Alastair Taylor

Alastair Taylor, BA Politics with Economic History (modular)

I visited all the Unis I was considering and Exeter stood out head-and-shoulders above all the others. The beauty and relaxed nature of the campus was combined with the excellent facilities and most importantly the enthusiasm of the current students who I met. The fact that it is also sited so close to a lovely city and to the Devon coast and moorland where I had often holidayed was an additional bonus.

Whilst I enjoyed my studies and the social life which university offers you, my greatest enjoyment - and also the element of the university experience which best prepared me for "the real world" - was my involvement with the students Guild. Many weeks I would spend too many hours "on Top Corridor" or in meetings helping to run a democratic organisation which at the time already employed many staff and was turning over around £1m per annum. It gave me many "work-appropriate" skills which I have benefited from since leaving Exeter.

Having gone through the milkround process I was left with two choices, to learn to market soap powder based in South London, or move to the Buckingham countryside and start in the Dalgety Agriculture graduate scheme. I had applied to Dalgety following 4 years of summer work experience with one of their competitor Agricultural Merchants and accepted that offer.

Within a couple of months of starting I was moved to the Cirencester Office to work as a Grain Buyer. At the same time the company did an excellent job of giving us sales, negotiation and people management skills which have served me well ever since. After 18 months in the Cotswolds I was offered a change of direction and accepted a job as Assistant Fertiliser Manager in Shrewsbury. That role gave me some fantastic experience of the challenges offered by "matrix management" as I worked alongside the company's feed team to provide plant nutrition services to their clients. I also accepted a project role which was to provide my next career move.

In 2000, only five years after leaving Exeter and starting work in an industry which I had interest in, but little knowledge of, I was appointed National Fertiliser Technical Manager for Dalgety based at their Newmarket head office. For four years I travelled the UK and Europe responsible for marketing strategy and new product development; re-launch of DDF Precision Farming Service, Fertiliquid re-brand and product management of the market leading FTC-1 biostimulant.

In late 2004 I was then approached by a French Multinational fertiliser and nutrient business - Groupe Roullier - to join the Senior Leadership Team of their UK relaunch. Initially working from home as part of a four-man SLT responsible for the revitalisation of the Timac brand and Company concluding in the initiation of the joint venture fertiliser and farm nutrient business Mole Valley Forage Services based back in Devon again.

My responsibilities included marketing, product development and management, organisation and management of telesales operatives and campaigns; cross-boundary initiatives as part of the English speaking region and Timac Agro Northern Europe. Products including conventional and specific fertilisers, animal nutrition products, animal bedding and hygiene products and biostimulants. I concluded my time with Roullier with 18 months as Sales & Marketing Manager for the new JV business based in North Devon and the launch of the TM "Nutribalancer" program.

During my time at Dalgety Newmarket I met my wife who holds dual UK, New Zealand citizenship. So when we married in 2003 New Zealand was the natural choice for our honeymoon location. The decision proved to be monumental as I immediately fell in love with the country, it's friendly people and relaxed atmosphere. As a consequence, when, in late 2007 I was in contact with one of the three major fertiliser companies in NZ that led to a visit, job offer and a decision to emigrate with our young family to New Zealand. This I can only describe as the best decision I have ever made!

Since getting to NZ I have been employed as an Area Sales Manager for Summit Quinphos and subsequently Ballance, once the SQ business was merged into them after an acquisition. This involves sales Management of a team of on-farm Sales Consultants providing nutrient management advice to dairy, drystock and cropping farm enterprises, whilst also leading and driving a culture of high performance and continuous improvement, across business functions in the Southern North Island, which is a pretty special office location.

I am currently working under secondment to our Head Office in Tauranga as Project Manager - Nutrient Budgeting Services. The Nutrient Budgeting team is focused on ensuring the delivery of Ballance's commitments under the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord. It also aims to provide industry-leading nutrient planning services to Ballance shareholders and field staff.

Three things immediately come to mind;

The People - both within my team and the business; and of course our customers/shareholders the farmers of New Zealand. The last 19 years have taught me that farmers are the same all over the world, but those in NZ are very special with a very proactive and innovative approach to how they conduct their business. To go along with this they attract like minded individuals into the agricultural service industry.

The Places - who would not enjoy having rural New Zealand as their workplace? If you haven't been here yet, what are you waiting for? Come on over and visit, although I warn you, you may not want to leave...

The Challenges - the same old, same old gets dull very quickly. I've always worked to one of Richard Branson's principles "say Yes, then work out how"; life is much more fun that way.

Time management, early adoption of IT skills, the ability to put forward ideas and to have researched them to be able to explain your reasoning. Most usefully of all, an appreciation that you do not need to know everything about a particular subject - rather, what is most important is that you are able to find answers to questions people pose you in a reasonable time frame.  My extra-mural activity as part of the Guild also helped me enormously with how to conduct and behave in meetings, give presentations and work with people.

I fell into agriculture and then fertiliser completely by accident. "The Plan" was to work in politics but after I had contested the 2001 General Election I became disheartened with that process and put all of my efforts into my work and my family. What has always been most important for me is my passion and interest in the industry. Whatever creates that in you I would advise you to follow it. Careers are much more diverse now, but to me, if it feels like work, it feels like a chore, why are you doing it? We spend a great deal of our lives at work - and the more senior you get the more time you have to spend away from home - if you're not enjoying it, why would you do it??

I thoroughly enjoy working in the agricultural sector - my "elevator pitch" is "I help to feed the world, what do you do?". By working with people I can see my efforts making a real difference to my team and our customers. We are a successful business and New Zealand's continued excellence in agricultural exports means that we can all see that we are genuinely making a difference to world food supply. So I will continue to work in this sector and see what opportunities develop, like I said "say Yes, then work out how."

Don't just study... As a recruiter who specifically works with bringing graduates into the workforce, I am always looking for "what marks you stand out" - join societies, volunteer, play sport/music etc. Whatever it is that floats your boat, do it, put it on your CV and be prepared to talk about it at interview. Otherwise, how will your CV standout from the other 200 I might get?