Getting to know Henk Wever, behind the produce
15 June 2020

Behind the Produce with Henk Wever

Henk has managed our South African office for over 21 years. He has proven to be a strong hands-on leader of our South African team while they maneuver procurement in Egypt in addition to South Africa. Henk’s office predominantly focuses on the grower and procurement side of our business, although, along with his team he also steps in daily to support our global sales teams, and service our customers. This means Henk and team are going strong when some parts of the world are asleep. In fact, it is not uncommon to see communications between Henk and our team at all hours, night and day! As a lifelong surfer, Henk embodies the ideologies that come along with this lifestyle in every way: when life gives you rough waves, surf ‘em!

Let’s get to know Henk a little more!

VG: Has South Africa always been home or did you re-locate for work?
Henk: South Africa has always been home for me. I was privileged to grow up in Stellenbosch, which is a beautiful small town in the middle of the Cape winelands.  I have strong roots in the Netherlands. My parents immigrated from the Netherlands, got married in the Republic of South Africa, and like a good Dutch family, had 5 children in 7 years! Our own children grew up with my parents speaking both Dutch and Friesian to them (their home tongue from the north), in addition to the Afrikaans and English they learned at school.

VG: Have you always been destined for produce? Where did your career start?
Henk: My first position after university was in the financial sector, working for a bank, which is also where I met my wife Pauline. After 4 years, I got a position at the then Deciduous Fruit Board (single export desk), learning to do crop estimates, a very good starting point in the fruit industry. From there I went to work as a product manager in the marketing department, during which time the fruit industry deregulated, and the company changed to form Capespan.

After 12 years at Capespan, I had a quick stint as marketing manager at Stellenpak, which helped me get to know the packing house and production side of things. During this time, I met Craig and Dirk on one of their first trips to South Africa, and soon started working with Vanguard exporting lemons and plums to Asia. Having had the experience to work with Vanguard from “the other side of the desk,” made it a very easy decision when I was approached by Craig and Dirk a few months later – and ended up joining Vanguard in October 1999.

VG: You’ve been in the produce game for a long time. Has the latest global pandemic surfaced any shocking new challenges for your team that have surpassed those of previous years?
Henk: Having worked with and been part of the Vanguard family for more than 20 years, we have faced, learned from, and successfully overcome many tough challenges as a team. Obviously, the latest global pandemic is a completely different challenge, but even so, I am very confident in our company’s leadership and the calibre of the global team to overcome this too.

In terms of the South African office, given the vast time differences from our markets (6-8 hours ahead of us) and the USA Head Office (9-10 hours behind us), we have all grown very used to working from our home offices both early mornings and late evenings, and have been very well equipped with all of the essential technological tools. Therefore, given lock down measures in South Africa, we literally did not miss a beat and could adjust immediately working full time from our home offices.  

VG: What is your philosophy on leading and supporting your team?
Henk: As the Manager, I strongly believe in creating the right environment in which each team member can excel to reach his or her full potential, resulting in achieving maximum contribution to the company’s goals.

I believe team work is the key to success, which makes employing the right people critically important –  obviously experience and knowledge are important factors – but I have learned over the years that the overriding factor is to employ the person that will be the best fit for the team and our culture.

For outsiders the South African team may look like a laid-back bunch, however we are a very hard working, efficient, and close-knit team. I am proud and very blessed to have such an awesome team, all of whom I expect to be with the company a very long time.

VG: What has been a memorable moment for you during your time working for Vanguard?
Henk: There are so many! To mention a few:

  • Achieving an all-time record year for South Africa/Egypt at the end of 2019, the end result of a very strong team performance – kudos to the South African, USA, and China teams all who have been closely involved in achieving this milestone!
  • Getting to spend time with my colleagues from all over the world annually in Hong Kong when we attend Asiafruit Logistica. We work very closely together as a global team, and it truly feels like one big happy family when we all get together! This annual event is very special.

VG: What does your free time look like?
Henk: Spending time with Pauline and Imke our daughter, is priority one. As a family we are very fond of going out for lunch or dinner to a nice wine farm or restaurant, spending quality time, and enjoying good food and wine, which we are privileged to be able to do.

I do like being active, so Pauline and I go on regular hikes or runs in the nature reserve around the corner from our house. In addition, I have a home gym to help me stay fit for when I get the chance to go surfing on weekends at my local beach break, or up the coast on holidays. I am a huge music fan, and have a wide taste of different genres.

VG: Do you have a favorite produce item? If so, how do you prefer to eat it?
Henk: We have a habit of eating fruit early morning before our first cup of coffee (good coffee!) We eat all fruit kinds during the season. One of my favorites is a good quality white flesh nectarine. I can also seriously binge on Clementine mandarins.