Robyn Wickenden

NZ Tamarillo Growers Association
Tell us about your background.

After 29 years of a career in corporate accounting, and a passion for gardening, my husband and I made a decision to embrace a change to horticulture and purchased a lifestyle property with a 1 hectare tamarillo orchard just out of Maungatapere, Northland in late 2016. From there it was a steep learning curve in growing, picking, grading and selling tamarillos.

What do you do now?

​Along with the orchard, I became involved with the NZ Tamarillo Growers Association (NZTGA), firstly as secretary in 2018, and then as Chairperson from March 2020.

I was appointed an Associate Director with MG Marketing, our fruit domestic wholesaler, for an 18 month term from 1 January 2020.

My husband and I run the tamarillo orchard together and do everything on the orchard with some casual help during the peak of the season.

How did you get that role? What was the pathway to that?

​The pathway to Chair at NZTGA was being just being enthusiastic, well-read, and prepared to take on what is essentially a voluntary position. I was elected at the AGM by the growers and the committee decides on roles.

I applied for the MG Associate Director role, was interviewed and offered the role. For this I needed to be a grower supplying MG and preferably a shareholder. (MG is a co-operative of growers).

What’s the best thing about your role?

Tamarillo growing has been a change in pace from corporate accounting. I love being outdoors and being part of supplying fruit to consumers. It’s hard physical work at times, but very satisfying. There is also the side of running our own business with my background in accounting and my husband’s background in IT, we have some processes and monitoring that are quite different from most small orchards.

In my role through NZTGA, I enjoy talking to growers, and sharing information. This is a small growers group and I end up talking to new growers and providing advice to get them started. I attend the HortNZ monthly product group meetings and hear about the issues other products are facing.

My MG Associate directorship role has been a great way to learn about governance and cooperatives, with my accounting background and new horticulture passion coming together. I have also met growers from different parts of the country with different crops.

Do you travel much for the role ?

I travel monthly for MG board meetings, usually to Christchurch.

For NZTGA we try to do most meetings by phone call to keep the cost down

If you have children how do/did you balance your job and family? What are/were the biggest issues? How did you deal with them?

My children are in the mid-twenties and independent so I’m no longer in the balancing act of job and family. My corporate career involved balancing job and family and it wasn’t always easy.  Good childcare and family support was essential.

Was being a woman a hindrance or a help in getting this role?

Being a women has never held me back from getting any of the roles I have had.  I sometimes feel I have to prove that I work every bit as hard as my husband on the orchard, particularly when growers want to talk to him instead of me.  I do find my challenge is that I have a soft voice which people find hard to hear at times, particularly when running an AGM.

Do you have any qualifications?

Bachelor Management Studies from University of Waikato, Chartered Accountant, member of the Institute of Directors

Did you require any specific education or training for this role?

Although specific education or training is not essential for my horticultural roles, I believe that my corporate background and education has all helped. We were lucky enough to have a good handover from the previous owners as to the operation of the tamarillo orchard. I am prepared to try my hand at most things. The main thing is having the ability to read and research widely.

If you had your time again would you do anything different?

The way my life has evolved has been due to each of the experiences I have had, so no, I wouldn’t do anything different.

Do you have any advice/tips for other women wanting a role like yours?

Go for it! Be prepared to take on responsibility, do lots of reading, and keep learning new skills.

Are you on any Boards? If so which ones

Director of Mya Enterprises Ltd,

Chairperson/Secretary NZ Tamarillo Growers Association,

Associate Director Market Gardeners Ltd trading as MG Marketing

Treasurer Whatitiri Domain Board