As we head into spring and the new season ahead we are also, at last, seeing signs of positivity in the rural sector.
Van der Heyden is defending his decision to stay on the board after relinquishing the chairmanship to John Wilson. He says the decision has been taken in the interest of the co-op. Some shareholders have questioned the decision.
Van der Heyden says he has always done what is right for Fonterra.
"We have pushed the button on TAF (trading among farmers) and have signed the prospectus. That's the right thing to do from a governance perspective," he told Rural News.
"I'm here to support the board and Theo Spierings in the execution of the strategy refresh."
Van der Heyden says he's not affected by criticism from some parts of the shareholder base. It is part of the cooperative way – farmers thrashing out issues but uniting behind the final decision. He intends to continue pursuing governance roles. Van der Heyden is chairman of Tainui Group, member of Rabobank Australia and New Zealand board and Auckland Airport.
Last month, he was selected as the chairman of the year 2012 in the Top 200 Companies Awards. Van der Heyden says the award is quite humbling.
"Really, it's recognition of the co-op at the end of the day," he says.
Van der Heyden has served as a dairy company director since 1992 when he was first elected to the New Zealand Dairy Group by 360 voters for the South Waikato ward.
In 1997 he joined the New Zealand Dairy Board and became deputy chairman of NZ Dairy Group a year later. He became chairman of NZDG in 1999 and led the merger with Kiwi Co-op to form Fonterra. Van der Heyden replaced John Roadley as Fonterra chairman in 2002.
Van der Heyden recalls that in 1992 there were 18 dairy co-ops. Following mergers the number dropped to four. Some mergers were easy as that was the logical thing to do for neighbouring co-ops.
The tough one was the merger of NZDG and Sidco, the South Island dairy co-op in 1998. Around the same time, the Government was talking about deregulation of the dairy industry, he says.
"Back in those days if you ever talked about being anti single seller concept you could not walk out of a hall of farmers alive. That was the absolute bible.
"We actually front footed the Government move on deregulation. We actually decided to take control of it and industry leaders and farmers were always prepared to front foot things."
Under van der Heyden's watch, Fonterra has taken several bold steps.
He lists Global Dairy Trade (GDT), TAF (trading among farmers), free trade agreements, co-op governance model, developing business relationships with other major global dairy players and appointment of a new chief executive and chairman as game changers for the co-op in the last decade.
He admits there were bumps but farmers supported him and the co-op all the way. TAF took longer than necessary to finalise and there was farmer opposition.
"There were turbulent waters around TAF but no one can say TAF has not been successful."
Don't take the foot off the accelerator
OUTGOING FONTERRA chairman Henry van der Heyden is cautioning farmers against any strategy likely to slow the co-op's growth.
With a lower payout signalling tight on-farm cashflows, farmer anxiety is growing but van der Heyden says now is the time to be bold and increase the pace.
"In five years I want to see Fonterra farmers the wealthiest farmers in the world," he told Rural News. "We have to capitalise on opportunities."
The Putaruru farmer says with TAF underway, the foundation is set for the co-op to take off. This is no time to rest or "sit down for a cup of tea".
"Farmers are tired and need a break, but we need to keep going. The new chief executive and chairman-elect have a strategy in place so farmers shouldn't be thinking about taking a breather.
"The strategy refresh is not about slowing down but making decisions faster. It's all about maximising payout for farmers and higher profit for investors."