5 Minutes with Rob Hewett

Farmlands Chairman Rob Hewett started in his new role at the conclusion of last month’s AGM.


Do you feel the role of a Shareholder Director has changed as the co-operative has evolved and grown?

I think the role has changed a lot over time – and not just specific to Farmlands. New Zealand's agri-coops have gotten bigger and therefore the fiduciary duties and bottom line consequences have gotten bigger. The increasing expectations and responsibilities of governors is not exclusive to co-operatives – you can also point to the consequences associated with fiduciary duties through companies such as Mainzeal. What this all means for Farmlands' Directors is that the need to undertake governance development prior to coming into the role has been amplified. That is why we promote programmes such as To the Core. It is a key activity to identify and nurture future governance talent for the business and our rural communities. 


Farmlands has been on a journey of change for the past few years. How has this period prepared the co-operative for the future?

The future is hugely exciting. Braveheart will be the underpinning enabler of Farmlands for the next generation. We know it is going to be very good for the business and our shareholder customers. The key will be to try to maximise its true value – we look forward to finding out how good it can be. Braveheart will allow the co-operative to get closer to shareholders and customers and will deliver them  timely, more aligned information and services suited to their needs. I'm really looking forward to having Braveheart as the way we do business at Farmlands.


What is the Board's vision for the next 3 years?

Our immediate focus is on getting Braveheart implemented and working solidly across the business. This is key and is the fundamental enabler for Farmlands. Beyond this, agriculture in New Zealand is at a transition point and I think it is fair to say that the transition we are starting to go through now, as a sector, will be as wide-ranging as the changes faced by many of our shareholders (or their parents) during the 1980s. Farmlands needs to be part of the solution set for that. That will mean focusing on carbon, water, nutrient management, alternative fuels, Internet of Things, sensors, technology and continuing to deliver the products and services our shareholders require, when they require them. To do that, we need to be even closer to our customers than we are today.

Timely, relevant data is the key to unlock this opportunity – hence Braveheart and Farm IQ. This journey isgoing to be hugely enabling on-farm – but quite daunting. I heard a quote recently which said when it comes to farm data, it was like trying to drink from a fire hydrant. We are going to have to be very disciplined with the data that we use – we need to be measuring and using the right stuff, at the right time, working with shareholders to deliver timely and relevant information to make better informed business decisions.


Farmlands now has 70,000 shareholders across the primary sector spectrum. How will the co-operative continue to provide for all interests?

I think we will provide for diverse interests even better in the future because of Braveheart. We will be able to segment our customer database even more precisely. This will lead to better products and services that are relevant to you and your shareholding, from your co-operative, at the time you want them. Our shareholder numbers have grown to 70,000, or by about 15 percent since I joined the Board. We are a preeminent New Zealand agri-products and services provider and we need to remain close to our customers to deliver value. We intend to do that.


How will the new Board structure provide improved governance for the co-operative?

The Board has reduced from 10 to nine but in that mix we now have three Independent Directors alongside the three elected Directors from the South Island and three elected Directors from the North Island. The Independent Director role allows the Board to appoint Directors that have a specific skill set which is complementary to our shareholderelected Directors. Given the complexity of the  business in the channels that we operate, this is a good thing. The big thing about improved governance for the co-operative is our development programmes – such as To the Core. We are also helping the next generation through the Tom Cranswick Memorial Award, we have two Farmlands staff per year undertaking the Kellogg Rural Leadership Programme and have interests in a wide range of primary sector stakeholder organisations.

Talent development around our shareholder base is critical for the future of the co-operative because all existing governors are either there for a period and/or at the pleasure of the shareholders who elected them. If we want this company to continue to thrive we need sound governance, which means developing the future now.