Fourth-generation apple grower Joyce Ceravolo is paving the way forward for her family-run business located in the beautiful Adelaide Hills of South Australia. Ashton Valley Fresh and Ceravolo Orchards are primary producers and manufacturers and, as Joyce describes, they’re “vertically integrated, to cover the whole supply chain.”

“We started out as a horticulture and growing business and then as time went on, we realised pretty quickly that given slim margins and minimal control, you sort of had to start taking back control of your supply chain. So now we do everything from growing, storing, packing, marketing, sales and manufacturing,” says Joyce. Keeping everything in-house means efficiency is critical for the tight-knit, multi-generational team, in order for the business to stay profitable.

Despite expected generational differences, the whole family is very tech-forward – even Joyce’s grandfather processes payments at markets with an iPad like a digital native. But as the young bloods of the business, Joyce and her brother Joseph are challenging which areas of operations can be optimised, or even fully automated with technology.

“We’re a highly automated manufacturing business, but on the ground for picking, packing and running forklifts, we’re at about 100–150 people seasonally.” And it may be in this disparity of business needs – from strategy to people management – that Joyce’s strengths as a leader shine, in her ability to shape-shift, wearing whichever hat is needed at a time.

She describes her leadership style as adaptive – knowing when to be empathetic and to listen, but also being prepared to have tough conversations and speaking up to challenge something that doesn’t seem to be working.

And on female leadership more broadly, Joyce says, “Our personal experiences are vastly different from men's experiences. So of course, our leadership styles are going to be different.  We're big picture analysers. We tend to look at the whole situation rather than just the micro. And I know that can be personality driven as well. But in general, that's what I see.” In what is a traditionally male-dominated industry, Joyce believes greater diversity, including increased female participation, could greatly benefit Australian manufacturers.

Research conducted by CommBank for the Manufacturing Insights Report found female employees make up only one third of the workforce in the industry, and one fifth of the proportion of executive teams, with 45% of female-led manufacturers saying diversity is a challenge as people from underrepresented groups look to work in other sectors. But across the two Ceravolo businesses they boast a diverse team, with several international managers, seasonal workers from across the globe and a predominantly female office, which Joyce describes as “a beautiful environment to work in.”

“Diversity of age, race and gender brings diversity of ideas. And diverse inputs lead to the best outcomes 100% of the time,” says Joyce.

She believes there’s plenty of opportunity for unique female perspectives to bring improvements to manufacturing, describing it as a richly varied sector, that “between food, cosmetics and machinery, there’s something for everyone.”

“The wonderful thing about manufacturing is that so many skills are transferable.” And her own career trajectory is testament to that. “I have a law and chemical engineering degree. I assure you that manufacturing was not at the top of my list of things that I was going to do when I started those degrees. But I use both of them in my role.”

When asked about the future of female leadership across the sector, Joyce says leaning into flexible working is key. “We have the ability to create flexible roles that allow women to do what they need in their professional and personal lives, and that will naturally allow more women to come into this space.”

But for on-site jobs, there needs to be more support around childcare to help close gender gaps. “On-site childcare centres are a really big part of the puzzle,” says Joyce, who has children herself and understands the juggling act. For women who need to be at work early, which is often the case for production and manufacturing roles, having the ability to access childcare before regular hours is essential - particularly for women who don't have familial support.

And in planning and implementing what’s next for the business, Joyce and Joseph are sharing the responsibility. “We’re the generation thinking more broadly about succession and the future and ensuring we don't repeat the mistakes that have been made in the past, in terms of setting up business structures and systems, because we want to ensure business longevity and staff retention through the transition process,” says Joyce.

“Community impact is also massive for us,” she says. “We're passionate about feeding people and that includes feeding people that can't afford to feed themselves.” Juice donations and support for food-based charities are something Joyce feels strongly about and, in addition to their current efforts, she wants to do more in this space.

Another top priority is sustainability. To help look after the land, the business uses nitrogen-based chemicals to clean the facilities, which are also beneficial to the orchards. Once used for cleaning, the water is treated and functions as a “fertilisation irrigation system”, with the nitrogen in the water helping to regenerate the soil. They also use netting in the orchards to protect from birds and reduce irrigation requirements – by about 50% in fact – with microclimates existing under the nets too. And to support a healthy ecosystem, they’ve been introducing beneficial bugs to combat pests and help crops thrive naturally.

“Between the two of us we can usually design and execute most of the solutions that we need,” says Joyce, and though she describes Joseph as more hands-on and herself as quite theoretical, together they know the business inside and out. The siblings are confident they can continue to adapt in changing environments, and in speaking with Joyce, it’s clear she’s determined to leave a legacy of positive impact.

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