Sue Tonks, Managing Director, HydroVeg Limited
With no fewer than eight income streams, Sue Tonks was a successful entrepreneur before setting up her latest business. However, this venture into the world of hydroponic vegetables is her most challenging and potentially far-reaching yet. Read what she told us about her fascinating journey.
How did you end up sitting where you are today?
Let me first say I am not an engineer, scientist or gardener!! I am a leadership trainer and speaker. BUT, I was looking for a use for a by-product of a water machine I have at home for health - slightly more acidic water.
After chatting to a man in a fish and chip shop one evening (who told me he had a hydroponic shop), I researched hydroponics and found a solution. So I searched for something to use outside at home. There was nothing... so I designed it, invented it, and Award-winning HydroVeg Kits were born!
What kind of work does your role involve?
As the Inventor of Hydroveg Kits, I build the Kits, sell them, take them to shows, buy all the parts, do the marketing and, of course, the finances. Much of my time is now spent researching the next stages of HydroVeg for use in schools and the developing world.
I am working with schools to match hydroponic growing to the National Curriculum and working with universities to make the Kits suitable for developing countries. They use 70% less water and grow 30% faster than soil-based growing.
It's no good sitting back; progression is needed all the time.
What gets you excited about your industry?
The world is changing, life is changing, and hydroponics is how all food will be grown in the future (and on Mars!). To be a small part of that change is exciting. Giving people the opportunity to grow veg 365 days a year in their garden, taking up little space, with no digging or weeding, slugs or snails, and little watering is a stimulating job.
People want to eat more healthily but maybe can't manage a garden, have no garden, or want to save the garden for the kids and dog. It's so thrilling to be involved with something so new.
What's the best advice anyone ever gave you?
To start a business with the end in mind!! This was one piece of advice I received when setting up Hydroveg. But, before that, my dad always said, "Whatever you want in life, you have to work for. No one will give you something for nothing."
This has been my Mantra ever since a child. It has helped me achieve by my efforts, and as I have currently have 8 income streams - I have been following that since.
The 8 income streams have been invaluable during COVID as some streams stopped, some slowed and some increased.
What, or who inspires you?
People inspire me. People with new ways to look at things. People who overcome challenges in their lives and move forward.
My family inspire me with their encouragement and support.
How do you keep up to speed with what's happening in your industry?
I am leading in my industry. I keep up to date by working with scientists, inventors and business people in my industry and related industries.
I love watching successful people in areas I am not as competent in, such as social media, IT, digital marketing and engineering, so I learn and use many as mentors.
What was the most challenging project or situation you've overcome?
In my current situation, manufacturing Hydroveg Kits, I find the actual physical manufacturing really challenging. I am 61 years old, and much of my manufacturing work is heavy, tiring and difficult for me to do, such as cutting holes in round pipes. It is dirty, difficult and time-consuming.
Before that, I had an unfortunate situation in a previous business that left me almost bankrupt through no fault of my own, so I had to claw my way back to a solid financial footing. I was a Magistrate at the time, and bankruptcy was not an option.
You finish work today and step outside the office to find a lottery ticket that ends up winning $10 million. What would you do?
I would firstly finance the solutions I am striving for - for HydroVeg to get out to the developing world and finish my legacy.
This would be closely followed by securing the financial futures of my family and close friends. World travel is a MUST, and I want to make a difference in everything I do, so I'd use the money for whatever needs to be done to achieve that for others.
How do you switch off after a day at work?
I love spending time with my dog and partner, and we spend every evening together; we walk in the country every morning. On Sundays, we walk, have breakfast and do crosswords together. It's important to spend time with those close to you, as the rest of the week may be manic.
If you had one wish for the future of your industry, what would it be?
That hydroponics will be accepted as providing "organic " veg. Currently, hydroponically grown food cannot be classed as organic, even if there are no herbicides or pesticides involved in the growing.
What book or podcast should everyone know about?
I have 2 books I always recommend. "How to Win Friends and Influence People" by Dale Carnegie. Although this book was written in 1932, it is still valid today to deal effectively with people. It is the cornerstone of modern Networking. Principles such as know, like, and trust and being "Interested, not Interesting" are two major ones.
Secondly, "Rich Dad Poor Dad" by Robert Kyosaki. This showed me the importance of different income streams and how money works. This was an invaluable lesson.
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