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Eight Elsoms staff rake up over 275 years’ service between them

Meet the eight staff members who have accumulated a total of 275 years service to Elsoms between them! With careers spanning over three decades each, we take a look at their progression, biggest achievements and secrets to having such a successful career at Elsoms.

Rae Cook, Head of Seed Treatment – 34 years

Rae started her successful career at Elsoms in 1986, aged 23, after studying biological sciences at university. Starting as the Vegetable Division Assistant, Rae quickly progressed and took on the role of Seed Technologist. By the early ’90s, Rae had become Elsoms’ Onion Crop Manager and was an instrumental part in launching shallots from seed in the UK, as part of the Bejo / De Groot en Slot partnership. As a crop manager, Rae retained her responsibilities for seed technology and in 2003 moved on from Onions to focus on Elsoms’ seed treatments. Rae was a crucial part of the team that helped Elsoms gain the partnership with Incotec in 2006 and, in 2010, left the vegetable department to concentrate on the seed treatment business. From this point, Seed Technology grew year after year with Rae leading the way. Currently, Rae heads up a team of 21 that includes seed testing and laboratory services. This growth has allowed Elsoms’ Seed Technology team to offer a wide range of seed treatments and technologies to the global agriculture market.

Rae told us that her biggest achievement to date is taking the Seed Technology team to £1m in turnover in 2017. Then going on to double that figure in 2018!

Over the past 34 years, there’s been a lot of change. For Rae, the biggest change has been the diversity in both the company and the industry. Looking forward to the next 30 years, Rae believes that Elsoms will adapt to the loss of chemicals in treating seeds by investigating other ways to manage pest and disease with new more sustainable and environmentally friendly technologies – an exciting challenge for the future!

We asked Rae what is the key to a successful career at Elsoms. She says ‘innovation and passion’ is top of the list! ‘Elsoms is a company that doesn’t hold people back and allows you to develop in the areas you excel in’.

Mick Burrill, Seed Production Specialist – 45 years

Mick started his career in trials and plant breeding as a Glasshouse Operative at 17 years old. Mick made a move into seed production, where he remained for the majority of his career. In the last few years, Mick returned to plant breeding to help develop new varieties. Mick is most proud of being part of an exceptional team that have produced market-leading varieties, including Panorama and Pearl, our latest parsnip varieties. 

During his 45-year career at Elsoms, Mick has worked for three different generations of the Keeling family. In 1975 when Mick first joined, Elsoms’ current chairman, Roger Keeling, hadn’t been born! With such an impressive length of service, we asked Mick what the secret is to a successful career at Elsoms. The simple answer is having a great team around you and utilising them. Teamwork is at the core of what we do, and we’re proud to have had Mick in the team for the past four and a half decades.

Margaret De Soyza, HR Manager – 31½ years

Margaret started work for Elsoms in July 1989 as an Office Junior, after completing her A-Levels. Margaret jokes that she started her career with the main responsibilities of making tea and coffee and distributing the external and internal post, but has moved on to become an integral part of the business. As an Office Junior, Margaret was sent on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) for one year to gain basic administrative qualifications. 

As someone who is incredibly proud of their time working at the company, Margaret is also a second-generation employee of the company. Her mother had been the company bookkeeper for Elsoms in the late 1940s under George Elsom.

“I have been incredibly lucky that during my time at Elsoms, the company has invested time and money into training me. I have moved from a general Finance Administrator through to Accounts Supervisor and finally onto my current role as HR Manager for the company.” says Margaret. “I have gained my AAT qualification, Level 5 CIPD qualification as well as being trained to be an internal ISO9001 auditor before being given the task to manage the company’s accreditation system.”

Throughout her working life, Margaret has remained part of the Finance team but has also been able to work and learn from other departments. Margaret’s extensive knowledge of the company has been built up over the years by getting involved in all areas of the business. Margaret is especially proud of her work with assisting the agricultural team working on grass paddock and amenity lawn mixtures and combinable crops, catch and cover crops.

Mark Wilkinson, IT Manager – 34½ years 

Mark started working at Elsoms as a Trainee Seed Analyst in 1981 at 16 years old. A long career at Elsoms has led to Mark taking on many roles including Health and Safety Officer, Quality Manager and Certification Officer to name a few. Mark’s most recent role is as Elsoms’ IT Manager, working on many large projects. His biggest achievement so far is implementing the rollout of our computer system in 2009, replacing the original paper-based system.

Since joining the company in 1981 a lot has changed. There have been new warehouses built, offices extended and R&D has progressed quickly as technology has developed. Mark says that he has enjoyed spending his career at a family-led company, where he feels that he, and his colleagues, are valued.

Sarah Woolsey, Receptionist – 34½ years

Sarah started with the company straight from school in July 1986 on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS). The YTS involved working four days a week at Elsoms in the General Office as Office Junior and one day a week training towards a BTEC in business studies. As one of the few employees with any computer knowledge, Sarah worked in the veg office when they had the computer system installed inputting all the green picking list copies. Sarah has spent time working in several different administrative roles at Elsoms before settling into the finance team office for two years before finally landing her dream job as Elsoms switchboard operator. In 2021, Sarah is the receptionist for Elsoms, finance administrator, document controller and secretary of the Health and Safety Forum.

Before Sarah became Elsoms’ receptionist, Mary Young held the position for over 40 years. This means, that in the past 75 years Elsoms have only had two full-time receptionists!

Martin Strickson, Carrot and Beetroot Crop Manager – 31½ years

Martin joined Elsoms at 16 years old in 1989, not long after leaving school. In his first role as a Technical Assistant, Martin began developing the strong relationships that he has with customers to this day. Martin learnt his craft by assisting senior staff with trials and stock control, learning about all aspects of Elsoms’ vegetable business. This lead him to become a beacon of crop knowledge! Martin began specialising in brassicas, parsnips, beetroot and carrots, which leading him to his current position of Carrot and Beetroot Crop Manager. Martin has experienced many changes as a result of the developing agriculture industry over the past 31 years. In particular, customers have grown and become more specialised, meaning his role and the company have had to adapt to this

So, what’s the key to Martin’s success at Elsoms? ‘Be prepared to roll your sleeves up’ he says. You need to be prepared to listen and learn while gaining knowledge, trust and respect equally from customers, suppliers and colleagues.

Unsurprisingly after many field visits over the years, a very young Martin once got his feet stuck in a muddy winter cauliflower field at Cornwall. This required him to be rescued by the Vegetable Director, who emphasised to Martin the need to get ‘stuck’ into your role here at Elsoms!

Jackie Gray, Accounts Supervisor – 30 years 

Jackie began her Elsoms career on a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) that involved working four days a week at Elsoms in the general office as office junior and one day a week training towards various qualifications. She has worked in a variety of departments, including the accounts office until 2001 and the vegetable office, where she was a crop administrator for two crop managers and was also solely responsible for creating and producing the vegetable seed catalogue. Jackie moved back into the accounts office in 2009, where she was a finance administrator. Jackie’s recent promotion to accounts supervisor has seen her become responsible for the day-to-day running of the finance office and the credit-control of over 1300 customers, whilst also being an auditor for the quality system. Jackie is also heavily involved in the administration of the two joint breeding programmes set up by Elsoms, Elsoms Wheat and Elsoms Ackermann Barley.

Mark Nightingale, OSR Breeder – 34½ years

With a career spanning over 34 years at Elsoms, Mark has many fantastic achievements that he is proud of. Joining the company in 1986 as a Purification Officer, Mark started his career working on wheat and barley before extending his role into electrophoresis, wheat quality testing and aiding the wheat breeder. After a few years, Mark was eager to develop his knowledge and took the opportunity to work part-time in the double-haploid lab. Mark developed this further by adding to his qualifications by studying applied biology at JIC and UEA, and earned his master’s degree, specialising in tissue culture and double-haploid production. Mark completed his masters while continuing his work at Elsoms full time, demonstrating a work ethic that Mark continues to this day. Mark’s knowledge and commitment to plant breeding have seen him select several commercial varieties in various crops. This led to Mark breeding Elsoms’ exceptional Oilseed Rape variety, Elgar. Today Mark works closely with a range of breeders in Europe and the USA on a wider portfolio of crops, which include WOSR, linseed (spring and now winter types), vining peas, combinable peas, fodder beet and energy beet.

Mark believes that the growth of Elsoms’ R&D sector will be integral to the success of our future. He told us that the key to a successful career at Elsoms is ‘being willing to be flexible and take opportunities as they arise, while constantly looking to better yourself’, and ‘investing time in your colleagues to aid you’.