Cultivating Careers: Inside Ball Horticultural Company's Innovations and Opportunities

Cultivating Careers: Inside Ball Horticultural Company's Innovations and Opportunities

Since its inception in 1905, Ball Horticultural Company has been a pioneer in the horticultural industry. From its global family of breeders, research and development teams, suppliers, and distribution companies across six continents and twenty countries, Ball is leading breeding, research, and production in ornamental crop development, and that’s why for the past 10 years, Ball has been a primary donor of Seed Your Future. We sat down with the company’s owner and employees to learn more about some of its different departments and projects, and opportunities for people hoping to pursue a career in horticulture.

Living by its founding motto, “All the best and nothing else,” Ball’s mission is to be the primary, global leader in ornamental crop research, breeding, and production – a mission that is evident in the company’s progressive sustainability goals. “We kind of divide up the sustainability topic into three themes,” says Susannah Ball, owner of Ball Horticultural Company. “The first [theme] is people, looking at wages, benefits, and any sort of workplace safety. The second theme is the planet, more of your traditional sustainability looking at carbon footprinting and energy usage. The third [theme] is community, looking at the role we’re playing in our community.” At Ball, every proposed initiative must fit within one of these three themes, ensuring that sustainability is a priority across every department. 

“Our long-term goal as a sustainability team is for everyone to think of [sustainability] as part of their job,” says Ball. In fact, every year the company establishes an all-employee goal relating to sustainability, and this year’s goal is to reduce landfill waste by at least 5%, whether by increasing recycling and composting waste, or reducing its overall consumption. “One of our big initiatives over the past couple of years as a sustainability team has been working on communication and education, because the more you know, the more you start thinking about [sustainability] yourself.”

This broad emphasis on sustainability transcends all departments, and the same can be said for its science, technology, engineering, and math, or STEM, initiatives. “While some people may think STEM is [only] involved with research and development early on…that’s not necessarily the case,” says Jon Mahoney, Cell Biology Scientist at Ball. “You see STEM throughout the entire life cycle of a product, all the way to the end consumer.” Whether helping drive innovation or developing new products, Mahoney credits STEM with helping Ball stand out in a competitive marketplace. “Staying on top of new technologies, deploying those technologies to ornamental crops is critical, and that’s where we rely on a very diverse STEM background.”

Some of the company’s ongoing STEM initiatives fall under Ball Helix, Ball’s central research team, which includes a pool of research scientists from a wide array of disciplines. “Jon is a very talented cell biologist, and my background is in molecular breeding and computational biology,” says Megan Bowman, Director of Research Operations at Ball, “but we have folks in plant pathology, tissue culture…then we also have a bioengineering function – a newer area for Ball.” The Helix team also helps growers diagnose plant diseases in their greenhouses, and their work is only expanding, including new research in molecular breeding and DNA sequencing across an international network of labs.

Though many people at Ball have some background in horticulture, some start at Ball with little to no prior experience in the field. Having started at the company as a marketer, Alyson Upshaw didn’t initially expect to be as directly involved with plants. “You usually think of a social media manager who’s just in front of her computer or her phone all the time,” says Upshaw, “but half of the year is spent getting content out in the gardens and taking pictures and videos and seeing what’s growing.” From creative directors to art directors, public relations managers, website programmers, data analysts, copywriters, account executives, photographers, print production managers, and trade show managers – everyone touches horticulture in some way, she adds.  

As an umbrella company for numerous brands, “everything in marketing and communications [at Ball] directly affects our customers, and when I say customers, we’re usually talking about growers and retailers,” says Upshaw. One of the department’s current projects is marketing its June open house event, Darwin Perennials Day. At the event, attendees can see exciting new plant varieties, meet with suppliers and industry experts, and build relationships with customers and partners. “It’s a really cool day for the whole company, but for the [marketing] department too, to see the culmination of all the work we’ve done as a team.”

Whether sustainability, STEM, or marketing, or whatever their interests be, for students interested in opportunities at Ball, there are many ways to get involved. The company hosts yearly, summer internships, typically for college students. “It’s a great, real-world entrance into what Ball is like, and many of our interns come on to be hired after as well.” There are even opportunities for people working in other fields who have an interest in horticulture. “We have people in IT that had started in greenhouses 20 years ago and switched,” says Bowman. “We’ve had people who come in that are plant lovers and happen to work in our finance group…and then they learn more about [horticulture] and get sucked in.”  

With its talented team dedicated to putting forth “All the best and nothing else,” Ball continues to establish itself as a leader in horticulture across the world. “Anyone at Ball will tell you they love Ball because of the people, and that’s the truth,” says Upshaw. “There’s, literally, as far as I’ve seen, nowhere like it.”


If you want to learn more about a career or internship with Ball, visit their careers webpage; and, if you’re an educator who would like your students to visit Ball, let us know [email protected].


- Lillie Wightman, Seed Your Future