Patrick and Rebecca Malley talk about uprooting from Auckland, leaving the traffic behind and heading to Whangarei to help run the family-owned company, Maungatapere Berries.
A brief description of the business
Rebecca: Maungatapere Berries is a family-owned company, that grows and sells raspberries, sol berries and soon-to-be blackberries for the New Zealand domestic market. We produced our first crop in Autumn 2016 and have just finished our harvest for Autumn 2017.
Patrick: We grow our berries hydroponically and under covered tunnels so that we can produce a consistent quality crop from October through to June. We have a high emphasis on quality and food safety.
When did you get involved in the business?
My parents bought the business in April 2011. We've been involved since 2012, but it's very much a full-family operation.
Rebecca and I met at university in Palmerston North, Rebecca was studying to become a vet and I was studying business, and my parents were based in Hawke's Bay at the time doing some orcharding in Apple and Pears.
They sold that orchard so when we left university we decided to move to Auckland to pursue our careers.
When we got married and that's when we decided we wanted to have quite a big change in our lives. We were overseas in Europe for our OE-honeymoon - for almost a year - and during that time the opportunity for the family to come into this orchard came up, and we jumped on it.
After experiencing different types of employment in other industries it felt like a natural fit to be working again in a family business. It was also an opportunity to have a change of lifestyle and a change of pace.
What's it like running a family business?
Rebecca: For me it has been the first time working for my own business, meaning much more control over what and when I work, and it has been the best lifestyle change for raising a family.
Patrick: Our family get along really well together and, with the addition of another generation in our son Austin, having the grandparents just next door can be a real godsend at times. Having said that, we still treat it like a business and have regular formal meetings each week to make sure that everyone is aware of what is happening and that potential issues are dealt with before they become issues.
How are the roles in the business defined?
I'm sort of the general manager and take care of contracting, Rebecca is in more of an administration and accounts manager role. My mum, Linzi Malley, is the horticulture specialist and dad, Dermott Malley, is the chairman and chief executive, he runs the financial side of the business.
How many employees does Maungatapere Berries have?
Rebecca: We have a core team of about 10 staff that work full time throughout the year, however when we're harvesting we bring in additional staff to help with picking, and can employ up to 120 total during this period.
Patrick: The additional staff that work during the harvest season are a mix of casual staff and those who work in the other parts of the business. We think it's really important for us as a horticultural employer to try and provide work for 12 months of the year to as many local Northlanders as possible.
What's the most challenging thing about running an orchard?
Patrick: The most challenging thing, and the most rewarding thing, is the diversity of work that we do throughout the day. We don't wake up in the morning knowing exactly what's going to happen or the challenges we are going to have.
Choose something that you're passionate about so that your work and business become part of your lifestyle.
No two days are the same and no matter how prepared you think you are, inclement weather or other horticultural factors such as fruit maturing sooner than you thought, can mean the plan can change from day to day or even hour to hour. But it is very rewarding, sometimes being able to physically see the results of a good days work out in the orchard.
Rebecca: I don't have a horticulture background as such, so I've had to get used to things changing by the hour and needing to be done when it has to be done.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Patrick: What work there is to do depends on the time of year and the weather.
I'm usually down at the shed by 7:15am to start staff off for the day, I spend some time training, helping staff carry out the job they're doing, paperwork and planning ahead to make sure work has been arranged for the staff in the future as they complete their jobs. I work on different projects we have, and in between that I'm fighting fires or issues as they come up. I'm home for lunch, and dinner, and then there's a bit more work in the evenings; to catch up on emails and phone calls.
How did you find the transition from a corporate life in Auckland to a horticulture-based one in Whangarei?
Rebecca: I've never been a big city person, and found the pace of living in Auckland too hectic and busy, so the transition has been easy. I love being outdoors and Whangarei is the best place to live to be able to explore the wider Northland region. It's also only a two hour drive from Auckland, which means we can still easily catch up with friends, and get my shopping fix every now and then.
Patrick: I had experienced living and working in horticulture prior to going to University when I lived in Hawkes Bay, and I didn't realise how much I really enjoyed that lifestyle - the variety and quality of work - until I spent five years sitting at the same desk and stuck in the same traffic. I cant see myself being involved in a different industry for the rest of my life.
How do you balance the demands of work and life?
Rebecca: I always make sure we have a holiday and make sure we have a good work-life balance. We've got to the point now where all four of us can go away on holiday together. We're really lucky that we've found some key staff, as the business has grown, which has enabled us to spread the load a bit.
What's your advice for those wanting to start their own business?
Patrick: Be prepared to put in the hard yards to achieve your goals. The hard work never stops, even as a business becomes successful. Choose something that you're passionate about so that your work and business become part of your lifestyle.