ABS Global’s Korink brings worldly outlook to DeForest-based corporation

Saskia Korink grew up in the Netherlands thinking she might one day like to be a veterinarian. Today, she lives in the Madison area, serving as chief operating officer of ABS Global, an industry leader in bovine genetics and reproduction services that’s headquartered in tiny DeForest but operates in 70 countries.

It’s not exactly a lateral move, but neither is it worlds away from the life she envisioned while growing up in Europe.

The skiing is better over the pond, and it’s quite a bit colder here. And while animals are the focal point of her career, she’s having an impact on the world that far outstrips what she may have pictured when she first started thinking about her eventual career track.

“When you travel to places like Colombia or Africa or Asia, you see that there is clearly a role here [in addressing world hunger].” — Saskia Korink

“I never thought I would work with bovine genetics, no,” said Korink, who will speak at 8 a.m. March 11 at the Madison Concourse Hotel as part of IB’s Icons in Business series. “But I love the job. I love the industry, actually. I love agriculture. It’s a down-to-earth industry, and it’s so essential, isn’t it? That’s what I really like about the business. We really try to do something good for the world.”

Her job keeps her busy traveling the globe — most recently she trekked to South America as the company worked on its recent acquisition of 51% of In Vitro Brasil S.A. — and it’s through many of her experiences abroad that the work her company does comes into sharp relief.

“When you travel to places like Colombia or Africa or Asia, you see that there is clearly a role here [in addressing world hunger],” said Korink. “This is what you’re trying to do. You’re really trying to get the output of a few cows to go from a few liters to [higher] levels. It’s a massive change. So I do believe that’s a big part of the job.”

Cultural challenges

While Korink, who previously worked with Cargill, notes that ABS is “not super-big” in comparison to her previous employer, its workforce needs are nevertheless large and varied. That’s one of the many challenges the company, which is part of the UK-based Genus plc, consistently faces as a result of its global presence.

“I think the first difficulty is you deal with lots of different cultures, so you work with lots of different people across the globe, not only internally, your employees, but also externally, your customers,” said Korink. “So you have to understand lots of different market conditions. … And yes, there’s a high level of expectation because of operating in 70-plus countries. So finding the right people for the right job is key.”

But while working for ABS may not seem like rocket science — after all, the company’s claim to fame remains the exportation of bull semen — the technological expertise required of its employees is high, and the scientific landscape is shifting rapidly.

ABS’s acquisition of a majority interest in In Vitro Brasil is a nod to some of the technological innovations that are driving genetic improvements in farmers’ herds.

So in an industry that’s seeing increased levels of innovation — which spring from the fertile minds of highly educated and intellectually adventurous employees — being situated near a hub of intellectual and technological creativity is definitely a plus.

“The university is definitely an advantage,” said Korink. “You can find a lot of people here. In my business, that’s probably the most important thing. So we’re constantly looking for the right people for our team, and this area provides a good source of talent. And then Madison is the dairy capital, right? … The World Dairy Expo is definitely something that we’re at every year.”

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One technological innovation that Korink is keeping an eye on is genetic editing, a potentially seismic — though controversial — process that could allow farmers to bypass traditional (and painstaking) selective-breeding methods. For instance, one could edit out the gene that triggers horn growth in cows. This would be advantageous for both farmers and their animals, since it would make unpleasant de-horning procedures unnecessary.

“You can make some really big changes instantly, instead of having to breed for changes,” said Korink. “Because that’s what we do today. You look at something that’s good or bad and you can breed it out or breed it in, which takes generations and generations. With genetic editing, you can do that instantly.”

Finding time for fun

While Korink is every bit the world citizen — she’s lived in several countries and speaks five languages, including Dutch, German, and Portuguese — for now, she’s settling into her life in Dane County.

She’s been with Genus plc since January 2013 and moved into her current role in July 2013. In August 2014, she moved with her husband and three children from England to the Madison area. Her family remains her top priority, but she’s able to enjoy several pastimes as well.

“I love to go to dinner parties; I’m quite a social person,” said Korink. “I love to work out, do sports, go skiing or sailing. Any kind of sports are good for me. And I love to travel, although I travel so much for my job that I’ve given up some of that. I’m just happy if I can stay at home for the week.”

If you would like to see Korink speak at the March 11 Icons in Business event, click here for information on registration and event details.

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