"You don't need to have grown up on a farm. So long as someone is passionate about working with wool and has cross-creditable skills, there's a place for them."
Name: Ryan Cosgrove
Grew up: Mungindi (NSW, Australia) and Napier
Role: Wool exporter
Pathway: Bachelor of Science (Ecology and Biodiversity)
Did you always know you wanted to work with wool?
No! I was studying Science at Victoria University of Wellington and had a regular holiday job for the wool broker Wright Wool in Waipukurau, Hawke’s Bay. I got my hands dirty doing everything from sweeping floors to driving trucks and eventually learned to class and value wool. My current role as a wool exporter grew from there.
Where did you grow up?
I spent my childhood in a cotton gin (a factory that separates cotton fibre from its seeds) in Mungindi, New South Wales (NSW), Australia – until my family moved to Tamworth, NSW, for a couple of years, and finally across the ditch to Napier when I was 13 years old. So, making the move to work with wool, another natural fibre, was easy.
What attracted you to wool?
I loved handling wool in my holiday job - day in and day out. But I knew that trading wool was what I really wanted to do one day. Wool has always seemed like an obvious solution to me. Its many benefits are well known, it’s well researched, it’s got a strong story already. I remember thinking during my holiday job ‘Every alternative fibre is just an imitation of the real thing. How could I NOT be successful at selling wool?’
Why did you choose the wool sector?
I knew the sector was facing challenges that I could help solve. My passion for wool led me to my current exporting role but there were other influencing factors too, like the $50-60K starting salary and the potential to progress my career within the same company. The wool sector pays well – far more than my graduate friends in law and accounting firms. I get to travel six or seven times per year and there are plenty of opportunities for me to develop my skills and career.
What do you see as the main advantage of working in the sector?
When I finished my degree, I was 23 years old and learned that the average age of the sector’s workforce was 55 years. Succession planning is a huge problem, as is finding young people excited about implementing new technology. Retirement is seen as more of a suggestion than a requirement. I could see a future with wool that I couldn’t see anywhere else.
How did you get your current job as a wool exporter?
I contacted every wool exporter in the country about the idea of working for them. I emailed every exporter – I told them about my experience, skills, qualifications and ambitions. Everyone I contacted - even if they weren’t hiring – got back to me. My first trading role wasn’t advertised but my once-employer, H Dawson & Sons, was so excited about the prospect of meeting a young person who loved wool and who had the skills they needed, that they flew me to Christchurch. It paid off because next thing, I had a job! My current role is with a company John Marshal & Co. It adds value to wool within NZ as well as being a general trader offshore.
How useful has your study been in your current role?
My science degree isn’t directly relevant, but I learned a lot of skills from studying. I learned how to write and communicate in a modern way and in plain English. I learned about to meet deadlines; multi-task; and manage my own time. They’re essential skills for my job, above anything else. My science degree also taught me how to read and interpret scientific articles which ensures we keep up with modern best-practice.
What kind of people does the wool sector need more of?
The sector has traditionally looked to farmers’ sons and rugby clubs for new recruits but if I was hiring, I would be looking at young people with cross creditable skills: business, accounting, finance, marketing and foreign languages like Mandarin. You don’t need to have grown up on a farm to work with wool. So long as someone is passionate about the product and has cross-creditable skills, there’s a place for them.
Have you felt well supported in your role? What are your plans for the future?
I was really well supported and trained by the company’s head wool trader. It got me off to a great start from Day One. I was also given a lot of freedom in the first six months which helped me find my feet pretty quickly. I’m currently on track to upper management and being a director of the company one day.