'Dream' job says farmers' new head

Graham Smith.
Graham Smith.
Graham Smith is excited about being appointed chief executive-designate of Federated Farmers, describing it as his ''dream job''.

Mr Smith (57) has always been interested in the agricultural sector, which he described as the sector most critical to New Zealand's economy.

When incumbent Conor English announced, in February, that he would leave the rural lobby organisation in July after six years in the position, Mr Smith thought it could be a ''fascinating role''.

Australian by birth, he has a MBA from the University of South Australia and a bachelor of economics from the University of Adelaide. He has lived in New Zealand since 2001.

In April, Mr Smith was appointed chief executive of Waikato-based business incubator SODA Inc.

Before that, he was chief executive of the Crown Research Institute ESR (Institute of Environmental Science and Research) for nearly three years.

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said Mr Smith understood the strategic context in which the organisation operated and was no stranger to the primary industries, having been a former general manager at AgResearch.

The board was especially impressed by his commercial and leadership skills and background in science and innovation.

He had managed an international technology commercialisation, worked for several overseas food companies and had relationships across the political and primary industry sectors, extending across the Tasman, Mr Wills said.

With a focus on evidence-based policy, Mr Smith would be instrumental in achieving policy outcomes which struck the right balance between the country's economy and environment, Mr Wills said.

Once taking over the role in late July, Mr Smith said he would be getting out and talking to farmers and a range of people in the sector, something that he would always need to do.

Asked what he saw as the biggest challenges, he said water was going to be an ongoing issue, both in terms of quality and, particularly, quantity.

It also needed to be ensured that Federated Farmers continued to be relevant to farmers.

As a membership-based organisation, it had to continue to offer a service to farmers that was both relevant and helpful.

He also needed to make sure he talked to a broad range of people and still got his ''hands dirty'', he said.

Asked what sort of leadership could be expected, he said his natural style was consultative, which he believed was generally ''far more productive'', but he was nonetheless capable of making hard decisions.

Mr Wills also thanked Mr English for a ''highly successful'' tenure, saying Federated Farmers and the agriculture sector owed him a ''huge debt of gratitude'' and they wished him well for the future.

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