Have you ever wondered what it would be like working for a successful agribusiness that promotes the image of agriculture in Mzansi and have the buck stop on your desk? Johan Ehlers, chief executive officer of Agri-Expo, wears this hat with pride.

His agricultural journey started in 1984 when he worked as a community developer throughout various parts of the Western Cape, creating opportunities for agriworkers.

Then, after filling both a regional manager and training manager position, Ehlers joined Agri-Expo in 1996 as marketing manager. He was appointed as CEO in 2002. Ehlers says his position as CEO is quite extensive and can be tough at times. But what exactly does it take to steer the mothership?

Sum up your job…

The position of a CEO is extensive. For me, the three most important aspects are to develop and implement the operational and strategic plans of the company, provide inspired leadership and create an environment that promotes great performance. I am also responsible for reporting to the Agri-Expo council, act as spokesperson for the company, oversee the day-to-day operations, monitor and manage budgets and assess risks to the company.

Agri-Expo’s chief executive officer Johan Ehlers.

Agri-Expo’s chief executive officer Johan Ehlers.

So, what does the day-to-day of your job entail?

Agri-Expo’s main objective is to promote the image of agriculture with more than 30 projects throughout the year. Many of them overlap in the planning processes. The CEO is steering the mothership.

You are launching a bunch of speedboats from the mothership on a daily basis and I need to know where everyone is heading (goals), see that each one has enough fuel (facts and motivation) for the trip, where the stormy waters are (challenges), and guide everyone to get to shore safely. The buck stops on my desk.

What qualification do you need for this career?

I have studied B.Sc. Agriculture and completed several short courses over the years. Today an MBA (Master of Business Administration) will definitely count in your favour. Since I came through the ranks to become a CEO, a QBE (Qualified By Experience) qualification also remains a good one in my opinion!

What are the character traits you need to be great at your job?

You need to be curious and keep searching for new opportunities, be prepared to take calculated risks, keep building relationships (networking), learn from the past and believe in the people that you’ve appointed.

Be a realistic optimist – be aware of all the pieces on the chessboard and how certain moves will have an effect on the company, but be willing to make some unconventional moves. Never forget to use the royal “we”, instead of “I” – it’s all about teamwork!

Have you always worked in the agriculture sector?

Yes, I started my career at the then Rural Foundation as a Community Developer. Creating opportunities for our agri-workers to better their lives on the farms. I moved on to become regional manager and ended as training manager after 13 years. I joined Agri-Expo in 1996 as marketing manager and was appointed as CEO in 2002.