Retiring chairman reflects on tenure

Retiring Silver Fern Farms Co-operative chairman Rob Hewett will continue as an appointed...
Retiring Silver Fern Farms Co-operative chairman Rob Hewett will continue as an appointed director in the short term to help with the transition. PHOTO: SHAWN MCAVINUE
"One very interesting ride" is how Rob Hewett describes his lengthy tenure on the board of Silver Fern Farms.

In his chairman’s review, which he delivered at Silver Fern Farms Co-operative’s annual meeting in Dunedin last week, he reflected on the period since he first joined the board as a "very green" director back in February 2008.

Mr Hewett, who has a farming operation in South Otago, had previously announced it would be his last term on the co-operative board and that of the operating company.

After 16 years as a director and more than 10 years as chairman, the board had determined he stay on as an appointed director for up to 12 months to help the transition. King Country farmer Anna Nelson is the new chairwoman of the co-operative board.

In his address, Mr Hewett said he had seen and been part of the tenure of three Silver Fern Farms chairs, four chief executives and more than 25 fellow directors, a complete change of banking syndicate members, and a new partner in the business.

Revenue had doubled, a rebrand completed and a market-led strategy rolled out "and become simply the way things are done round here".

The company faced down the banks who had lost confidence in it and "came through stronger".

There was an attempted partnership with PGG Wrightson, only to be stymied by the Global Financial Crisis and ability for PGW to obtain funding, and now had its partnership with Shanghai Maling.

He was mindful "every day" of the challenges facing New Zealand livestock farmers and the role Silver Fern Farms had in ensuring their ongoing relevance to consumers, profitability behind the farmgate, and the future success of a sector which had underpinned New Zealand’s.

"I see the current emissions and sustainability focus as critical for us to overcome as a sector and remain convinced that, not only will we overcome the current challenges we face into, but we’ll do it in a way that cements New Zealand, and Silver Fern Farms in particular, as leaders in the sector globally, providing high quality food to discerning consumers permanently.

"I am not scared of the issues we face into. We need to embrace the challenge and opportunity it brings to us as farmers and as a country," Mr Hewett said.

He acknowledged former chairman Robbie Burnside for "getting me started on this journey".

"While governance was on my to-do list, I had reservations about joining the board in 2008, mainly because I had a lot of uncompleted work on the farm and a bunch of young kids at home.

"However, as Robbie said in that fateful November 2007 phone call: "You don’t know when opportunity will knock again. Busy people make things happen. Have a look."

Mr Hewett thanked Mr Burnside for his "straight talking" saying it was advice he now gave people when they asked him for his thoughts on their governance careers.

Adrian Ball and Gabrielle Thompson have been elected to the co-operative’s board of directors.

Two positions were open with Ms Thompson and Mr Hewett retiring by rotation.

Mr Ball, who was previously a board-appointed farmer director, runs Dennley Farms with his wife Pauline. It is a 196ha full integrated dairy and dairy beef finishing farm at Tirau.

He is also chairman of Rahinga Dairies in Dacre, Southland.

He was also appointed to the Fonterra Sustainability Advisory Panel this year.

Ms Thompson, who has completed a term as a farmer-elected director, graduated from Massey University with a veterinary degree in 2000. She developed her own companion animal clinic in 2004, growing to five clinics around the lower South Island over a decade before selling those clinics to a nationwide company.

She and her family own and operate a 530ha arable and store lamb farm at Dorie in Mid Canterbury. She is a member of the Lincoln University Council.

Jo Hay and Jason Smith were unsuccessful in their bids for election.