Work at Ravensdown’s helm ‘incredibly fulfilling’

Ravensdown chief executive Greg Campbell looks to the future. Photo: Jeff Brass
Ravensdown chief executive Greg Campbell looks to the future. Photo: Jeff Brass
It is not very often, as Greg Campbell acknowledges, that a chief executive wants more regulation.

But the boss of Ravensdown is very pleased the Government is investing more money on biosecurity.

He has been concerned the fertiliser sector was far too open to anyone to bring any product into New Zealand and call it fertiliser.

That was an "incredibly risky escapade" and critical from the "NZ Inc perspective". Potentially, what was put on the environment ended up in food and it was all about reputation. That risk had not previously been understood, he believed.

The engaging, experienced — and self-described grounded —  chief executive has been in the Christchurch-based role for five and a-half years.

Originally from Dunedin, his experience included infrastructure, petroleum, rural and waste management. Before joining Ravensdown, he was chief executive of Ngai Tahu Holdings Group where he was a finalist for the New Zealand Herald’s business leader of the year in 2011.

Taking on the Ravensdown role, Mr Campbell candidly admitted the state of the business was "pretty rough" and some tough calls had to be made.

It had been about giving the organisation — and others — the confidence that it was a "great business".

That included repositioning Ravensdown and saying it wanted to be a company for the future, not looking backwards, while also getting the culture in the right place.

Last year, the company posted an operating profit of $51 million and paid a total annual rebate to shareholders of $45/tonne.

About 18 months ago, it was decided Ravensdown needed to look hard at its future.

Every time Mr Campbell talked to shareholders, environmental pressures and looming regulations came up and they said they needed help.

Ravensdown was a manufacturer and importer of fertiliser but the advice and support it provided farmers into the future — "beyond the tools of the tool box" — was now vital.

If it could lower input costs and the amount of fertiliser used by shareholders, leading to positive environmental consequences and also delivering economic value, then shareholders should be happy, he said.

New Zealand farmers were world class but there were growing expectations on them, particularly environmentally.

"No doubt about it, there’s more pressure now than there’s ever been on them," he said.

Ravensdown could either take a defensive position or see how it could assist and that was the position it was taking.

The company had to make money but it also wanted to ensure it was not degrading the natural capital that all Kiwis — and tourists — enjoyed.

The reality was people needed to be fed, and there was the ever-occurring urban sprawl. Without fertiliser, production would be halved.

Science was "absolutely crucial" to the company and it was always looking for new science and finding new breakthroughs.

Technology was very useful but farmers preferred being out on the farm than sitting in front of the computer inputting data, so it needed to be user-friendly.

GPS could be used to apply fertiliser from aircraft so that it avoided waterways and boundaries, while HawkEye was a set of pasture benchmarking and forecasting tools to help farmers make smarter nutrient decisions by showing planned versus actual nutrient investments over time.

It integrated three perspectives of pasture production; imagery from the air, nutrient input and pasture quantity on the ground, and diagnostic status of the soil.

Ravensdown was in its second year of integrated reporting which looked beyond financial records to incorporate the economy, environment and society into a performance report, and it was also  part of the Sustainable Business Council.

In October 2013, the company launched an environmental analysis and planning service, in the wake of increasing demands on farmers to meet environmental standards and regional regulatory requirements.

Its environmental team had grown to the largest environmental consulting business in New Zealand, Mr Campbell said.

Farmers were being assisted around compliance, modelling, due diligence and what they could produce on their land within their compliance.

The next major issue was around water and so it was about helping farmers meet the expectations that regulators and communities wanted on water.

Ravensdown environmental business manager Mark Fitzpatrick said the team had grown from four to 24.

Five new graduates would start in September, including one in Otago, and there would be more recruiting due to demand.

It wanted to help and enable the future of environmental management of farming and there were lots of good news stories to be told in Otago, Mr Fitzpatrick said.

A marine scientist, Mr Fitzpatrick shifted into the space very deliberately. New Zealand’s most important environmental challenge overlapped with the country’s most important sector, he said.

People were coming in because they wanted a career and wanted to make a difference. They could genuinely work with farmers and say they were setting them up to succeed. It was very exciting and there was a lot of passion in the team.

Mr Campbell had a strong focus on health and safety — having dealt with five fatalities in the workplace over his career — there was nothing worse as chief executive of an organisation having to face families.

"It’s horrendous," he said.

Being chief executive of Ravensdown was a job that Mr Campbell "absolutely totally enjoys". 

It was "incredibly fulfilling" to support rural family farmers and corporate farmers in "improving their lot".

He quipped he had 20,000-odd bosses — the co-operative’s shareholders — who were extremely good at giving feedback.

As long as those shareholders and the company’s board and staff wanted him, then he still had things to do.

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