If the aquaculture business were an orchestra, Antonio Coli would be a multi-instrumentalist who also conducts. Throughout his long career in the industry, the Global Sales Director of Planktonic has held a variety of positions in different departments until arriving at his current one, where he can apply a little of what he has learned over the years. As he explains, this position allows him to "look at the forest rather than the tree," while applying his holistic view of the sector in Europe's progressive and leading provider of live feed.
"I have the opportunity to see the global aquaculture market. That is an amazing experience," he tells WeAreAquaculture. Antonio enjoys every detail related to this sector, yet he doesn't like to define himself as 'passionate' about his work like so many people today. For him, aquaculture is not a passion but something that goes far beyond that. "I think it is just my life," he summarizes.
The truth is that Antonio Coli does not even remember how he started in the aquaculture industry. The important thing, he says, is not how you start, but how you live, or perhaps survive, to tell the tale. "I'm 48 years old now," he tells us, "together with my colleagues, we did some important things for the sector, in various different places, and challenging circumstances."
Before becoming Global Sales Director of Planktonic, in his time at Selonda and the transformation of the company into Avramar, he already had the opportunity to manage huge resources, build organizations, teams of people, facilities, and produce hundreds of millions of fish.
"I couldn't imagine being in all these difficult times we went through in the Mediterranean," he recalls now. But himself, also experienced another difficulty earlier, when he was younger and had the opportunity to spend a first season in Norway. Although he enjoyed it, he also had to adapt to a new culture and business mentality. All these difficulties together have made it an intense experience not only because of the quantity of changes and events but also because of their quality, he now reflects.
I"I don't think I need to say that there is a passion, it goes without saying, otherwise, you wouldn't survive all this"
"I don't think I need to say that there is a passion, it goes without saying, otherwise, you wouldn't survive all this." Passion is taken for granted when you have been able to overcome those obstacles and drive all those changes. Because, he confesses, it was motivating, but also painful at times. "When I joined Selonda, it was half the size it was when we sold it. Then, before we sold it, we acquired another large group and founded Avramar. So, I was part of a huge development from the early years to the later years of the company."
When he left Avramar, Antonio also had an MBA and significant business experience. He had learned many things both on a technical but also managerial and consulting perspective, and he had the option of moving to any other productive industry: livestock, vegetables… But could he actually be in another sector? "Impossible. It's just… this is my life," he claims. "It is the climate, the environment of this work," he continues "I don't know anybody that has stayed for more than 10 years that has not been sucked by this, sentimentally and mentally. It's just how it is."
At first glance, the 'jump' from production to sales on Antonio's resume may seem striking, however, when you learn about his journey through aquaculture, it all makes sense. While he was director of Selonda and Avramar's land-based facilities, he worked hand in hand with the other directors and had the opportunity to witness firsthand how in an aquaculture company all departments are complementary.
"We were working all the directors together, meeting every week, and then you see the total picture and you realize that it is complementary," he recalls. "That was a huge opportunity to be able to see what you are doing from your position and how you contribute to the other's parts. You put yourself in your colleague's position at the same time, because he's sharing his difficulties and his bottlenecks, sitting, for example, next to the Chief Commercial Officer, and making you understand what the difficulties are."
"I have the feeling that all these years and having passed from different positions I have a more holistic understanding and view of an aquaculture company," he tells WeAreAquaculture. A "very educating" experience that he now applies in his position as Global Sales Director at Planktonic where he has two hats. One is being a member of the management team and the other is sales. Himself having a long history in industrial aquaculture, it makes sense he contributes most to that area. "But simultaneously we have a great overlap really on our activities and we work very closely together, speaking together practically every day."
"I'm very happy being in a position where I look at the forest rather than the tree," Antonio says. What he likes most about this specific position at Planktonic is that it allows him to see the global aquaculture market. "That is a unique experience because you just hear about what is happening in Asia or what is happening in Canada or in Latin America, but it's completely different from being there than just hearing about it. Is excellent to hear about their difficulties, see their production systems, meet the people, look at the experience, the culture."
The collaborative working manner of the management team makes the knowledge of each of its members, common knowledge of the company. "This is an additional value that Planktonic is offering," says its Global Sales Director. This competence of Planktonic enables it to see the challenges, opportunities, different strategies, tactics, bottlenecks, different cultures, and economic dynamics for a number of species, systems, and parts of the world. "This experience is unique and valuable, for myself, Planktonic, and eventually for our customers."
"Sales provides a different way of looking at things, eventually being complementary to complete the whole image." A point of view that is in addition to a rich career as mentioned previously, especially in the business aspect through consolidations, merges, exits… To these different experiences in his journey in this sector, Antonio Coli also adds two geographical points that have marked his career: Norway and the Mediterranean.
"I am delighted being again in Norway. Clearly the leader in aquaculture. Experiencing again great degree of professionalism and competences," he tells us. "Culture is different but familiar to me and I appreciate the Norwegian rational thinking and results-oriented mentality. Being well networked again in the region, being a part of it."
On the other hand, are his Greek-Italian roots and his work experience in Turkey and Greece. "Mediterranean aquaculture has a long and very important history, full of experiences, challenges, and difficulties that turned into valuable knowledge. Today accumulates numerous achievements and is a big part of the global aquaculture sector."
"If you combine them both [Norwegian and Mediterranean aquaculture], the result can be perfect"
He thinks that one school can benefit from the other despite their differences. "If you combine them both, the result can be perfect." Planktonic's Global Sales Director is proud to have been able to combine the best of both countries himself, a further added value that he passes on to the company.
"You develop unique skills and you cannot do so if you cannot be there and experience these differences, making comparisons all the time, and speaking the proper language with each one," he says and goes further. "Imagine now Planktonic sharing this to the other part of the world. Isn't it that wonderful?"
Diversity is a characteristic of Antonio Coli and also of Planktonic, where they know that, regardless of their experience, anyone can find a different and valuable point of view in another member of the team, even those from a different field. "The blending of this between us makes a difference. And also this goes hand in hand with the global view of Planktonic," he adds. "This is a culture that I found but it expresses extremely my mentality as well, so I'm very happy to be there, and support it from my side as well."
Antonio agrees with WeAreAquaculture in thinking that this is undoubtedly a very human-oriented sector. "If you go back in history, you can see that the results in different companies, in different countries, are very related to the human factor, and this is even today, and that's why the aquaculture network is so strong and cooperations are the ones that make the difference."
"In Planktonic, humans are behind the main idea, the operations, the developments, the future. We try to extend this to our customers, trying to contribute with our human capital, long term, being always beside them when they need us. This is the way I always viewed human impact in the business, and I believe has paid back during my career."
With Antonio on board, Planktonic aims to establish very strong human relationships while building its marketing network. To achieve this, the first thing they do is to explain the idea of their product. "The principle is the first thing that persuades people and triggers their attention," he claims. They then present the list with technical proofs of concept from both third parties and their own customers – they have already sold almost 100 tons of a highly concentrated product that has supported many operations. And then it's time for trials when Planktonic's technical experts go to their customers' facilities to work hand in hand with them.
"You need very few days, but you need these very few days. So, we dedicate the resources to be there, together with the customers, and make it happen," Planktonic's Global Sales Director explains. But, he tells us, they also want to be there after that. "We try to have a very strong after-sales support as well as before the sale. And this is the reason why we have never lost one customer."
Definitely, the human factor establishes a value and that pays off, however, as Antonio Coli states, the most important thing in sales is the main idea behind it. "Planktonic's idea is absolutely great in principle. Is the production of the natural feed, of top quality for marine fish and crustaceans like shrimp, in a ready-to-use, off-the-shelf solution. It is like outsourcing your live feed production having in your hands a much more appropriate product. And most importantly, biosecure."
Although their product portfolio is expanding with more live feed options, the main products are nauplii of barnacles. They produce the barnacles primarily on their own farms in Norway, and provide the final product to the hatcheries, following the cryopreservation technology in most of the products they offer. "The concept is ideal, and I believe will gradually prevail in the sector due to the convenience, the sustainability aspects, and eventually the biological and, most importantly, the economic benefits it offers." It may take three, five, maybe ten years in some markets, but he is convinced that this is the way forward. "Because people need to concentrate on the fish," Antonio says but, he adds, "it is also very important that is translated into money."
"We have done a lot of work and we proved that the business has an economic benefit," he claims. Some may think that, because it is a Norwegian product, it will be expensive, he says, but Planktonic can document economic benefits at the end of the day. "With solutions like Planktonic, you don't need to invest, you don't need to build anything, just buy a product, and you already have an economical benefit versus what you were doing before." And, he adds, "you make a change to the better because you give better food, so you can increase the growth, reduce deformities, increase robustness, improve development."
"People need to concentrate on the fish but it is also very important that is translated into money"
Planktonic's Global Sales Director believes that this is precisely the challenge for the aquaculture industry in the near future, to embrace new ideas and new technologies that are now available and much more affordable. "That will be a challenge, although I see very fast and easily adapted in certain markets, which will solve many problems on parts of the sector that are struggling to survive economically while at the same time will help many other companies like startups or new businesses that try to produce new species. All this together will make aquaculture develop and involve much more."
And what about the company and himself, what will be their challenges? "For Planktonic is to be part of this exercise. Being a high technology, a very modern approach. This is exactly the good thing, that the future of aquaculture coincides with the profile of Planktonic, so the challenge for Planktonic is to take the proper position in this development, in this future," he says. "And for me is just to be able to continue leading these efforts and help all the future of aquaculture, the developments here and there," he continues. "And try to inspire and help the new generations that are coming on board, and deliver to them a better, more efficient, more sustainable aquaculture."
Although at this point no one would doubt Antonio Coli's passion for his work, as we said at the beginning, what is really important in his career is how it has developed. "Accumulating today 27 years in the sector, in top management level the last years, in some of the largest groups, in several countries and now globally, is indicative of the strong engagement" he states. Aquaculture is his life, and that long life continues in his current position as Global Sales Director at Planktonic. There is still time ahead of him, there is still much more legacy to leave for the next generation.
Established in 2008 by its two founders, Dr. Nils E. Tokle and Håvard Aakerøy, Planktonic AS brings to the aquaculture industry a responsible and advanced feed solution, backed by knowledge and evidence. The company has been selling CryoPlankton since 2016 and is now a progressive and leading supplier of live feed to marine hatcheries in Europe. Planktonic's mission is to make life easier by offering products and services that bring consistency, nutritional quality, and increased biosecurity to the aquaculture industry, worldwide.