New leader credits work of others

Sharl Liebergreen is the new managing director of AbacusBio. PHOTO: SHARRON BENNETT
Sharl Liebergreen is the new managing director of AbacusBio. PHOTO: SHARRON BENNETT
"Standing on the shoulders of giants."

That’s how Sharl Liebergreen describes his appointment as managing director of Abacus- Bio, where three previous managing directors — Dr Anna Campbell, Dr Neville Jopson and Dr Peter Fennessy — remain involved with the firm.

Dr Campbell is stepping down after nearly six years in the role and Mr Liebergreen felt "extremely humbled" to take the helm of the Dunedin-based agribusiness consulting company.

The business had grown significantly during Dr Campbell’s tenure and his challenge was to keep that going, he said.

Originally from Taupo, Mr Liebergreen completed an agricultural science degree at Massey University.

He had done valuation as part of his degree and so he went to Wellington and "door-knocked", getting a job with a commercial valuation company.

Following his OE, he returned to Wellington for several years before he and his partner — now wife — Nicola decided to move to Dunedin in 1999.

He did valuation work for a while before moving to a software business, having picked up a lot of transferable IT skills while in the UK.

Until that point, he had not touched agriculture in his career, and yet that was what he had studied for his degree with the intention of doing.

He bumped into a university friend who was working at AbacusBio at the time, and he ended up working on a project there around radio frequency identification (RFID) technology.

From there, he went to Catapult Systems, which eventually morphed into Zoetics Genetics.

There was a lot of engagement with industry, working with sheep and cattle breeders and he realised that was what he really enjoyed.

He then joined Beef + Lamb New Zealand Genetics, before returning to AbacusBio, where he was now entering his fourth year.

There was an "amazing culture" at AbacusBio. Everyone had a lot of fun and they also did really interesting things, he said.

There were various success stories, including the work it did around breeding objectives. Dr Jason Archer, who has been heavily involved in that work, reckoned it had probably influenced about 73billion animals globally.

There was also the deal announced last year with Bayer, the largest plant breeding company in the world, around predictive plant breeding.

There were big opportunities in terms of business and it was also influencing and helping grow more food for the world — all from Dunedin, Mr Liebergreen said.

AbacusBio’s team was now spread across North America, Canada, the UK and Rotorua, as well as Dunedin, and it was growing all the time.

It also took interns — 11 last year — and it was intended to grow that programme. During their internship, university students they got to gain experience and confidence while working on some serious
projects.

The business was impacted by Covid-19 but now it was "riding out on a new wave". Food security was a hot topic and that was exactly the space AbacusBio was in.

Mr Liebergreen was keen to lift the company’s profile domestically, while also bringing more internationally opportunities "back to the engine room" in Dunedin.

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