Tuesday, 18 October 2016 09:25

Agribusiness champion calls for more entrepreneurship

Written by  Pam Tipa
Anzco chief Sir Graeme Harrison. Anzco chief Sir Graeme Harrison.

More entrepreneurial spirit is needed in the New Zealand agri-food sector, says meat industry pioneer Sir Graeme Harrison.

“Leadership requires taking opportunities. One thing that worries me in NZ is [a lack of] entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to stick with a business for a long period of time,” Harrison told Rural News.

The chair of Anzco has won the 2016 Rabobank Leadership Award in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to the food, beverage and agribusiness sector. It is the second year in a row a NZer has won the honour; former Fonterra chair Sir Henry van der Heyden won in 2015.

Harrison says if you are in business long enough difficult things will happen, but this becomes a learning curve.

“You need to be resilient and you need a team of people to be resilient as well,” he says.

Leadership requires taking opportunities and getting the right people to execute them, he says.

“Getting the right people entails a whole lot of things: getting the shareholders, a suitable management team and, if you start in the market place like we have, it also about ‘going local’. Many of our overseas offices are manned by people who are local nationals.

“It is combination of all those things; obviously back in our plants we need very capable people to lead those and we need experienced supervisors.

“So it is a combination of those skills that make a business work.

“Someone can have the vision but we still have to get the right people – it won’t happen otherwise. People are the key to leadership.”

Asked if he thought the ag sector had enough leadership potential, he says NZ has the capability.

“But I’m worried we don’t attract enough people from the urban sector who see the real opportunities the agri-food sector can provide to the future of NZ,” he says.

“We already contribute over 70% of the country’s merchandise trade. But the prospects have never been better in terms of the growing middle class in Asia and our ability to service that.”

Trade liberalisation is vitally important to NZ, he says. Although Brexit and the US presidential campaign are current influences, we’ve got to keep up the efforts.

“I believe we will continue to be successful and the opportunities are there for us. So I want to see more urban people looking at careers in the agri sector.

“The ag sector has to get that message out [because] unfortunately there are still some people who have the view that the agri sector is old industry.

“Not at all; people are even more conscious of what they are eating. So the opportunities, particularly at a niche scale, are there and we need to take advantage of those.

“The ag sector needs to look at skills right along the chain – everything from servicing customers and reacting to those in the marketplace right back to skills in adding value to our products.

“That is much harder than people imagine. It is a very, very difficult process. You have to have medium to long-term views. If you get short term wins you are lucky.”

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