Sounddecisions set the tone My first job: Dr John Purchase, CEO Agbiz

JOHN Purchase, CEO of the Agricultural Business Chamber and a member of both Business Unity SA and Nedlac, started his career as a scientist in the Department of Agriculture. He tells Lucky Biyase of his experiences in the corporate world

What was your first job and what did it entail?

While studying for a BSc agriculture degree at the University of Pretoria in the late 1970s, I did vacation work at the Small Grain Centre - not Small Brain Centre, as we were teased in the Bethlehem community. It was a research station of the Department of Agriculture and I worked there every December-January holiday to earn some desperately needed pocket money to get me through varsity.

I started right at the bottom, cutting wheat trial plots by sickle, threshing the ears, weighing the different samples and recording the data. I worked with some really excellent people and learnt so much from some top scientists, and they soon entrusted me with a lot more responsibility.

How did you get your first job and how long were you there for?

After graduating and national military service, I joined the Small Grain Centre - today the Small Grain Institute of the Agricultural Research Council - near the beautiful eastern Free State town of Bethlehem on a full-time basis as a junior scientist in 1981. I worked there for 20 years before being appointed as head of the Summer Grain Centre at the Grain Crops Institute in 1999.

How did you leave - quit, resign or were you let go?

I eventually resigned from the Agricultural Research Council to take up a position with Grain SA at the end of 2002. Grain SA is an association representing the common interests of the grain farmers of South Africa. After nearly three years, I was appointed to the position of chief executive of Grain SA.

How much was your first pay cheque?

I can't remember exactly, but it was not much more than a couple of hundred rand a month.

How important was money then compared with now?

Money is important, now as then, because you firstly need to make a living and strive to achieve a satisfactory standard of living. But priorities also change as your status changes from bachelorhood to marriage, to kids, getting the kids through school and university and ensuring you provide for retirement.

But money is certainly not everything and living the value proposition for your employer, job satisfaction, adding value to those around you, self-development and self- actualisation are all important to grow as a person.

What did your first job teach you about money?

Budget very carefully and then stick to your budget to make ends meet.

How was your first boss?

I have been blessed to really have had excellent bosses throughout my career. They were more often mentors rather than bosses.

What kind of boss would you say you are?

I like to believe that I am a boss who empowers people to achieve set goals and allows them to develop to their full potential in the process, who strives to create an open and conducive environment for team performance. I do not micro-manage, but I expect each team member to take full responsibility for his position and report accordingly.

How does your first job compare with the one you have now?

Although still in the broader agro-food system, the position I am in now differs vastly from my first job.

My first job was basically as a research agronomist, whereas the position I now hold primarily deals with strategic issues affecting the agro-food system of South Africa, as well as broader and macro-policy and legislation issues as they pertain to the agriculture and especially agribusiness environment in South Africa and even abroad.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learnt while climbing the corporate ladder that you think would be useful for young professionals just starting out ?

Respect people, work smart and hard, learn, practise real leadership and take responsibility. Recognise opportunities and take the right ones. Life is about making choices.

Article source: www.bdlive.co.za

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