James Neilson

OPERATIONS MANAGER

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NAME James Neilson JOB Operations Manager COMPANY Coop Farms AGE 32 SALARY* £50,000 + *industry average

What do you do?
 

I work for Co-operative farms, Britain’s largest farmer. I lead five teams across the country, growing and packing top fruit – that’s fruit that grows on trees - stone fruit and soft fruit. It’s my job to make sure we supply the Co-operative stores with excellent quality fruit, and that everyone who works in my teams is motivated and delivering their best.

What do you like about the job?

It’s great working for a large business that’s committed to agriculture, and it’s important to me to be in touch with the countryside. Even though the organisation is huge, I really feel like I can make a difference within it.

I travel around a lot, from our farms and packhouses in Kent, Herefordshire and Dundee to the head office in Manchester. I like having this freedom and independence. I also like working with lots of different people – I come into contact with around 1000 employees, some of them managers like me, others who are seasonal workers from all over Europe.

And what’s not so great?

The only frustrating thing about a job in fruit growing is that you’re constantly battling against Mother Nature. I can work as hard as I like, but a few hours of the wrong weather at the wrong growth stage of a plant or tree can mean a bad crop, and there’s nothing I can do about that.

What did you do before this?

I did a mixture of GCSEs and A-Levels including Science, Maths and Geography, and then studied Agriculture as an Honours degree. After that I did the Management Trainee scheme through MDS, which led me to the Co-operative via a couple of other commercial management roles for big retail suppliers.

Why did you choose this job?

Since school, I’ve known I want to work in Agriculture, so I looked for a job that would offer me a structured career and the opportunity to climb up. I started at the Co-operative Farms as a Packhouse Manager and have been working my way up since then.

What would you like to do next?

I’m ambitious, and it’s a good industry to be ambitious in. Eventually, I’d like to be a CEO or Managing Director of a large business like the Co-operative. 

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