We recently spoke with Justin Chadwick, the Chief Executive Officer of the South African Citrus Growers Association. For the last 22 years, the CGA has been Justin’s home, but it’s safe to say agriculture has always been a part of his life, in one way or another. He’s had a very interesting career and life, and we enjoyed hearing his professional and personal story.
You’ve been the CEO of the South African Citrus Growers Association since 1999. How did you get into this line of work?
I was working for the Cane Growers Association and one of my friends from university was a big citrus farmer and he was on the board of the new (citrus) organization. They were looking around for someone to head up the organization so he contacted me and asked if I might be interested in moving from sugar to citrus. I said yes, put my name in the hat, interviewed, and was lucky enough to get the job.
How did you get into the sugar cane industry?
I’m an agriculture economist. I studied agriculture economics at university and did a Masters. I worked at an agriculture research station and lectured at an agriculture college for a few years. After that, I applied for a job at Cane Growers and started as an economist there, then I moved up through the ranks. I was there for about 16 years or so. So I spent a long time there, as well.
What was your interest in that industry? How did you decide to major in agriculture economics?
I was raised on a farm. My father was a sugar cane farmer. So I was always interested in agriculture and was keen to get into that. But I was initially hoping to do veterinary. I wanted to become a vet, but I didn’t do too well in my first year. You have to get certain grades and I didn’t quite make it, so then I had to choose to move away from the Bachelor of Science in veterinary. So I looked at economics and quite enjoyed that.
You’ve been doing this for a really long time. What skills have helped you to remain successful in this role?
The most important thing about working in a grower association, in other words working for farmers, is the ability to understand people. I think it’s called servant leadership. Where you work for people but at the same time they expect you to show them some leadership in terms of strategic direction and implementation.
It’s helped that I’ve been able to get along well with farmers. I love farmers. They’re the backbone of society, I believe. I’ve always enjoyed being with farmers and working for them. They’re a special group of people. They’ll be loyal to you and stand behind you as long as you perform. But they’ll tell you straight when you’re not performing. They are very direct as a group. I like that I know where I stand at any time.
I wouldn’t say I’ve always pleased every farmer in the country, but that’s also part of the job. Whatever decisions you take sometimes there will be farmers that aren’t happy with those decisions because you have to take big decisions at times. But as long as they’re well thought through and have the desired outcome of being beneficial to the industry as a whole, people can recognize that.
The other thing is being able to recognize talent and surround yourself with good talent. I’ve got fantastic people working at the Citrus Growers Association. I’ve got staff that have mostly been there 10 years or more. Once they get there, they stay, which is great. I personally believe in retaining staff and building them up to become real experts in the field they’re in. I know other people believe that you should have a steady rotation and bring new ideas in the whole time. I must say, I think you only do that if the present staff aren’t exactly performing and sort of recycling themselves, as it were. It’s all around the people in a service industry like ours. If you get on well with your clients, the farmers, and if you build your staff up to also have the same values, then you get an organization that really performs.
Do you think you’ve met all of your career goals?
That’s a good question. When I was at Cane Growers obviously the highest post there was Executive Director. I was a director there so I was one of three that probably would have been in line for that post. I guess I always saw that as the top position of an agrarian association, so I guess you could say I have.
How has the industry changed since you took this post?
It’s changed in terms of the products we export. We are still very much an orange dominated industry. Navel and Valencia oranges still make up the large proportion of our fruit. But it’s not as dominant as it was in 1999. So in those days grapefruit was the second biggest. Now it’s not. And lemons and soft citrus (easy peelers) were very small segments of the total industry. Now lemons and easy peelers are becoming much more significant. And grapefruit is much less significant. Oranges as a percentage have dropped off. In total volume they are still significant. Because we’ve grown so much, as a percentage they are less significant.
How have you changed since taking this post?
One area is confidence. You always wonder if you can lead an organization or lead an industry. We’ve proven that we can, so I think that helps with the confidence side.
What are your goals for the organization?
I’ve only got about 3 or 4 years left so I don’t want to set too many new goals. When you get to a point where the industry is quite settled, but still growing in terms of volume, there are two areas that we need to put attention to. One is logistics. The ports are a mess. They need a new way of doing things. There’s a monopoly port owner and it’s actually run by the state. The World Bank recently did a study of 350 ports around the world and our three ports came 347, 348, and 349. They really score badly. At the moment the ports have stopped operating in the last 4 or 5 days because they’ve had a cyber-attack. They seem to blunder from one crisis to the next. We really need some private sector involvement in the ports which is a big goal to try and get that in place. I think everyone agrees it has to happen, it’s just how it will happen. The backlash from the unions is also an issue. And then the second (goal) is just market access. Finding new markets for our citrus and optimizing our present markets. We’ve got a lot of additional growth coming in and we need to find markets to absorb that additional growth.
What are your personal goals outside of the association?
I’ve always done a lot of sports. I used to paddle. We’ve got two signature paddling races in South Africa. I’ve completed 10 of each of those. I also used to run. There’s a big marathon called the Two Oceans Marathon in Cape Town. I did eleven of those. There’s Comrades Marathon which is a 95 kilometer run between two cities here, which I’ve done twice. I think those were my goals – I don’t necessarily do well in any of them – but just to compete and to complete them, was always my goal.
Now it’s to travel a little bit more, locally, in Africa. I’ve traveled an immense amount around the world, but not so much in Africa itself. In the next three or four years I’ll be retiring, so my wife and I are gearing up to travel a lot when that happens. And then I just want to enjoy family life. I have a daughter and son. My daughter is married now and she’s going to have the first grandchild in December. My son is a game ranger. With the impact of COVID on the hospitality trade, a lot of rangers are out of business at the moment, and he’s still trying to find his feet. So another task is to help him get going in his career.
It was great speaking with Justin Chadwick. Clearly, he takes his role as a servant leader very seriously. We wish him continued success as he continues to lead the South African Citrus Growers Association, and beyond.