Anton Alexander’s drive to up-skill himself is a bright light we can all follow.
Already married to Sophia and with two children, the youngest just two years old and the elder seven, Anton Alexander, 34 at the time, went back to school.
“It was quite a challenge”, he says. Today Alexander is head of Human Resources on Crookes Brothers Limited (CBL) apple and pear farm, Ou Werf in Villiersdorp. We chat in the wood-panelled boardroom of the farm office with the snow-tipped Hottentots Holland mountains filling the large window.
Although the trees around us are bare, there’s a strong life-force energy and passion for agriculture right in the room which confirms that, come summer, the trees around us will be full of fruit.
“In 2008 I was offered the opportunity of working in HR on the farm. But, as I never completed my matriculation, I couldn’t study at college or university so, with the help of my family and CBL, I went to night school.” He explains how he completed eight subjects and two years of schooling after a long working day. “It was a proud moment for me when I was awarded Best Math Literacy Student award in 2010”, he smiles although, he adds: “my proudest moment in life was marrying Sophia, but this came close.”
Anton Alexander grew up in Victoria West and came to work at Dennebos, in the Villiersdorp apple and pear growing region, as a seasonal worker. Although he left school in Grade 9 without completing his final years for matriculation, Alexander was quickly noticed by co-workers and employers. “The then owners of Dennebos asked me to stay on permanently on the farm and learn other aspects of the business. In 1996 I joined CBL and worked in maintenance and then become a team leader during harvest and along the way worked as a tractor driver and then as a fork-lift operator. I was now working for CBL, a publicly-listed company with diverse agricultural interests and based on Ou Werf farm, also in the EGVV valley,” he says.
Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, the largest exporter of South African apples and pears, markets the fruit on behalf of CBL.
“I was always in leadership positions”, Alexander says, “I was chair of the community committee and, later, the Shop Steward for the union. Now I sit on the opposite side of the negotiating table. I better understand the worker’s position because I have been there and that has, I think, allowed me to offer guidance and empathy during meetings. I know that from the business point of view that no role, no matter how unskilled, is meaningless. If it were, the business would not need that person. Part of my job is to allow everyone to understand the importance and value of their role. My view is that rather than telling someone to dig a trench it is better to explain why the trench is important and how things will improve once it has been completed.”
According to Alexander, agriculture is a most important industry. “Farming is really important. We can’t have food without farming. It is literally about putting food on the table and ensuring food security going forward. This needs to be understood by everyone. Agriculture is the root structure of the tree of business – no apples and pears, no packhouses, no jobs and so on.”
In 2016 Alexander was recognised with the Prestige Agri Worker Award, sponsored by Shoprite. “Being recognised was wonderful, a real blessing. But, the prize, a sponsored visit to global fruit show, Fruit Logistica in Berlin and onwards to the Netherlands, really opened my mind. It was seven days following the full value chain – from farm to end consumer. A real eye-opener.”
Although there are corporate leadership opportunities available within the broader CBL business, for now Alexander wants to stay on the farm. “Being in HR on a farm is a totally different job from working in corporate and we have opportunities and issues on the farm that are rare elsewhere. So for now I want to use what I’ve learned to improve the lives of our team members and, in so doing, improve the business.”
Roelf Pienaar, Tru-Cape’s managing director, says Alexander’s story is a truly inspirational one. “For me, personally, education will always be one of the keys that unlocks a secure future for all of us and Anton Alexander’s commitment to growing himself within our industry and doing the hard, hard work to complete his schooling, so that he might study further, is a bright light we can all follow.” he ends.