About us

Management Development Services Ltd (MDS) was set up in 1986 by a group of forward-thinking growers concerned about the shortage of skilled managers within the industry.

It quickly established itself as a leading training provider in the fresh food, produce, horticultural and agricultural industry. Since then it has expanded steadily as companies seek to safeguard the future by attracting and providing training for the right calibre of recruit.

Today, MDS encompasses the whole supply chain of vegetables, salads, fruit, flowers, plants, arable and prepared food products not only based in the UK but also for operations in many countries around the world.

MDS represents a consortium of member companies comprising growers, suppliers and supermarkets. There is consistent interest from potential new members who wish to be involved in what is now seen as a ‘model’ for specialist management training.

The strength of MDS comes from members working in partnership with a common goal, even though some may be competitors in the commercial world. It is run by a Board of Directors appointed from within the membership, with day-to-day management support from the office team in Peterborough.

Our Staff

Christine Tacon


Christine Tacon was appointed Chair of MDS in May 2016. She started her professional career as an engineer but progressed into marketing, working at Mars, Vodafone, Redland Bricks and Anchor (now Fonterra). From 2000 to 2012, she ran the Co-operative Group’s farming business, at the time, the largest in the UK. She was awarded a CBE for services to agriculture in 2004.

Christine was the first Groceries Code Adjudicator from 2013-2020, a government regulator ensuring compliance with the Groceries Supply Code of Practice between large grocery retailers and their direct suppliers. In 2021 Christine was appointed Chair for Assured Food Standards (ASF), which operates the Red Tractor Assurance scheme. ASF is an independent body owned by the UK food chain which manages and promotes assurance on behalf of the food industry. The role builds on her experience in farming and the food chain as well as working with the government and consumers.

Christine is also a Non-Executive Director of the AF Group, a farmer purchasing co-operative. She chairs the BBC Rural Affairs Committee, ensuring BBC coverage is up to date on rural issues, and is a founder of the Women in Food and Farming network which has monthly virtual meet-ups for women in the food chain.

She was awarded an honorary doctorate from Cranfield University, where she is also a visiting professor. She lives in Macclesfield on the edge of the Peak District.

Sapphira Waterson

Chief Operating Officer

Sapphira has been employed by MDS since May 2005. She holds the post of Chief Operating Officer and prior to this she held the post of Development Manager. Sapphira brings strong interpersonal skills to the role which were developed during a successful career in welfare and social work, including the Probation Service and prior to that working for SSAFA with the RAF. Whilst employed by MDS these skills have been developed further with particular focus on recruitment, mentoring and coaching of Trainees whilst ensuring the development and implementation of the MDS strategy. Sapphira has a Bsc in Criminal Justice studies and a BA in Social Science and Social Policy. She was attracted to MDS by its commitment to helping young people reach their potential.

Saffy Connolly

Gretta Ryan

People Development Manager

Gretta joined MDS in November 2018 as People Development Manager. With a successful career spanning over 20 years working in sales, marketing, event planning and training, Gretta supports Trainee development and the coordination of the training programme.

Kirsty Barden

Business Development Manager

After graduating from university with a degree in Forensic Science Kirsty completed MDS in 2010. Her understanding of the industry and her experiences as a Trainee mean she is well placed to identify the qualities and attributes required to maintain the high standards of MDS Trainees. Kirsty was originally attracted to the food and fresh produce industry due to its diverse and fast-paced nature.

Helen Lancaster


Helen joined MDS in May 2013 as the Office Administrator. She brings with her over ten years of experience working in office environments. Helen supports the whole MDS process from an administrative perspective all the way from recruitment through to graduation.

Sophie Rush

Finance Administartion Officer

Sophie joined MDS in June 2019 from her previous role as a Finance Administrator with a legal company.  An essential part of the MDS team, Sophie is responsible for finance management, company budgets and administration.

Izzy Douglass

Marketing Assistant

Izzy graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature and Media Studies in 2020. She supports Business Development Manager Kirsty Barden with Marketing responsibilities. Izzy is also the MDS Company Secretary. 

Kelly Cook

Trainee Liaison Officer

Kelly joined MDS as a Trainee Liaison Officer in 2021 and supports MDS People Development Manager Gretta Ryan with Trainee development and helps with the overall secondment process. Kelly has over 20 years of experience in team management, sales and learning and development in the public and private sector. 

Kelly Cook

Tom Divers

Talent Acquisition Officer

Tom works within the recruitment department and supports Kirsty Barden with our Graduate engagement plan. Tom’s experience is based in education and teaching, so he is able to offer great insights into youth recruitment and engagement. 

New Team Members

Board of Directors

  • Rebecca Charnley, Commercial Manager, G’s Fresh
  • Beverly Dixon, HR Director, G’s Group
  • Will Holmes, Global Seedcare Product Manager, Syngenta
  • Richard Whittle, Director, Protolan
  • Lucy Wills, Managing Director, Finsbury Foods
  • Sammy Ronald, Category Technical Manager, Sainsbury’s
  • Jason Beaumont, Head of Operations, Horticulture, Morrisons
  • Anna Pike, Head of HR, Worldwide Fruit