AGRICOLLEGES International Alumnus rise to top positions on farm
Iris Mashaba was appointed packhouse manager at Twycross Packers. She manages 60 employees in peak season.
Twycross Farm and Packers, a family business nearly 100 years old near Mbombela in Mpumalanga, has provided a path for many of its workers to rise through the ranks and become senior managers.
Owner, Simon Dunshea, a fourth-generation member of the operation, has learnt that while it is easier to find someone with experience and poach them from elsewhere, the ideal candidate is often already in one’s team.
“Sometimes, the right people are under your nose. It’s important to speak to the people you work with and find out what their background is. If you give them the opportunity and nurture them, the abilities that emerge can be amazing.
“Promoting from within is also important because these people understand your business better as they have come from the ground up. Socially, too, it’s important to develop your own people.”
Hard work, dedication and showing a lively interest in agriculture has propelled Iris Mashaba from being a temporary farmworker to holding a managerial position at a major agribusinesses near Mbombela in Mpumalanga.
Road to management
Iris Mashaba started working at Twycross Packers in 2003 as a temporary employee, assisting the then packhouse manager, Julian Marshall, with administration and stocktaking. She had struggled to find employment after school and did not have the finances to study further. This was her first job.
“I started here from zero. I didn’t know anything about farming or packhouses, but I paid careful attention when Julian spoke to me. After the first season they made my position permanent because they could see I worked hard.
“Julian started showing me how the packing line works, how to test for minimum residue levels on the fruit and how to do the consignments. Gradually, I learnt everything about running the packhouse.”
In 2010, Mashaba was appointed assistant packhouse manager, and earlier this year took over as packhouse manager from Marshall, who retired in March. She is responsible for one million 4kg- trays of avocados in a season, which equates to 5% of South Africa’s harvest. About 80% of the company’s produce is exported to Europe.
Mashaba explains that her greatest challenge in going from general worker to manager was learning how to deal with staff.
“I’ve had to make an effort to understand how to get the best out of them. When dealing with them, I’ve learnt to focus on the job and not make it personal.
I have to explain things on their level as some of the people are not educated and as a result they have a sense of inferiority. To get past that, I speak to them as if I were one of them. If they don’t understand what’s expected of them on the packhouse floor, then the room for error in getting the consignments right is greater.”
Dunshea says this is one of the reasons Mashaba is such an asset to the company.
“One of her greatest strengths is making sure everyone has a full understanding of what needs to be done. She can identify where they are and work out a system to get them to where they need to be. She’s very fair and firm, and the people who work under her are highly productive, purely because of the way she manages them.”
He says that as a result, the packhouse runs optimally, enabling Twycross to maximise the volume of exportable fruit. The result is more income for the growers, and more growers delivering to Twycross.
Getting to a top spot
Mashaba believe that showing a keenness for the job and not being afraid of hard work are what brought about their success.
Mashaba says that if you have enough interest in something, no one needs to push you to go further and succeed.
“I’ve always had an interest in agriculture, but my only exposure had been on a basic level, as my parents were farmworkers. Farming is close to my heart so it doesn’t take effort to try harder. “I’m not just working because I need the income; I have a passion for this, I can feel it in my heart.“In the packing season there’s no time for sleep. You need to be passionate about what you do.”