Mike Saklani, Tomato Grower
From working for multinational companies to running his own successful businesses.
Mike Saklani was born and raised in Chamoli, a northern region of India, close to the Himalayas. He was educated at an Irish Catholic School called Saint Joseph’s Academy, Dehradun, which he attended from the age of five until he was eighteen. He then went to complete his BSC in Environmental Science at the University of Delhi and then pursued his MBA with majors in Marketing to achieve Post Graduate Honours.
He was employed by the multinational company HJ Heinz after stepping out of University, where he managed the sales and distribution network, for the western parts of India. Mike worked there for three and half years until he was twenty-six years old. In 2001 Mike decided he wanted to travel and have an overseas experience. New Zealand was his option so he obtained a two-year work visa and left India. Mike got a job ‘flipping burgers’ at a Wendy’s Restaurant in Greenlane. It did not take long for him to climb the ladder at Wendy’s. Mike loved New Zealand. He applied for residency and after a short time he became General Manager at Wendy’s Manukau branch, in charge of 55 staff. After six years working at Wendy’s Mike decided he wanted to run his own business. He established a commercial cleaning business employing ten people which he had for almost a decade.
Throughout his time at Wendy’s Mike always thought one day he would like to be a grower. Growing had been part of his upbringing as his father has a PHD in Horticulture. With his father’s support, Mike decided to purchase a second business growing tomatoes in South Auckland in 2011. The property had two quite old greenhouses with no heating system. He began growing on a total area of 1700m2. Mike spent the first three years learning the ‘ins and outs’ of growing tomatoes. During 2014 Mike built a 1400 m2 new greenhouse fully equipped with a new heating and pipe rail system. He quickly appreciated the need for a good quality heating system. The older greenhouses are better suited to shorter eight-month crops, which are planted with tomatoes in January and removed in August. They are then planted with flat beans from September to January to complete the cycle. This year the decision was made to purchase the neighbours older glasshouses which have had their glass removed and retrofitted with plastic. Mike joined the heating system set up from his existing glasshouse to the new property. The heating pipes are externally insulated, reducing any loss of energy between the two properties. His total growing area is now over 4700m2. Having five growing areas has its challenges but has the advantage of being able to grow different crops if desired.
Mike imported all materials for insulation of the external transport lines.
Few years back, Mike sold his commercial cleaning business to concentrate on expanding his greenhouse growing operation. Mike has adapted to growing very quickly. He believes understanding that light and temperature is your limiting factor in growing in New Zealand and addressing that will go a long way to increasing productivity and profits, “making sure you have a good heating system is crucial”
Mike is very positive about the future of growing and the increased demand for food, “There are so many mouths to feed, we need more growers”. However, like most greenhouse businesses there are issues which are constantly making it hard to grow his business: “Labour is a major concern as it is so hard to find kiwis who want to work in hot greenhouses, especially in the summer. It is very hard to employ foreign students who can work part time as they are being discouraged to come to New Zealand because of government policies”. Mike would like to see incentives offered by the government to help growers access new technology. Mike thinks for smaller growers to continue to be successful they need to spend more on capital investment to improve productivity. Mike is interested in helping other growers and would like to become more involved with TomatoesNZ.
In his spare time Mike likes watching sport, especially cricket and football and is very interested in this year football world cup. Mike also likes trekking and last year went to Nepal for hiking. Mike also does community work and has been part of Uttarakhand Association of New Zealand Inc (UANZ), a charitable trust, which has raised money for Starship Hospital. He was Secretary on the Board of UANZ for 3 years and organised four big musical events, with Folk Artists from the Himalayan Region. Mike is Married with two sons and enjoys quality time with his family at their home in Karaka, South Auckland.
This is yet another story of a hardworking, well-educated immigrant who is making every post a winner and proof that there is still ample room for smaller growers to be successful in this industry. We need more growers like Mike who are not just investing in themselves but our industry and economy. Well done Mike.
In 2014 Mike built this heating system which now serves all of the five greenhouses.
This is one of the recently retrofitted greenhouses.
Mike loves being a grower and the challenges it brings. Here he is with his very strong winter crop of large loose tomatoes.
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Article Written by Stefan Vogrincic, Consultant, Grower2Grower