Take our masterclass
niels rodin and his citrus plants

Niels Rodin’s leap from a promising career in banking to the fascinating world of citrus farming required a new skill set, and a new mindset, and came with new challenges. But then again, how could a journey to become Switzerland’s first citrus farmer be anything else? We spoke directly with Niels to find out more about his intriguing shift toward a career of passion and purpose. 

Let’s start with a simple question: What’s your favorite plant? 

Well, it’s citrus. I have focused on this plant for the past 20 years. It’s my passion and I get to work with it daily. 

You spent several years in the banking industry before you transitioned over to becoming Switzerland’s 1st citrus farmer. Can you tell us a little bit more about that journey and the inspiration behind it?  

I spent about 17 years in the financial industry, and during that time, I focused on my career. Although I was happy, I still felt like I needed something in my private life, something that I enjoyed. So, I decided to start a small collection of citrus trees on my balcony. It was nice during the season, but when winter came, I made a terrible mistake by bringing them back indoors, and they died. I couldn’t leave it like that. I needed to know what I did wrong. 

I spent many hours discovering the fantastic world of citrus farming. I realized that it was something I enjoyed and decided to pursue it in my free time alongside my career. But, as I continued to buy more plants, I had to move to a bigger space to accommodate them. I found a farmer who was willing to rent me a piece of land in his greenhouse, which allowed me to study the harvest and pests, and turn my production organic. 

different citrus from Niels Rodin

In 2014, I received my first press article, and cooking chefs from the region showed interest in buying my fruits. This sparked an idea that maybe I could create a business out of it. Looking back, it’s been an incredible journey, and I couldn’t be happier with where I am today. 

Being the first of anything brings its own challenges. How did you finance your initial investment in land, greenhouses, and plants and what were the challenges along the way? 

I had a nice salary from my past job which allowed me to finance my private life insurance and use some of that money for my passion.  

One day, during my private banker life, I had a meeting with a client in a Geneva hotel lobby. He saw a newspaper with my face on it and asked if I was conducting a double life. I told him about my passion for citrus farming, and he offered to help me found a company and provided the capital needed. With my personal savings and his help, I was able to start a real business.  

I went to my bank for financing, but they never called me back. I realized that seeing a Swiss guy in a suit planning to do citrus farming in Switzerland where nobody else has done it before was strange for finance people like bankers, so I had to do everything privately. 

a citrus cut in half from niels rodin
As your client said, you were living a double life. You were trying to balance your career in banking and your new passion for citrus farming. So what were some of the challenges you faced when transitioning industries? 

My last job was at a private family office, and my boss was very understanding when I told him about my passion for citrus farming. He let me reduce my work hours, which gave me more time to focus on growing my business. This worked out well for both of us, as the financial industry in Switzerland was experiencing a decline while my citrus business was growing. It was the perfect time for me to make the transition. 

One of the biggest challenges I faced was finding a place to grow my citrus trees. Everyone thought it was crazy to do citrus farming in Switzerland. But, despite facing initial rejection and disbelief from others, I remained determined to make it work. After an extensive search, I finally found a greenhouse to rent with an option to buy in the future, which was a perfect fit for my needs. 

I admit, there were times when I questioned my decision to pursue my passion and start my own business. But looking back, I’m glad I took the risk and went on this journey. It’s been a great learning experience, and I’m excited to see where it takes me in the future. 

To succeed in business, it’s important to understand what you’re doing and whether you’re on the right track. I often take time at night to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and evaluate whether I’m meeting my goals.

As the business grows, how much time do you get to spend doing the farming vs. managing the actual business? How do you balance the passion for farming with the business side of things? 

As an entrepreneur and start-upper, you often have to do everything in your business, from production and marketing to customer support. 

But soon I realized that I needed help. That’s when I met a professional web designer who helped me create our labels and website. I learned that while I was good at growing citrus, I needed to rely on others who were more skilled in other areas. 

As my business grew, I hired someone to help with the citrus trees, which gave me more time for business development. I started to build relationships with cooking chefs and began growing other plants like apples, apricots, and peaches to expand my offerings beyond just citrus.  

My goal this year, which is not easy, is to offer something fresh every month, whether it’s fruits, roots, leaves, or flowers. 

What are the skills or mindsets from the business perspective that are useful for your citrus farming? 

To succeed in business, it’s important to understand what you’re doing and whether you’re on the right track. I often take time at night to reflect on what I’ve accomplished and evaluate whether I’m meeting my goals.  

I’ve also learned a lot about marketing recently. In the past, ads used to sell products by emphasizing what they didn’t have, like paraben-free or sugar-free. But nowadays, people are much more focused on sustainability and eco-friendliness.  

This shift in thinking led me to convert to organic farming, which is a complex process in Switzerland. I chose to get certified with the highest level of certification, which is the biodynamic Demeter. This was important to me not only to demonstrate that my work is done properly but also to provide reassurance to clients who may not be able to visit my farm in person. 

citrus plant from niels rodin
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur or someone in a similar industry, trying to create a venture? 

There are two important pieces of advice I would give. 

I would advise entrepreneurs to not worry about making money too much. You will find a way to continue, but it’s important to keep your focus on what you’re doing. If you like it, just continue. The weight of a bank or investors saying no to you is not the end. I had this experience myself and I found a way. You never know what will happen in life.  

So that’s point #1.  

Point #2 is to find friends who are also entrepreneurs. I felt really lonely when I started my business because no one in my family or friends was an entrepreneur. When I started to speak about my project, I was really excited. But the people around me did not understand that and could not offer the support I needed. 

After some years, I found associations that are for entrepreneurs, specifically in my field. They organize regular meetings where you can meet other entrepreneurs, introduce your company, and what you’re doing, and you can do some testing of your products. 

Here I had the opportunity to meet people with my interests, that were on a similar journey as me.  I could connect with them, ask for advice, and have opportunities that otherwise I wouldn’t be able to have. 

I believe that money is important for everyone, but it’s not everything. I have personal goals, goals for the next generation, and goals for my associates.

Being an entrepreneur sounds very daring. Was there any point in your journey where you had to take risks? If so, how did you deal with that fear? 

Well, I have to admit that being single and without kids made it easier for me to take risks.  

If you’re married with kids, you have to consider your family when making decisions. The fear of the future is part of every business. You never know what will happen next month, if you’ll get enough money, if you’ll get enough customers, or if the economy will shut down due to a virus. But the fear is manageable. Taking one hour per day to reflect on what has been achieved, what is still to be done, how you can reach your goals, and what the problems are, helps a lot to understand where you stand. 

You have plenty of experience in the banking world and now you’re driven by passion. How would you define wealth beyond money for yourself? 

For me, wealth beyond money is doing something I love and having a passion for it.  

I believe that money is important for everyone, but it’s not everything. I have personal goals, goals for the next generation, and goals for my associates. I had a high salary when I was in the banking industry, but I had to divide it by four or five if I can say so nowadays. I also had the opportunity to simplify my lifestyle. I don’t need to wear a shirt or tie or suit every week anymore. I have my t-shirt and I’m happy with that.  

So, I’m saying that, for me, wealth beyond money is doing something you love and having a passion for it, having personal goals, goals for the next generation, and goals for your associates. 

Thank you, Niels! 

Discover more insights from Swiss business leaders and read our interview with Malin Borg, CEO of Swissnex in Brazil.

About the author

Driven by a need for clarity and simplicity on all things wealth related, the i-vest team works closely with senior financial experts and advisors to dive deeper into the world of finance, investment and wealth to make it more relevant for you.

This website uses cookies to improve your experience.