Whatever interests and talents women have, from hands-on practical skills to management, marketing, accounting, to the environment or science, the horticultural industry has careers to suit.
“Many people think of horticulture as people working out under the vines or on the land, and while that’s certainly part of it, there are so many diverse jobs available within the industry,” says Carol Ward, Zespri lnternational’s chief innovation and sustainability officer who is also a member of Women in Horticulture.
“One of the things I love about the kiwifruit industry, and in fact New Zealand horticulture, is that you are involved in providing high quality, healthy food from the land, for the world.
“It’s also about the people, and for me one of the greatest enjoyments of my job is the people I work with from every part of the industry.”
Those are among the factors which lead Carol to encourage more women to consider employment in horticulture. Her own career to date is an example of just how exciting and diverse the opportunities can be.
Carol, who grew up on a dairy farm near Tokoroa, attended college in Hamilton and won a Rotary Exchange Scholarship to Finland while in the 7th form.
That was a wonderful experience which took me out of my comfort zone and introduced me to a new country and culture, not to mention minus 20 degree temperatures. It also gave me a love of travel and I gained an appreciation of how special New Zealand is.”
Back home, Carol gained a Bachelor of Management Studies with honours from Waikato University, a degree which gave her a wide scope of career choices. “I was fortunate that my first job was with Carter Holt Harvey’s tissue division as it was a great company to work for.” She then joined Fujifilm and later NZ Dairy Foods.
“By then I knew I wanted to work in New Zealand’s primary sector.” Carol was appointed to Kiwifruit New Zealand in a role with New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Inc (the body set up to represent growers) in 2000.
In 2002 the kiwifruit marketer Zespri moved its head office from Auckland to Mount Maunganui and Carol joined the team. Initially working as global marketing manager for gold kiwifruit, she moved to the role of planning and supply manager in January 2006. “That was an amazing role. Every day you felt the push of the season and the need to get kiwifruit to the ships and into the markets.”
When Lain Jager was appointed Zespri chief executive, Carol was appointed to the role of director corporate and grower services in early 2009, a position she held until 2011.
“That was the time of the challenges to the industry’s single desk marketing structure, and the arrival of the vine disease Psa-Y. The whole industry moved into crises management, and communications with growers and the government was vital. The recovery back from Psa is testament to the resilience of the horticultural sector, the support of its partners and some very brave and tough decisions.”
In 20II Carol was appointed as general manager marketing, spending five years, along with husband Mike and son Marco, living and working in Belgium, Taiwan and Singapore.
During that time, she worked with Zespri’s international marketing teams who she says have an incredible passion for the brand and for the fresh healthy kiwifruit products which carry its name.
In 2016 Carol and family returned to New Zealand and Carol took on responsibility for Zespri’s science-based innovation function.
In 2018, under new Zespri chief executive Dan Mathieson, Carol was appointed to the brand-new role as Zespri’s chief innovation and sustainability officer.
“I love this role. It is about the long-term success of the industry and the challenges we face, and how to prepare ourselves and the industry to provide healthy fruit for the world in ways which are socially, environmentally and financially sustainable.”
Carol’s involvement with kiwifruit extends beyond her Mount Maunganui office. She and Mike own a 5.5ha green kiwifruit orchard at Katikati which helps her understand the day to day challenges growers face. “You know you are a grower when the first thing you do each day is check the weather forecast,” she laughs.
What Carol also loves about the horticultural industry is “the genuine commitment and connection of everyone involved in the industry. I love it when I can put on gumboots and go out into an orchard to talk to growers and see the latest research trial.”
The horticulture industry is full of challenges and opportunities. “There is international recognition of the importance of health and wellness. Fruit, vegetables and plant-based proteins are a key part of healthy eating in the future. Consumers want to know where their food comes from, and that they can trust that it is produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially responsible way. Horticulture in New Zealand has a real opportunity to provide this reassurance to consumers, and for us to provide the world with high quality, trusted, healthy produce. The future is exciting,” Carol says.