Love of learning drives success

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Cathy Chambers

Cathy Chambers’ love of learning and willingness to take on new opportunities have helped drive her career success.

Cathy is the first female general manager to be appointed within the Costa operations.  The Costa China farms grow blueberries, raspberries and blackberries in the Yunnan Province in southern China, and employ more than 200 permanent local staff, five expatriates, and more than 3600 casual and seasonal workers.

Cathy, who took on the role in June this year, said her key focus was continuing to drive the success and growth of the China business.

“I’m obviously very excited to be involved in a rapidly growing business.  In just seven years, we have grown from one farm of 25Ha to seven farms spread across three different regions with around 400 planted Ha.  And we intend to keep expanding at a similar pace.  It takes an amazing and resilient team to sustain this kind of growth: developing a new farm each year, while successfully managing ever-larger operations, and for the last three years, all during a global pandemic.  It’s a privilege to work with them,” Cathy said.

“Another key goal is to deepen the connections between our China business and the Australian operations.  This has been tough for the last three years because of COVID travel restrictions and quarantine requirements.  But once that changes, I look forward to regular visits, so we can exchange knowledge, experience and ideas much more effectively. I will also ensure that we continue to promote our integration with the local communities here in China.”

Cathy brings to the role a wealth of experience in a range of fields.  She started her career as an electronics technician, working for the Department of Defense at the Garden Island Dockyard in Sydney. From there, Cathy moved into technical writing, project management, training design, computer based training development, a brief period in recruitment and technology product advertising, and later into roles including Operations Manager and Marketing Manager with Scientific Management Associates, a private company involved in integrated logistics support.

In 2006, Cathy and her husband decided to give up the city life in Sydney, moving to a rural property at Halfway Creek (situated between Grafton and Coffs Harbour).

“We basically decided to retire early and enjoy our tree change.  We didn’t plan to look for work but would take opportunities if they came along.  After a period of time, a neighbour who was working at the Costa Berry farm at Corindi told me there was some work going and I started there working in recruitment and helping with inductions,” Cathy said.

That role led to various other work with Costa, starting with the Variety Improvement Program (VIP), which develops new blueberry varieties and licenses them around the globe.

Cathy continued to take on new opportunities and challenges, developing a deep knowledge of the Costa business and earning her stripes working up the ladder from administrative roles, to project leadership and management roles.

In 2016, Cathy took on the role of IP, Licensing and Administration Manager for Berries International, which includes the berry farms in China and Morocco. Again demonstrating the breadth of her ability, Cathy’s role was expanded to incorporate international human resources and safety functions in 2019.

In June of 2022, Cathy was appointed General Manager of the Costa China operations.

“I’ve had a long association with the China team, with regular short-term visits plus a period of around five months as acting General Manager,” she said.

“It’s a challenge for anyone to relocate to a new country and adapt to a new culture, but my earlier experiences helped me prepare for the leap.”

Making the move in the middle of the COVID pandemic posed additional challenges, with a total of six weeks full and partial quarantine before she was able to settle into to her new home.

And with China taking a zero-tolerance approach to COVID, there are still a number of challenges including health and travel code requirements, numerous checkpoints to navigate, and regular PCR testing before travel within the country.

Despite the hurdles, Cathy is extremely positive about both her role and the China business.

“I have always had a place in my heart for the China operations. It’s a great team and a great business, and there are huge opportunities here given the demand for fresh, healthy berries”.

“I have always felt very welcome here. I have found all the people I interact with are very kind and open, and it’s an enjoyable culture to work in.”

Cathy said she was grateful to be given new opportunities and that her skills have been recognised.

“The opportunities are there if you are willing to take a chance. My whole career has been driven by a love of learning and an insatiable curiosity. I have had plenty of opportunities, and I have been blessed to have the ability and willingness to pursue them. You need to believe in yourself and have the confidence to try new things.”

She said her mother, only the second woman to be accepted into a degree at Cambridge University in England, who then went on to get her Master’s degree in science and work in metallurgy research, was also an incredible role model.

As Costa’s first female general manager, Cathy is hopeful she too can provide inspiration, but not just for women in agriculture.

“Diversity isn’t only about objective, measurable things like gender, ethnicity , age etc.. It’s also about backgrounds, experiences, communication styles, intellectual diversity and so on.  People are the most important part of our business and wide diversity brings real riches to any organisation.”