Western Bay of Plenty District Councillor Gwenda Merriman was awarded the Zespri International Service to Export Award at the recent BNZ Bay of Plenty ExportNZ Awards. Joseph Aldridge caught up with her to talk about her involvement in the family business, her plans for the future and her love of exporting.
Jeffco International export manager Gwenda Merriman is as excited about exporting now as she was when she quit her bank job to join the family business in 1993.
Calling home to announce her decision, she was told there was no job available. "Too late," she replied, "I've resigned from my job and I'll be starting Monday."
Exporting and farming were major parts of Merriman's childhood and it is in a family business combining both of these elements where she and her three brothers have found their place later in life.
Gwenda's father Rob Jeffery was a New Zealand pioneer in the export of live animal shipments and it was in the business he formed - Jeffco International - where a newly-married Gwenda Merriman created her own employment.
"It was a matter of creating opportunities as it evolved and just going along," Merriman said.
The company formed a joint venture in China soon after Merriman got involved and she became a regular escort of live animals on long-haul flights to Shangdong in northern China.
While Jeffco still organises live livestock shipments, there has been a shift over the years to exporting more animal semen and embryos, Merriman said.
Jeffco has also invested in other agricultural and horticultural businesses, such as Newnham Park, Kiwifruit Processing Company, Prime Consulting International, and international freight company RBI Ltd.
Merriman's three brothers Craig, Grant and Ian are all still involved in some shape or form in the Jeffco business.
"Whilst winning the award was very humbling, I saw it as a recognition of all my brothers and sisters-in-law actually past and present being involved in the various companies that we have as a family," she said.
Looking towards the future, Merriman said Jeffco will be looking for more investment opportunities in the agricultural and horticultural sectors, as well as opportunities to collaborate with other exporters.
"I think in the Bay we show a great deal of collaboration, across a lot of industries.
"It's not about recognition all the time, it's about growing the community and growing the wealth of the Bay because the Western Bay has just got so much energy and so many great people doing so many things. Export is about energy, it's about excitment, it's about people, opportunities, risks and timing."
Merriman said she has enjoyed her term as a Western Bay District Councillor and will be putting her name forward for re-election.