When you are raised by farmers and enthusiastic agriculturalists, you can be almost certain that you too will end up working in the agricultural sector. As a child, Jan van der Walt was occasionally roped in to help on the farm. So, exploring the vast opportunities in agriculture wasn’t a difficult decision to make.
Although he is not a farmer, Van der Walt has a cool agri-career in the sector. He is the head of corporate marketing and procurement at VKB, one of Mzansi’s leading agricultural enterprises based in the Eastern Free State.
Sum up your job…
As the head of corporate marketing and procurement, my job profile is split in two. On the procurement side my duty is to optimize the supply chain for VKB and ensure that the group remains in a highly competitive position. I do this by making sure that the identity of each VKB product is well established on the market. For marketing it is my responsibility to ensure that the VKB brand and name is well recognised and established within South Africa.
So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?
Daily, you’ll find me negotiating and networking with manufacturers, wholesalers, distributors and transporters that participate in the sale, delivery and production of products. In terms of marketing, my day includes building relationships and setting up agreements with all media platforms to ensure that the groups brand gets exposure in the most effective way to clients and markets.
What qualification do you need for this career?
Tertiary qualification in either agriculture or marketing and sales is beneficial, but I also believe that enough experience also counts in one’s favour.
What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?
You should be quite approachable and be willing to change the status quo in terms of systems, product ranges, suppliers or mediums that are used for marketing. You should always be curious enough to ensure that you are moving with evolution or change. Be open to change and improvements in processes. You should be a focussed worker.
Have you always worked in the agriculture sector?
I always knew that I would end up working in agriculture. Being raised by a farmer/entrepreneur I would say this was a calling for me.
What do you love about agriculture as a space to work in?
Since childhood I was intrigued by the industry. When you find yourself in an industry that literally stirs your soul, you know that you’ve found something that you want to be close with. Every process, from production to marketing, negotiating and distribution brings its own level of satisfaction. Once a project or task has been completed it’s a great feeling to know that you have contributed to the growth of a business and South African agriculture.
Don’t be modest, tell us about your proudest career moments?
I was part of a private company in which I had shares and served as the executive director of Partrite (now known as Prodist). This was a company that when I took over was faced with financial difficulties, but over a period of six months my team and I managed to turn the financial state of the company around. This was personally one of the proudest moments in my entire career.
What do you do when you’re not at work?
Time is not always on my side, but I love spending time with my family and playing golf. We also make time to go hunt every now and then.
Any advice for young people who are inspired by your career story?
The most important thing is to never give up. If you know where you want to find yourself in the sector and you’ve set goals, make sure that you gain as much knowledge and continue to learn. There are three things that one has to do in order to grow in your career, and that is to study, be self-determined and learn from everyone in the company. Make sure that you know or at least understand why and how every “piece of the puzzle” fits together in the organisation.