“What are you doing studying uni at your age?”
This was a pretty common question for Riverland man Tim Jackson when, at the mature age of 53, he decided it was time for him try his hand at an online uni degree and eventually go on to earn himself an MBA (Masters in Business Administration).
But Tim was already a successful career, community and family man. So why was he going back to study?
He’d spent 14 years at the helm of the Riverland’s leading newspaper – the Murray Pioneer – as its editor. Following this he took a calculated risk to branch out into his own successful advertising and communications business, before being head-hunted for a role at Almondco, where he now leads the marketing and sales department.
It’s been a busy time for Tim (oh and did we mention he manages to fit some community volunteering into his spare time too?!).
But, as Tim says: “Don’t make me out to be a big deal though, I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Sorry Tim, but we beg to differ.
It seems that there are a few elements to Tim’s incredible success – and many of these have come from the combination of hard work, a commitment to life-long learning, the exceptional relationships he had across the Riverland community and the fact that even during his MBA studies he could stay living, working, raising a family and enjoying his beloved Riverland region.
We think that the Almondco leadership team knew exactly what they were doing when they recruited this bloke, and it’s paid off for them in spades. Since Tim began with the grower owned and run cooperative back in 2009, it’s grown from a 5000-tonne per year production level, to a whopping 28,000t in 2019, and is now worth an estimated $250 million.
“The almond industry is pretty amazing actually. It’s a bulletproof product and demand has just continued to grow, even our domestic market has more than doubled in sales in the past 10 years.”
Of course Tim can’t take all the credit for this (and he would insist that the success is largely due to the people around him, and that as his kids say, he simply “sells nuts”). He gives credit to the phenomenal group of leaders, workers and businesses involved in the Almondco cooperative, which now represents about 80% of almond producers across Australia and exports to nearly 40 countries around the world.
So back to our first question – why exactly did Tim decide to study?
Well there were a few reasons. But mostly, it has been a lifelong dream.
After Tim completed his HSC in Wangaratta, he found his way into a journalism cadetship with the local newspaper. There was no such thing as a degree in journalism in 1982. A cadetship was the only way into the industry and opportunities were scarce. He had been accepted into university to do PE and had also been offered two bank jobs when the cadetship offer came up. In the end, he opted for a career in the media, learning on the job and earning money at the Wangaratta Chronicle. “There was always a belief in the back of my mind that I would one day go to university, but it just took a lot longer than I thought.”
Fast-forward 35 years to 2017, and Tim had been at Almondco, in a growing leadership role for more than 7 years. He loved the work, but he still wanted to extend his knowledge.
Moving to the city for study wasn’t an option – his family’s life and his career was in the Riverland. So he did a bit of research, came across an online MBA course and has never looked back.
“I was incredibly lucky. My boss Brenton Woolston and the board of directors at Almondco could see the value to the business by supporting me to take on the extra study, and they were backing me each step of the way,” Tim says.
“I did all of my exams in our board room.”
Even better, was that Tim was able to complete his degree quicker than if he had come straight out of school, because with his significant experience and various skills, he managed to get enough RPL (Recognition of Prior Learning) to complete the course in 15 months.
“When I got into, I was in over my head with uni writing styles and referencing and reading volumes and volumes material. It was a fast-tracked course and it took a lot of time. At first it was a whole new world, but my background in researching a story and information gathering helped a lot,” he says.
“I was travelling all over the world for work at that point, so I was lodging assignments from places like India, New Zealand and Germany and calling in to make sure I had it in on time!
“I remember it being pretty full-on. I was working full-time, had a young family, coaching the Renmark Rovers under 18s and trying to get this study done. But I got there in the end and completed the 12 modules in 15 months.
“By the end I knew I probably should’ve done it years ago, but this is just the way it worked out.
“And the beauty of studying the MBA when I was in this position at Almondco was that I could apply everything I was studying almost immediately to my work, so I was adding value to the business along the journey.
“The things I’ve learned from the MBA bring a new perspective to many parts of work, the roles others play whether it be operations, finance or even at board level.
“I was able to be more effective and productive by applying the study theory directly to work-related issues – and at that time, things were moving so quickly at Almondco that I was learning new skills, through my degree, that could be applied to issues at work.
“I’m far more resourced now, and have a greater appreciation of so many different aspects of what other people bring to the table and how they do their jobs, from board directors right through to the wonderful staff on the factory floor.
“The study also allowed me to be an example for others around me.”
Tim also mentions the support of his family was critical to these career changes, with his wife Sheryn and his kids being by his side throughout the busy times.
And the Jacksons must be suckers for punishment, because Sheryn, incredibly, had already studied both an online nursing and online teaching degree in the years prior to Tim’s MBA.
“Like a lot of nurses and teachers, Sheryn is a quiet achiever. She has worked on Royal Adelaide’s cardiology ward and Emergency Department. More recently, she is back in the classroom following in the footsteps of her mum and nanna, who were both teachers.
“These days she has two jobs most weeks – using her nursing qualification to work with kindy kids in preventative health, and also works as a relief primary school teacher. She was the one that kept saying I should do some study.”
Now that’s a busy (and incredibly qualified) household.
Unsurprisingly, Tim explains that he owes much of his career good fortune to the local Riverland community – and he has urged those keen to go to university, to consider studying online via the new Murray River Study Hub so they can continue to live locally and leverage the opportunities of close-knit communities.
“A lot of my opportunities have come from getting to know people in the community. You develop networks through association. People often don’t even advertise for jobs in the country – they just approach people they know and like and then train them into positions,” Tim says.
“As soon as you move to the city, you can get lost in the masses and not get those opportunities.
“We should never underestimate the value of education, but the same goes for being in a well-connected regional community.”
If you’re considering studying mid-career, but want to stay living and working locally in the Riverland or Murraylands, explore your uni options on the MRSH website. You too might be able to fast-track an MBA through RPL, or finally dig your teeth into your dream career that slipped by a few decades ago.
Whatever your uni dreams are, the MRSH wants to help you make them a reality.