TIME TO GET MORE COMMERCIAL EXPERIENCE INTO THE FONTERRA BOARDROOM Tuesday, May 13, 2003
The time has come to introduce more commercial experience and decision-making in the Fonterra boardroom, according to Fonterra Board candidate Stuart Nattrass.
The South Island farmer and former top international banking executive believes the Fonterra board has an imbalance of skills, with plenty of directors knowledgeable about the dairy industry, but not enough with experience of the commercial world and international business.
Mr. Nattrass said there was nothing wrong with the structure of Fonterra and it had the potential to become a truly great international dairy business. The problem lay in the boardroom.
“It’s not just a question of knowing about the dairy industry and it goes without saying the average farmer could match skills with a lot of directors, and surely that’s the point… the average dairy farmer has a big investment in Fonterra and wants the board to have an international level of commercial experience”.
Mr. Nattrass believes that industry politics arising from longstanding animosities and grudges have continued to distract the Fonterra board from its commercial priorities. Fonterra was formed during a period of high payout and a number of compromises were made. Shareholders need to take this opportunity to start removing some of those compromises.
Mr. Nattrass made his comments at the candidate meetings currently taking place throughout the country.
“I am offering myself forward, not only as a dairy farmer, but also a businessman because I believe the Fonterra board needs more balance with the election of people such as me with a track record in international business.”
But Mr. Nattrass is not about to knock Fonterra as a business, “while some candidates seem to find fault with everything Fonterra has done, I see nothing wrong with the structure of the business and many of its commercial achievements. Fonterra shareholders must guard against the risk of the Co-operative being attacked”. There is room for improvement in any organisation, but the single biggest need at Fonterra now is for the board to show appropriate commercial direction to the organisation.
“The limitations in the boardroom involve a lack of diversity in commercial skills, and I am going to be telling each candidate meeting that I don't believe Fonterra needs any more people on its board that have not been exposed to running a global business. Dairy farmers will always control Fonterra, but it also needs the level of commercial diversity and experience and range of business skills that any other big business board in New Zealand has.”
Mr. Nattrass believes his corporate banking exposure international foreign exchange and investment banking background will provide some of that diversity.
“Some of the other candidates are already making policy statements in which case I suggest it would be more appropriate for them to stand for the shareholders council. Policy is appropriate on election hustings, not in a process where you are selecting a senior business executive”.
The 41 year old has an impressive background in both the farming and business sectors, including 16 years operating experience at senior managerial level within international financial markets. Prior to his retirement from the industry two years ago, Mr. Nattrass held the position at Westpac of Global Head of Foreign Exchange Risk and has previously worked for National Bank, as well as lecturing in the field of Investment Analysis at Lincoln University.
With a Bachelor of Agricultural Science (Honours), Mr. Nattrass recently returned to New Zealand with wife, Leanne, and their three children to extend his interests in the agri-business industry. He currently owns a 420ha pastoral property near Geraldine in addition to a share in a 330 hectare, 1200 cow spray irrigated dairy farm near Ashburton.
Mr. Nattrass carries the endorsement of prominent business people and dairy farmers, including Michael Dwyer, Managing Director of NZ Wool Services International Ltd (WSI) of which Mr. Nattrass is a director, South Island Chartered Accountant Mr. Allan Hubbard who has extensive business and farming interests, former colleague Adrian Orr who is now Assistant Governor of the Reserve Bank and Te Puke dairy farmers Colin and Dale Armer.