5 minutes with Roz Henry

Chief Executive Officer Roz HenryCooperative Business
New Zealand

 

 

You’ve been in the job for a few months, how’s your induction been?

I’m enjoying it, the people I’ve met are great – they’re really passionate. I was lucky to spend a month with outgoing CEO Craig Presland before he left. We went on a roadshow to Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland and I’ve since visited Waikato and Tauranga. So next up is Ashburton, Dunedin
and Invercargill.

 

What’s your most profound observation so far?

I’ve noticed that our country’s formal education doesn’t discuss the cooperative model as part of a business or law degree. Aside from a few papers at Massey, it’s a massive gap. Our country is a hotbed of entrepreneurialism yet I don’t believe that graduates are being encouraged to consider the co-operative model when setting up a business. Collectively, co-ops contribute 16 percent of GDP, employ 50,000 staff and have 1.5 million members in New Zealand. We have an opportunity to drive a ‘new age’ of cooperation and this must start with education. Our structures are different from that of big corporates and this is something to celebrate.

 

In your role how can you help co-operatives like Farmlands?

About 65 percent of Cooperative Business New Zealand’s membership is drawn from the farming or wider rural sector so it’s a big one for me. The role of CBNZ is to:

  1. Provide governance and leadership training
  2. Facilitate inter co-operative learning
  3. Engage with decision makers and influence government policy
  4. Educate the next generation on the benefits of the co-operative model
  5. Advise start-ups
  6. Showcase success

Alongside this, how can the agri sector make farming and growing seem like a viable career? Celebrating co-op successes and profiling new start-ups is one way we can help do this.

 

How will you make your voice heard?

I’ve worked in economic development at Auckland Council which exposed me to government agency contacts. I was part of the international investment team there and I have a very good understanding of the economic and political environment in which New Zealand operates. I want to be a voice for our co-operatives and lobby change at governmental level. We’re already working on that in the co-operative housing space for example.

 

What are you hoping to achieve as CEO in your first year or two?

I want to add value and one way our association can do that is by bringing co-operatives together so they can learn from each other. Whether that’s in a training environment, a topical roundtable, conferences or at our annual awards. We’re already offering governance training for those who are on boards of directors, to make sure they have the skillset needed to govern co-operatives. Knowledge sharing is critical for this business model. Looking ahead, this cooperation between co-operatives could be pivotal to developing solutions to key issues we all face. These ideas are not new. Education and collaborating with other co-operatives are founding tenets of the International Cooperative Alliance which traces its roots back to the first modern co-operative founded in Rochdale, England in 1844.  What is new is the pace of change and the noise that agricultural co-operatives have to cut-through right now. Working alongside other member associations and similar business models (such as iwi and runanga) we can avoid competing for air time and ensure our combined voice is louder. I want to be here long-term as I think that’s where the relationships I build in the next year or two will come to fruition.

 

What signals do the Westland Milk and Fonterra scenarios send us?

I think Westland and Fonterra were a wake-up call for all businesses, notjust co-operatives. It shows no one is bullet proof, not even household names. I think other organisations need to make sure they are close to shareholders. We need to remember that many rural shareholders are co-owners of multiple co-operatives in their region. For example, this can have an amplified impact regionally, if locals can’t reinvest any returns in their community. If profits are sent offshore, what next for that local economy? What is the long-term impact of that shift on New Zealand’s provinces? These are questions I want to raise with government so that they don’t just stand by and watch this sort of thing happen. These scenarios show the importance of identifying issues early and getting the right advice. We do need to make sure our organisations are managed in a sustainable fashion. By nature, I think co-operatives are built to survive the hard times as they tend to come together.

 

What advice do you have for agricultural shareholders?

The sustainability question is hitting the agri sector hard, as Farmlands shareholders are reliant on climate, weather and international markets. You can’t afford to wait and see – we need to ask the what-if questions now and respond. I look forward to holding a roundtable on that very question soon.