Richard Longbottom said if you had have told him in the early ‘90s while shearing at Broken Hill, NSW, that he would be living in Melbourne and running his own fruit export business by 2001, “I would have said you were mad”.
But 18 years later, the company, Walker Longbottom, now ships containers of fresh fruit to countries throughout Asia, the Middle East, India, Canada and Russia.
The fruit, mainly grapes, mandarins, oranges and apples, is sourced from every state in Australia, as well as New Zealand, the United States and Canada.
Mr Longbottom credits a lot of his success to his Marcus Oldham Diploma of Farm Management, which he completed in 1994, and he was recently recognised for his contribution to the industry, receiving the Marcus Oldham Graduate of Excellence Award at the college’s graduation.
He grew up on a sheep property in Naracoorte, SA, and his career in the agriculture industry began at just 16 years of age, working for a shearing contractor locally and interstate.
After five years in the trade, he decided he wanted to get more business management training, so enrolled at Marcus Oldham, with a strong interest in the export sector.
During his prac year, he worked for a wool broker in Melbourne, and gained experience classing, brokering and exporting.
After graduating in 1994, he joined the Costa Group, and “worked my way from the ground up”.
“I started sweeping floors, picking orders and loading trucks,” he said.
He worked his way up, and by 2000 was the manager of the Sydney fruit export business.
“Finally, my wage matched what I was making when I was a shearer,” he said.
But it was the following year that his Marcus Oldham degree came into full use, as he started Walker Longbottom.
Mr Longbottom said it was pressure that kept him driven and motivated.
“I basically work 363 days a year; the phone is never off,” he said.
“Business is all about now, never tomorrow, timing is crucial.”
He said he and his family still loved farming, and were always up for a challenge.
Three years ago, they purchased a 360-hectare dairy farm in Timboon that they have converted to a Hereford and prime lamb operation.
“It had no fences, no yards, no shearing shed, it was a blank canvas,” he said.
“I implemented some Marcus skills to turn the property into an iconic property.”
His advice to young people in agriculture?
“Believe in yourself, stay determined and keep persisting.”