Otago link highlighted in Fonterra book

Think Park Beede and basketball immediately springs to mind.

Dr Beede was heavily involved with the sport in Otago and coached the Otago Nuggets.

What is not so well known is that he was tasked with coming up with a name for the new dairy company that was to become Fonterra.

The story of the creation of the name - and the Otago connection - is highlighted in the new book Till the Cows Came Home by Wellington journalist and former Southland Times editor Clive Lind.

From Chicago, Dr Beede arrived in Dunedin in 1987 to teach marketing at the University of Otago. Later, he became general manager of sales and marketing at Dunedin-based Mainland.

In 2001, many of New Zealand's dairy co-operatives and companies merged to produce a company to take on the world, and Mainland cheese is now produced by Fonterra, the New Zealand company which has grown to be the world's largest dairy exporter.

The book is a fascinating account of how Fonterra came into existence, going right back to the origins of the dairy industry in New Zealand.

In 1814, early European settlers brought the first cows to New Zealand to provide fresh milk, butter and cheese. By 1846, the first exports began.

The first dairy co-operative was created in Otago in 1871. The Otago Peninsula Cheese Factory was formed by a group of farmers; the eight founding members were allotted shares based on the milk they would supply, with each 1 share representing 10 quarts of milk.

Massive changes and challenges in the industry ensued over the years, which are well documented by Lind.

During the 1990s, the industry faced the threat of deregulation. Eventually, the New Zealand dairy industry decided the best choice was a single integrated company to end fierce competition between companies and capitalise on efficiencies.

In July 2001, 84% of farmers involved voted to accept the merger of the Dairy Board with the New Zealand Dairy Group and Kiwi Co-operative Dairies. Fonterra was formed in October that year.

As Lind writes, the massive changes did not come about without the input of some strong-willed individuals, and what made the book so interesting to write were the large personalities involved.

In contrast to his father, who had always wanted to be a sheep farmer, a young John Roadley - later to become Fonterra's founding chairman - was always more interested in the family's 48 cows milked in a six bail walk-through shed in Northland, believing the dairy industry looked more promising.

In 1979, he and his wife went to Canterbury to take up an irrigated sheep farm at Dromore, near Ashburton. They converted it to dairying, raising eyebrows in what was then a non-dairying community.

Mr Roadley's successor, Sir Henry van der Heyden, had a defining moment in year 13 at Putaruru High School when he visited his careers adviser.

His parents, arrived in New Zealand from the Netherlands in 1955 and settled in the Waikato, sharemilking at first before buying a dairy farm at Lichfield.

The young Henry studied agricultural engineering, even though a careers adviser suggested he was not smart enough for the profession. He

graduated in 1980, but then decided he wanted to go dairying and, after gaining experience sharemilking, eventually bought his parents' property.

Elected to Dairy Group in 1992, he visited Anchor House in Hamilton the day before the company's annual meeting and met chairman John Storey, while wearing a T-shirt, jeans and jandals.

He was told he needed to tidy up a bit but Mr Storey confided he believed Mr van der Heyden had a big future in front of him - a prediction that proved correct.

 

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