A view from the top

Last year, Marton farmer Andrew Stewart was appointed Beef + Lamb New Zealand’s inaugural Associate Director- a 12-month position. He reflects on his experiences.
Tuesday, 3 April 2018

As a levy paying farmer to Beef and Lamb New Zealand, I have always kept an eye on the activities of the organisation, albeit from afar. A non-insignificant sum of money avoids appearing in our farm account every year thanks to said levies, so I have always felt a sense of responsibility to make sure that money is spent wisely. Although generally content with the organisation as a whole, I have long held a belief that things could be improved to benefit the farmers they represent.

I have also long held an appetite to challenge myself by looking for new opportunities, particularly in the form of personal development. It was this appetite that led me to applying for the first Associate Director position with Beef and Lamb in early 2017.

For those that are unaware, the intention behind the Associate Director position is to allow someone with a genuine interest, required skillset and relative experience the chance to contribute around a board table for a year. The position is an unpaid one but the intention is to arm the Associate Director with new skills and experience normally reserved for those in paid governance positions.

And so it was that in April 2017, I found myself an active participant in my first board meeting in Wellington. Although it could be described as a massive learning curve, the board and management team both made me feel very comfortable. Sure there are a mountain of documents to read before each meeting but this also exposes directors to a wealth of information simply unattainable any other way.

Now, 12 months later, I have reached the end of this particular journey and upon reflection I am coming to realise its significance. I have been very fortunate that during the period of my directorship I have been exposed to many situations, discussions and outcomes that could only have been dreamt about in the past, both domestically and globally. From feeling like a curious and sometimes uninformed sheep and beef farmer I have developed into a well-informed participant and admirer of the work that Beef and Lamb NZ does at a governance and management level. Make no mistake, there are still areas where as an organisation there is need for improvement. But when you consider the plethora of challenges bombarding our industry like never before, you should feel very comfortable with the competence of our industry good organisation.

I have been asked on numerous occasions over the term why I put my hand up for this position. For me it was about making a valuable contribution whilst learning more about my industry and the people tasked with ensuring its future. To that end, I feel comfortable that I have achieved all I set out to do, despite some significant challenges along the way.

The other question most frequently asked is “So Andrew, what do you see yourself doing with this newfound governance experience?” The simple answer would be for me to put myself forward for the next election for the Western North Island seat on the board. That would be a possible way, if I was successful, for Beef and Lamb NZ to truly capture some return on investment from an Associate Director. The truthful answer is I am not really sure where this experience will lead me. What I am sure about, however, is that this position has given me a far wider range of skills, built new relationships and friendships and given me fresh motivation and far better understanding of the sheep and beef industry. My radar is always turned on for opportunities and I look forward to repaying the industry for this investment in me.