Live For the Day
Simon Cook leads a busy life in the booming Kiwifruit industry. He owns a 5-hectare Kiwifruit orchard in the Bay of Plenty, runs a contracting business (Ranfurly Orchard Services) serving local orchards, and holds a number of industry governance roles. He spoke to Farmstrong about what he does to achieve a decent work-life balance.
“You’ve simply got to make time for other things,” says Simon.
Sounds easy, but it’s a hard-won insight. Simon enjoyed a successful commercial career in Auckland before he took up orcharding in 2003. At first, he admits he was very ‘hands-on’. His ‘lightbulb moment’ was a conversation with orchard adviser and Kiwifruit pioneer Mike Muller, a ‘legend’ in the Kiwifruit industry.
“My father and I were both flat out and stressed out, trying to keep up with everything. Mike was blunt and just told us that we needed to run the business, not be in the business. It was true. So I appointed a manager to take over the day-to-day running and that’s what freed me up to do the stuff I’m doing now.”
Simon still faces the same pressures anyone in this industry faces, but work-life balance is part and parcel of the way he runs his operations.
“There’s always a big to-do list on an orchard and I live on-site as well. We’re a seven-day-a-week business and we’re also working in a weather-dependent industry, so we have to work when it’s fine.”
“The two main crunch times for us are spring when we’re doing things like spraying and harvest. I spend most of harvest sitting in a truck carting a lot of fruit around the district. It’s busy but I love that change of pace.”
Though he enjoys the busy times, he still makes time for the things he enjoys.
“I can always tell when I’m feeling a bit under the pump,” he says. “If I’m losing sleep then that’s a sign. Mainly that’s just down to the hours you have to put in sometimes. It’s a matter of recognising that and making time to get off orchard when you can. If you don’t, everything suffers.”
“For example, we work with our customers to make sure everyone in our team can still get a day off every weekend. There are times of the year we can’t do that, but most of the year we can. I actually lost a customer this year because I refused to do all his work on Sundays.”
Simon’s got a couple of past times that regularly get him off the orchard and help him recharge. In winter, he plays senior club rugby and Golden Oldies rugby.
“Even at 45, I still love playing. I go to training a couple nights a week over winter and play on Saturdays when I can. Why am I making time for this? At the end of the day, money’s not everything. I believe your own lifestyle is more important.”
There’s a back story here. Simon’s father-in-law owned a successful engineering business, got through to his mid-70s, and retired. His dream was to sail around the world. He bought a yacht, but then got cancer and died before he could live his dream.
“That taught me a pretty good life lesson,” reflects Simon. “You only get one go at life and you’ve got to make time to enjoy what you’re doing.”
Family time’s an important priority. Simon’s got three kids aged 11 to 14 and loves to take them wakeboarding and water skiing in Lake Rotoiti. He sold up some shares in Zespri to buy the boat. “That’s costing me dividends, but I’d rather have the memories than the money.”
Simon’s been in the industry long enough not to take anything for granted. “When PSA hit in 2010, we went through two years of dire times so things can easily change. Fortunately, since then it’s been an upward trajectory. People aren’t worried about getting paid these days, they’re worried about getting through the volume of work.”
“So, we’re surfing a wave at the moment. It’s a fun industry to be part of and everyone’s doing well, but you’ve still got to remember to enjoy life while you can.”
“My advice to anyone new to the industry is, plan for the future, but live for the day. If you’re always focused on the future, you won’t have enough time to enjoy today.”
“The other thing is don’t try and do everything yourself. Delegate. I remember when I was doing all the accounting work and billing for my business, I was reluctant to hand that over to somebody else. But now I love having an office administrator. That took a huge amount of workload off me.”
“It’s important to realise that no-one is indispensable and it doesn’t actually help the business. If you’re trying to do everything yourself, you’ll never get anything done.”
Simon’s a fan of Farmstrong, which has started working with the horticulture sector.
“I think Farmstrong’s fantastic. I like the way it encourages people to get off farm or orchard and get involved in their community. It’s so easy to get isolated and trapped in your own space and your own head sometimes. That’s why you’ve got to make time to do other things.”
Last year Simon led the horticulture team in the annual growers versus farmers cricket match at the Te Puke Cricket Club. He also plays twilight cricket once a week over summer.
“It’s all about having a bit of a run around on a Tuesday night and a beer after. That social side, mixing with others, is so important to keep you fresh. Something like that becomes a real highlight in your week and something to look forward to, no matter how busy you are.”