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Jan Vydra, 2011 Anthill 30under30 Winner

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What is 30under30?

30under30 is an Anthill initiative launched in early 2008 to encourage and promote entrepreneurship among young Australians. Each year, we invite our readers to nominate young Australian entrepreneurs deserving of recognition for their outstanding entrepreneurial endeavours. More.

Jan Vydra, VIC (b. 1982)

Name: Jan Vydra
Age: 29 (Born: April 1982)
Gender: Male
State: VIC

Jan Vydra leaped into the herb industry with determination to build a better basil. And coriander. And parsley and mint and rosemary.

He jumped in with no prior hands-on experience in farming. His tools came from corporate experience in marketing, business structure and sales. He faced an industry that’s highly fragmented and steeped in traditional, generational practices.

The result? In September, Vydra, co-founder of Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs, was named 2011 Young Farmer of the Year, an award sponsored by the government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

Holy munching marjoram! Quite a coup for a guy who until recently earned a regular paycheque at chief operations manager for Yarra Valley Farms.

Vydra partnered with grower and former banker manager William Pham to form Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs (from this point on, simply AFLH) in 2008. Vydra wanted to latch onto the rise in boutique cooking spurred by reality TV shows such as “MasterChef.”

He put his personal stamp on the business, working hard with people in the supply chain and with programmers with lock in an innovate IT system called Freshweb. The system essentially streamlines the process from field to store, compressing delivery time and decreasing the number of instances in which the herbs are moved or handled, thereby boosting quality and freshness.

The main farm is headquartered in Clyde. AFLH partners with 40 other growers who support the company’s Garnished Flavours brand. The number of employees ebb and flow with the seasons, from 30 to 60.

And the company’s growth has been eye-popping. Starting in 2008 with one crop of basil, delivering 2,000 bunches a week, AFLH today turns out 100,000 bunches of herbs per week. Per annum sales have grown from $100,000 to just a tick under $4 million.

“I enjoy seeing an idea come to fruition and watching it grow,” Vydra says. “With our herb business, we implemented a new system and changed how stakeholders operated. I could see the improvement in processes, which has inspired me to get more involved and help the industry in other ways with the knowledge I have gained.”

Vydra says he is always on the lookout for new ideas and innovations, and never shirks from asking questions — a strong trait in the sometimes-sheltered world of herbal agriculture. “I needed to prove that our business was going to stay around and that our new processes would help the industry,” he says. “Making a success of it and developing the farming/agriculture industry has been a massive achievement.”

Anthill asks: Jan Vydra, what’s your superpower?

“Just call me The Noble Leader. I believe if you’re driven to succeed and have a positive impact on those around you, they will also be inspired to do great things. I think I also have a certain X-factor that allows me to connect the dots that other people don’t see and think laterally.”

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To check out the full list of Anthill’s 30under30 winners, click here.

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