Women in the SA Olive industry: Brenda Wilkinson
Brenda Wilkinson is a doer and she’s channeled her passion for the people and products of the olive industry into a well-established, international award-winning EVOO brand. Twenty years of living in central Africa have given her a unique perspective and appreciation of what is possible when you put your mind to it.
1. What do you do in the olive industry?
I manage the marketing aspect of our business, which of course goes hand in hand with the agriculture part.
2. Are there unique challenges as a woman in the olive growing and olive oil making business?
I have never found this to be a challenge. Sure, I am not involved in the day-to-day farming but I support at each turn. I am happiest cleaning the processing shed and at my best when it is all gleaming from floor to ceiling. I have very little to do with the processing besides the cleaning, but do make a great cup of coffee to keep everyone going! My role is very much a supportive one.
Nothing can stop me – dress up, show up and make it happen is my motto.
3. What are the hard skills you need to make it work?
Time and the willingness to get out of your comfort zone to make things work. There are no defined skills in marketing – if you find a gap, you take it! If you are knocked down, you move the goal posts. I have often been told what to do with our business, especially by highly ‘trained’ folk in their field, but I think, with respect, that nothing prepares you for the real business at hand. It takes sheer hard work, long hours and the determination to do a job well.
4. What are the soft skills you need to make it work?
I am Aries – so, I just get the job done.
5. What has been a highlight in your career in the olive industry thus far?
I think meeting all the fabulous folk associated with the olive industry. I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively for Rio Largo business. A small contingent went to Peru many years ago and I learned the most incredible business lesson there. The top retailer invited us into his office and showed us how not to lose money in retail, a lesson I still value immensely. I have learned from some wonderful Italian producers too. They are fascinated that we produce the quality we produce and want us to be successful. In fact, I was convinced by a top Italian producer to use bag-in-box for storage, and we’ve never looked back.
6. Why do you love what you do?
What’s not to love? I have the magical task of sharing a fabulous, healthy product in the most beautiful decanters, with each design bringing joy to someone. I have shared the journey with so many wonderful people who have embraced what we do and want to be a part of it all. We have a great team who go out of their way to support us at Rio Largo and above all, we love it when we get to share the good stuff!
7. What does the future hold – for you, your business, and the country?
Who knows? No one can answer this, especially after the past year.
8. Do you have a funny story about your time in the olive business?
My favourite story is of this precious old lady who came past at a TASTE exhibition. She was on a walker and I asked if she would like to taste our EVOO. She turned to me and politely told me she was Greek. Enough said.
I asked her to please try our oil – and feeling sorry for me, she did. And she loved it! She said she would be back to buy some later and off she went.
As I was packing up to leave, she came past again and asked if she could buy a decanter. I was thrilled and did a little dance as she pulled a note out of her bra – a Greek lady is buying our EVOO made from Italian cultivars – we had a winner! She was so overjoyed with my reaction that she pulled another note from her bra to buy another one.
9. What does your support structure look like?
My husband, Nick, is my biggest supporter and champion. I have support from so many wonderful people and I fear if I name them I will leave someone out. From our staff on the farm, to designers, packers, friends and family… Oh my word, the list goes on and on! I am so blessed to have such incredible support from all spheres of our business.