon for professional advice?
My mentor who is a former startup CEO and a total godsend, my insanely insightful friends, my ever-patient boyfriend, and obviously my parents (since they give advice for a living).