Paul – Black truffle producer

Meet Paul Thomas, the truffle man. His company, Mycorrhizal Systems, has made significant scientific advances in the production of the black truffle and has built the world’s largest truffle research network. Paul inoculates trees to produce truffles and even offers a training course for truffle-hunting dogs!

What A’levels did you do?

Biology, Geography and Business studies- they turned out to be actually quite relevant!

What attracted you to this job?

The challenge and the freedom. Being able to follow my own goals, both personal and research based, was a strong deciding factor.

What does your typical day involve?

It’s incredibly varied and often involves work overseas as well as across the UK. If it’s an ‘office day’, it would normally involve various telephone meetings, scientific analysis and responding to emails. A large part of the work involves setting-up new projects and dealing with the media, which can also be quite rewarding.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

When we see a project through to completion. This could be either the conclusion of a scientific study, the establishment of plantation that has been in development for over a year or the launch of a new product/project. Seeing the results from our scientific work is also extremely satisfying and fascinating at the same time – knowing that such work directly benefits people working with us (by, for example, increasing yields) is also very satisfying.

What do your friends and family think about your job?

That it’s unusual but interesting- at least that’s what they tell me to my face! I think most people find truffles quite unusual…

Tell us more about your environment in terms of work-life balance

The balance use to be heavily weighted on the work side, but now I’m learning to moderate things better. Anyone with a young business will know that in the beginning you have to put a lot of hours in.

How did you get to where you are today?

BSc (Hons.) in Natural Environmental Science and then a PhD in plant sciences. I started the business straight out of my PhD.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of following your path?

The most important advice is to do it, starting a business is hard work but incredibly rewarding. You have to be prepared to be dedicated and work hard, at least in the early years. Doing a PhD actually equips you with quite a good skill-set for starting a business and the highs and lows can be quite similar.

How well is your job compensated? What is the starting salary for someone in your field, and how much can this be expected to rise?

Compensation can be very good and that’s part of the attraction. However, starting salary can be non-existent and you need to be financially prepared for the first couple of years.

Out of ‘office hours’, what lights your fire?/ What kind of hobbies or extracurricular activities do you do to relax?

I play several musical instruments, do a lot of foraging, enjoy reading about mathematics and physics and am pretty much obsessed with anything to do with food, farming and gardening!

Have there been any embarrassing moments?

Of course, and I’m sure they’ll be plenty more. I do look back and cringe at my naivety but I’m sure in 10 years time, I’ll look back to where I am now and think exactly the same. Things can always be done better and much can always be learned.

Find out more about Paul’s company at: www.PlantationSystems.com