Pierre Coetzee is Vanguard’s Assistant Manager – Africa. Pierre is always pushing himself to learn more, learn something new, to add additional value to Vanguard. Pierre’s inquisitive mind thrives under pressure which pretty much explains the successful completion of his MBA while delivering excellent results for Vanguard’s customers around the world, growers throughout Africa, and his many global teammates. In addition to work and study, Pierre does enjoy supporting the Springboks (South Africa’s national rugby team ). What we westerners would call “master of the grill,“ Pierre can be found with his wife and their friends enjoying a braai and some great South Africa red wine cheering on the Green & Gold.
Let’s get to know Pierre a little more!
VG: Has South Africa always been home or did you relocate for work?
Pierre: South Africa has always been home. I was born in Port Elizabeth, a town in the Eastern Cape (also called The Friendly City, The Windy City, and now Gqeberha). After finishing school there, I moved to the Western Cape to study at the University at Stellenbosch (where I also met my wife). Since then I have lived in and around Stellenbosch. My wife and I have been living in the Somerset West area for the past 7 years and are very happy here.
VG: Have you always been destined for fresh produce? How did your career begin?
Pierre: My journey in fresh produce started with a little luck (or fate if you will). My undergraduate degree was a Bachelors in Science with the idea to pursue Biokinetics. Towards the end of my studies, I realised my options were limited should I continue to pursue Biokinetics and had to pivot in terms of my career choice. I decided to do a postgraduate in Maritime Studies that introduced me to the world of logistics and shipping.
For this degree, I had to attend night school as the course was designed for working individuals. This left me with a lot of free time during the day (still being a full time student at the time). I subsequently managed to be employed for a fixed-term contract at a Freight Forwarding company in Somerset West that specialized in the fruit export industry. I would go on to be permanently employed by the freight forwarder and will always value the experience I gained having had the privilege to work in different departments within the organization – starting in finance, then documentation, and finally operations. Henk Wever then approached me for a position at Vanguard and I have been with the Vanguard team since 2014.
VG: We are well into managing a global pandemic – what have been the greatest challenges? Any positive outcomes of a change in SOP?
Pierre: There are multiple challenges that are interrelated (and frustratingly many of which are out of our direct control), but if I had to single out the greatest challenge I would say Logistics. From a lack of empty containers, erratic vessel schedules, discontinuation of routings to the Far East and the Middle East, problems in the port (both COVID and non-COVID related), and the list goes on. Luckily we work in the fruit industry and are used to having to deal with the unforeseen! We have a great team who continues to do everything in their power to ensure we service our growers and customers in the best possible way during these crazy times. Anticipate, mitigate, and execute! Another challenge has been travel restrictions and not having been able to do our annual Asia Fruit Logistica and procurement trips in person. I am excited at the prospect that 2022 would allow us to do more of these trips, and to sit face to face once again with our business partners and teammates across the globe.
As far as positives go, I feel proud of how our team has adapted to having to work from home since the start of the pandemic. There is a large degree of self-management and mental resilience required in my opinion to continue performing optimally from home (without burning out). Different aspects of life intertwine when you work, eat, sleep within the same four walls and it takes effort to create boundaries and systems that maintain a healthy balance. The team has done exceptionally well in this in my opinion. Another positive for me has been more time with my wife.
VG: Whose day do you impact on a regular basis? Who hears from you the most?
Pierre: Being a small team in the RSA, we naturally work very closely. Neil Truter, Gerald Brock, and Horaychio Williams hear from me on a daily basis. Henk Wever, the Manager of our South African office, and I, in particular, talk many times per day to coordinate on all important matters. That being said, the fruit business is very much a “live” business, meaning our grower partners, international teammates, and customers hear from me daily too.
VG: What has been a memorable moment of your time with Vanguard?
Pierre: There have been many memorable moments. One would be our annual Asia Fruit Logistica trip where we meet as a global team for a lively week of planning, meetings, and bonding. This week always energises me as, although the schedule is a very busy one, you get to spend quality face-to-face time with your teammates, growers, and customers whom all form part of our everyday work life. Relationships are formed, nurtured, and deepened,and you can’t help coming away from the experience feeling closer to everyone.
The other fond memory would be Neil Truter and my procurement trips to Egypt. An incredible, culturally rich place to see and there is something special about visiting our growers on their farms to discuss business, having lunch with them in their homes or packhouses, and understanding their world a bit better.
VG: What does your free time look like! Spending time with family, friends?
Pierre: I enjoy spending quality time with my wife, family, and friends over a braai or at a nice restaurant. A hike up the mountain with my wife or a round of golf with my friends is also a favoured pastime.
I also enjoy being involved in a charitably driven organization (The Round Table) where we offer our time and money to do good for the less fortunate in our community, while also building fellowship amongst like-minded individuals.
VG: Do you have a favorite produce item? If yes how do you prefer to eat it (Snack? Signature Recipe?)
Pierre: I have been privileged to have tasted some very nice fruit worldwide in my travels, from Honeycrisp Apples originating from the USA, to Shine Muscat Grapes from Korea and China. But my favourites are available on most shelves globally: namely grapes (I love a good Autumn Crisp) and Seedless Mandarins, both of which I enjoy fresh and slightly chilled.
Every day is different at Vanguard; with new growers joining our community, new crops and fresh varieties being introduced, and new markets opening. Keep up to date with what’s happening in our expanding world.