Like father, like daughter

Kim CousinsCountryman

While growing up on her family's apple, pear and stone fruit orchard in Carmel, Libby Carruthers loved horses but wasn't sure what else she wanted to do with her life as an adult.

"I finished Year 12 and had no idea what direction to go in," Libby said.

"At the time I took a job with Sumich's, where dad was their fruit supplier. After the stone fruit season I went overseas and rode horses, in Denmark, for three and a half months and when I came back I thought I'd work with dad.

"As a young person it was attractive - it was only 10 minutes down the road, rather than Sumich's which was a 50-minute drive down the road."

Starting out as an office girl, Libby learnt the ropes from her father and is now general operations manager, focusing on marketing, quality assurance, packaging and exporting procedures.

"We had a good working relationship and could separate work and family," she said.

The business is still very much family run and Libby's four siblings have all played integral roles.

"My brother, Paul, started out in the cool store at 16 when he left school," she said. "He went from full-time orchard manager to operating his own transport business. He now consults for me and gives me all the technical advice to run the orchard operation."

Her older sister, Stephanie, spent time in the office before starting her own family, and brother Christian was heavily involved in the business before his death in 1997. Her twin sister, Mikaela, helps out by looking after Libby's 12-month-old son, Connor, while she is at work.

"Connor was born a week after dad died," Libby said. "I came back to work three weeks later, he was with me at work for the first three months and then Miki took over looking after him."

Libby's husband, Andrew, comes from a farming family based in Lake Grace.

"He operates his own business but gives me support with the kids, especially during the plum season," Libby said. "It's great to bring the kids out here (to the orchard). I don't know what my boys will end up doing, they are only young, but no doubt they'll have endless opportunities."

Libby's grandfather, Alec, migrated from Italy to WA in 1937 and set up the fruit growing business in Pickering Brook in 1951, before later moving it to current location in Carmel.

When Alec died suddenly at age 49, his son, John, stepped up and took on the business. Employed as an industrial chemist at the time, John had spent holidays helping out on the orchard but it was still a big undertaking.

Libby said she was glad to have the support of her father from the beginning. "My father took over when he was 27," she said. "I'd started to do more of the management over the last few years and dad said 'Lib, I hope it's not going to be too hard for you'."

The business has 33 hectares of planted commercial orchard, consisting of about 60 per cent apples and pears. The remaining 40 per cent is planted to stone fruit. Machinery, chemical products, Landmark merchandise and other retail products round out the operation with fruit packing and cool storage also available.

In the off season Libby works in the office two days a week and during the busier months spends three days on site, with a new point of sale computer upgrade allowing her to micro-manage from home.

"At the moment we're doing an extension to the showroom to expand our Landmark merchandise and chemical lines," she said.

"We work by dad's ethos - be loyal to our customers and provide a good service. It's a one-stop-shop approach. My ethos is similar. I don't want to be the biggest but I want to look after our customers well.

"It surprises me when I'm at work how I've taken on some of dad's characteristics."

A. Giumelli and Sons has been involved with the Karragullen Expo from the very beginning, in 1984.

Libby said holding the Expo on a Saturday allowed for a greater range of visitors to come along and have a look around.

"We've been doing it since day dot," she said. "The exhibitor format is changing, we take merchandise, sundry items and fruit fly traps suitable for both home users and commercial customers."

Machinery salesman Jason Poleth will be on hand to talk machinery, offering advice, quotes and specials.

And it's also a chance to catch up with others in the fruit industry and enjoy a day out.

"I take my kids to the Karragullen Expo," Libby said. "It's good to see my customers who have small children and grandchildren who come along for a day out."

We work by dad's ethos - be loyal to our customers and provide a good service. LIBBY CARRUTHERS

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