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Women in Produce: Lesley Shield

Leading the way

Newly appointed chief executive of the Australian Horticultural Exporters’ and Importers’ Association (AHEIA), Lesley Shield, is eager to see the next generation take up career opportunities in the horticulture industry.

Congratulations on being appointed chief executive of AHEIA. Tell us about the role and your ambitions?

Lesley Shield: The Australian Horticultural Exporters’ and Importers’ Industry Association advocates with foreign and domestic government departments along with industry stakeholders on behalf of Australian fresh produce exporters and importers. Issues we cover can include quarantine and trade protocols, service delivery from DAWE and costs surrounding those services or just keeping members informed about overseas markets and their competition. Part of my job description is to increase the AHEIA’s membership, and I believe strong communication with our members could be the key to this.

How did you get involved in the fresh produce industry, and what other roles have you held previously?

LS: I initially began working in the Brisbane Market in administration in the late ‘70s (in those days, it was called a Girl Friday). The company I worked for was exporting and importing to and from New Zealand.

I did the documentation and even helped with the loading of airfreight pallets. That company sold out to another importer/exporter and I moved to the new company doing their documentation and assisting with inspections.

I was then approached to create an export division for a market wholesale company, and I managed the export division until I moved to Asia with my husband where I lived for 12 years in Hong Kong, Thailand and Shanghai. Whilst in Thailand, I helped manage an Active Selling Programme in supermarkets. When I returned from Asia, I was approached to be general manager of a New Zealand export company. I was based in Brisbane, managing their New Zealand exports to Australia and Asia.

What do you believe poses the biggest challenge for Australia’s horticulture industry in the future?

LS: Australia is in the unenviable position of being a high-cost supplier compared to other countries.

Therefore it is imperative industry communicates to the global consumer the advantages of purchasing Australian produce with our superior tasting products being just one of these attributes.

“The horticultural industry has great career opportunities… with the potential to travel the world”

With challenges come opportunities, where is the potential for Australia’s exporters?

LS: Some of the challenges for the Australian industry are to fast-track new markets on the back of FTAs and additionally fine-tune some of the current anomalies that exist within the phytosanitary agreements. For example, some of the harsh cold sterilisation treatments for citrus.

What’s one thing you’d like to change about the industry you work in?

LS: Focusing on encouraging the younger generation to see that the horticultural industry has great career opportunities which encompass many areas, such as technology, farming, agronomy, global marketing as well as the potential to travel the world.

Tell us about your proudest achievement to date.

LS: Probably the Active Selling Programme in Thailand. I saw men and women of all ages, spruiking, sorting, packaging and selling imported products in stores. Most had never done that before and didn’t know how to handle fresh produce. They became confident and proud of their work and at times competitive with each other in a fun way to see who would sell the most of a particular product. Some even decided to use the money from their active selling role to study and moved on to things they had dreamt of doing.

What advice would you give to other women, either already in the industry or looking to enter it?

LS: This industry takes a lot of your time and energy. You need to be prepared for it to be part of your personal life. It can be frustrating but also fulfilling. The fruit industry is a small industry where everyone either knows someone or has heard of someone in the industry. I have always found that most people are willing to help when asked. I have never seen myself as a ‘woman’ in the industry but as a person doing a job.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

LS: Don’t put off until tomorrow what you can do today. I have found that every day is different in this industry and time can get away from you.

Author: Chris Komorek, Staff Journalist, Asiafruit and Produce Plus

Original article: Asiafruit magazine

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