Kate Ambler, Sealord market co-ordinator for China and the Middle East, has a remarkable career.
In the 25 years she has been with the company, Ambler has spent 12 years at sea, followed by land-based roles that have included human resources, accounts, health & safety, procurement, sales, administration, the laboratory, and most recently supply chain. Her work has taken her to the Antarctic, the USA, and Tasmania, and if she took up all the offers from customers wanting to host her in the countries to which she sells fish, the world could truly be her oyster.
It was quite by chance that Ambler came to the Sealord whānau in 1997.
“I answered a phone call from my flatmate’s skipper and cheekily asked if he a had a job for me as well,” says Ambler, who had been working in hairdressing and food service/hospitality.
Ambler joined Pakura, working in the vessel factory for three trips, then returning to Sealord on Aorere, followed by five years on Aoraki, until that vessel was sold.
“By that time, I’d become one of the more experienced factory crew and, after talking to Pete Connolly, secured a job on the Rehua,” she says.
“I’d enjoyed my time at sea and being part of a crew was a great feeling. I made awesome friends. It’s hard physical work and the weather could be challenging to work in, though I loved it when it was rough.
“There were the perks of the amazing views, incredible sea-life, snow-capped mountains, and sunsets like you could never imagine. I really have had some amazing times and the ocean will never be out of my system.”
Ambler was at sea for 12 years before swapping to full-time land-based roles.
“During trips off or gaps in my work I’d started working on site in Nelson in human resources. When others heard I was available they also started to give me work, including some health and safety projects and jobs in engineering and reception.”
It was a role in the laboratory that lured Ambler to reset her compass away from life at sea, moving later to join the Wetfish administration team.
Working with the teams on land opened her eyes to new possibilities and, never afraid of a challenge, Ambler grasped every opportunity that came her way. To her surprise, that led her back to sea again in 2008.
“I bumped into the vessel manager of the joint venture boat Janas one day along Fleet Street and asked him when he was next heading to the Antarctic,” Ambler says.
“He casually asked if I’d like to join the crew, and I casually answered ‘yes’.”
A few weeks later, Ambler was heading out as the vessel’s administrator, for the most incredible three-month trip. She worked 12-hour shifts but would often finish her paperwork early and help on deck or in the factory, so her previous vessel experience came in handy.
The trip sticks in Ambler’s mind as a true highlight – having seen penguins, seals, breathtaking icebergs, and incredible views.
“That was really amazing. I don’t think I’ve ever seen such beautiful sights.”
After the three months, and some more time at sea on Independent 1, Ambler settled back to life on land, joining the team in accounts. From there, she moved to the procurement department, looking after a number of vessels in sourcing supplies like engineering parts, factory supplies and PPE.
“That was quite cool and I found my time in accounts was really helpful because I was already familiar with the suppliers through having dealt with the invoices. And, of course, having spent time on the vessels I knew a lot of the crew members so it was great to be able to interact with them again.”
Then after a short move to the planning team, looking after the Ukrainian vessels, Ambler took up another new opportunity working as coordinator for the company’s then fresh fish sales programme.
“We worked with customers from all over the world, which I really enjoyed. It was fast-paced - liaising with the vessels and factory - and felt a bit glamourous dispatching fresh product for next-day delivery across the globe to the likes of LA or Dubai.
“My experience at sea was really helpful, although a lot of people had no idea I’d worked on the vessels before, or that I really understood how fishing worked. I’m still in touch with some of the customers we had back then, which is really cool.”
When the fresh fish programme stopped eight years ago, Ambler was asked to work alongside the sales team as market coordinator – the role she still holds. Her territory covers ‘Rest of World’ which initially involved markets that hadn’t already been established.
“It’s been mighty challenging and I actually really like that, but I also get to work closely with our sales guys that look after the market, so I now also cover China, Africa, Central and South America and, should we look at new opportunities, I could well be involved in that too. I love it because I’ve always wanted to travel, so part of me feels like I kind of am.”
Five years ago, Ambler proudly represented Sealord at a seafood show in Chicago while in the USA visiting family.
“That was really amazing seeing the city and the National Restaurant Association Expo and the sheer size of the event was definitely eye opening for me.”
In her current role, working out the logistics of getting products to many different markets can be challenging with the hold-ups and shipping schedule changes caused by Covid.
“It’s bloody hard work but there’s something really interesting about exports. I really enjoy it, I get quite a sense of satisfaction when I get the containers on the ocean on the way to their final destination without problems,” says Ambler, who has a sweet spot for cars and volunteers at the Nelson Classic Car Museum.
Through that, Ambler gets to drive some beautifully restored and cared-for vehicles, including most recently a luxurious pink Cadillac for a Breast Cancer Rally. Her other passion is American-style charcoal barbecuing – something she says she’s a little obsessed with and her friends enjoy as they usually get to sample.
“When I first took that trip on a Sealord vessel, I thought I might do maybe a couple of years at sea and see how it goes. I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted to do, but I was happy to see if I liked it - and I loved it.
“I really like the industry, but most especially Sealord and how we do what we do. I feel that we do things the right way and I like that.”