Dr Ajay Shah shares his insights on his career path to date for AIFST graduate and student members. 

Could you benefit from the insights of an experienced industry professional? You are invited to a NSW Mentoring Breakfast where we are looking forward to sharing ideas about a potential AIFST program.

I spent most of my life as an academic before moving to the food industry in the latter part of my life. I commenced studying at university in 1979 and finished up with several degrees including a higher National Diploma in Applied Biology, BSc (Hons) in Biology and Chemistry, MSc food science and PhD Food Technology specialising on Extrusion Technology in 1991. After completing my Doctorate I commenced work as an extrusion technologist for a period of six months in the Netherlands working for BP Nutrition to design new pet foods and aquaculture feeds using extrusion technology. After completing this work I then took up a six month research travel scholarship to US at Texas A&M University from November 1991 till May 1992. On my return to UK, I then took up a lectureship in 1992 at University of Wales Institute Cardiff in Wales (UK) and obtained Senior Lectureship status in 1994. I was then granted sabbatical as a Senior Research Fellow at Massey University in New Zealand to from September 1994 till August 1995 to work on research projects and consultancy using their twin screw extruder. In 1997 I took up a post as Senior Lecturer and Coordinator of Food Science and Nutrition Program at Edith Cowan University in Perth (WA). 

Whilst I was in Western Australia I worked very closely with a lot of Food Industries and Department of Agriculture (WA) and collaborating on various projects.  Unfortunately after completing two years in WA, the University decided to close the department. I was then offered a Research & Development Manager’s post with Lowan Wholefoods in Melbourne (Vic), working on a number of breakfast cereal projects using twin screw extrusion technology. Once again the positon was made redundant after six months of joining the company. I felt that it was very difficult to find jobs in the food industry as I was branded as an academic with no real industrial experience. When you’re an academic with so much knowledge, it’s difficult to get into the industry. People often look at you and say, you are just an academic, what are you going to bring to us. They just look at academics as people who have narrow vision.

I then decided to start up a food science and consultancy business in January 2000. This was a testing time and a big challenge in a new environment and totally out of my comfort zone. The first five years were challenging to say the least and this is the time where one has to really establish the business. The first five years are economically very testing and if you can surpass this then one can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I had not devised a strategy or a plan and just plunged and immersed myself in the deep. Once you achieve one client and work with them, then word gets around and before you know it you have got more clients coming your way. It is a slow process. I went to the library and searched on books to read on becoming a successful business. I took some tips from these books and applied them to my business.

After 6 years in the business I had a website which is now working wonders for me and I get a lot of traffic and new prospective clients and leads. The idea in consultancy is to be patient and network by attending conferences and seminars and making sure to present your business card at every opportunity. I also read up on how to write and prepare a winning proposal to capture new businesses. My consultancy is very diverse in that I also provide services to conduct food safety audits and training to various sectors. I have also specialised in food labelling, organic certification support etc. 

It is vital that one has good Professional indemnity Insurance and Product and Public liability Insurance. It is also important to ensure that one also caters to have Income Protection Insurance, so that if for any reason one cannot work for a number of months due to trauma, illness etc. then one can still obtain at least 75 per cent of their annual income to keep going.

It was 17 years in January 2017 that I have been operating the business which has grown from strength to strength over time. With any business one has their peaks and troughs. I have decided to keep my consultancy small and boutique so that it is manageable. I have found the business suits my lifestyle to provide me with the flexibility that I am seeking. There are many ways to grow the business by attending business seminars specialising in growing the business and reading books on his particular topic.

I often assist new food science and technology graduates in securing posts in the food industry especially after what I went through in securing my own career as a food science and technical consultant.