Faces of Tamworth: businessman Gary Tickle

Today’s Face of Tamworth is one that’s actually not seen so much around these parts anymore; a local boy made good.

Gary Tickle now lives on Long Island in the US, and his resume boasts a string of leadership roles in some of the world’s biggest companies – not to mention his passport boasting stamps from across the globe.

Not bad for “just a lad from the bush” who lived on dam-construction sites growing up, and moved to Tamworth with his parents when his dad started working on Chaffey Dam.

The young Gary was in Year 5 when he became a Tamworth resident with his dad Dudley and mum Yvonne.

They still live in the city, as do his sister and brother-in-law, Shelley and Peter Walters, and their children.

Gary went to primary school at South Tamworth, then went through Tamworth High School, graduating in 1983.

Mr Tickle says there were a couple of teachers in particular there who had a big influence on him: English teachers Peter Battle and Errol Usher.

“Peter Battle was my English master at Tamworth High School, and he was a passionate guy about debating and public speaking,” Mr Tickle says.

“He really believed strongly that people should get involved in it and should try and improve their skills, so he dragged me into this kicking and screaming in Year 7.

“As soon as I hit high school, he said, ‘I’m going to give you half an hour to prepare a short speech on whatever topic you choose, and you’re going to give in front of a group’ ...

“It proved to be invaluable, because from that day onward, right through my high school years, I was involved in debating and public speaking.”

Mr Tickle says Mr Battle would travel with the debating team to various competitions across the state, and showed “true devotion” to helping them develop their skills – a lasting legacy.

“I even think about it to this day when I stand in front of 1000 people at an investors conference ... or something like the opportunity I had two weeks ago to go to Harvard University and be part of a guest panel there on specific topic by invitation.”

Interestingly, he says the other people on that team were Melinda Smith, Kylie Gillies and Steven McLelland, who all became media identities – the former two in television and the latter in radio.

“I captained the team a few times and they were all talented, as time has shown.

“They all went onto big things in the media; I’m their black sheep.”

Career takes off

Mr Tickle had aspirations to be an aeronautical engineer, but through a twist of fate started a business degree at the University of Southern Queensland in Toowoomba.

He never looked back.

The roles on his CV include chief executive officer of Nestle New Zealand based in Auckland; vice-chairman of the NZ Food and Grocery Council; head of business in Nestle Nutrition’s South Asia region, based in New Delhi; and global head of the strategic business unit for infant nutrition with Nestle, based at the global head office in Switzerland.

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In 2014, Mr Tickle moved to the US to be the president and CEO of Gerber Products Company in the US; and in 2015, he became the chairman of the Infant Nutrition Council of America.  

In 2016, he moved to a US-based leading natural and organic food company listed on the Nasdaq exchange, Hain Celestial.  

He is now the chief executive officer of Hain Celestial North America, which markets, manufactures and sells organic and natural food, drink and personal care products.

New York state of mind

​Mr Tickle lives with his wife and two kids on Long Island, where his office is also based – it used to be the original United Nations headquarters.

He says “no two days are the same” but in any given week he might be talking to investors, analysts, and potential or existing shareholders.

“We’re increasingly dealing with Amazon, because ... online food sales here are growing very, very quickly,” he says.

“Right now in five cities in the US you can order your food from Wholefoods, which is owned by Amazon, and it will be delivered within two hours.

“It’s become a way of life for Americans.”

In his downtime, Mr Tickle says, “You try and make the most of everything that’s at your disposal.”

“It’s about a 30-minute train ride into New York City, so it’s very close to see something that’s happening live on Broadway or just to explore, frankly, because New York is such a big diverse place; there’s so much happening in Manhattan.

“There’s such diversity of the community, such a diverse group of people and friends around you from all walks of life, all sorts of interesting backgrounds – from big inventors to famous surgeons, authors, you name it.

“It’s an eclectic mix of people you find in these places.”

Mr Tickle says he also relishes “getting to interact with extraordinarily smart young people working at places like Google, Amazon and Pinterest”.

“It’s truly amazing how they’re changing the world,” he says.

“They have so many bright ideas, they’re so empowered, they’re so confident, and they’re in a place where they can connect with others like them.

“It’s an exciting and vibrant environment.”

However, Mr Tickle says he’s “still a bush kid, in the end”.

“I think of myself as a bit of a global citizen, having lived so many different places, but I still genuinely still see Australia as home, the place where my heart is,” he says.

“It just shows you – if I can offer anything in terms of encouragement to folk living, studying or working in Tamworth – the world is your oyster.

“There’s a world of opportunity out there; you don’t necessarily have to go to a big-name university or come from a big city.

“With the right attitude and the right support around you, you can do amazing things.

“If you’ve got big dreams in Tamworth, there’s no reason you can’t achieve them ...

“I give thanks for all the great support and encouragement I had along the way from my family and my friends.