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Georgie Aley: Building networks in Australian agribusiness

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Georgie Aley - Former Rabobank Leadership Award Winner

After studying in rural Orange, Sydneysider Georgie Aley came back four years later with a love for country life and its people. Her newfound passion has helped her become one of the emerging leaders of a traditionally male-dominated industry, and the first CEO of the Australian Institute of Food Science and Technology (AIFST).

Starting out and challenging adversity
Aley’s start in agribusiness was as a membership liaison officer with an industry body, the then Grain Growers Association. After undertaking a range of roles over a number of promotions, Aley left her position as general manager of grower interests to become managing director of the Grains & Legumes Nutrition Council. This was her most recent role prior to joining AIFST in 2015.

The AIFST is in the midst of significant changes, and the challenges that presented drew Aley to the role. It’s also this same appetite for a challenge - along with hard work and a constant strive to improve - that was instrumental to her early career success.

“I don’t think being a woman has made it more challenging for me to get to where I am. By being honest and hardworking you ensure that your outcomes display your value, not your gender. We’ve seen a lot of women come a long way in this industry over the last decade,” she says.

Creating networks
Aley mentions similar principles when asked how she has established and maintained successful professional networks throughout her career.

I've always stood by the ethos that it’s not what your network can do for you, it’s what you can do for your network. People look at networks as ways to generate leads and financial gain, but you need to get involved and show others what you can do. That’s how you build a reputation as someone worth knowing.”

The themes of encouragement and involvement are reflected in Aley’s approach to getting the best out of her internal employee networks, and turning ‘I’ into ‘we’.

The most important thing is to empower people, regardless of their role, to do what it is they need to deliver. It gives them ownership of the work, makes them more accountable and gets them invested in the ‘we’ mentality. All this has to stem from an organisation’s corporate culture and management style.”

Aley believes in telling people to have a try, and if failure happens, then there’s something to learn. If it’s done right, it builds confidence. Either way, there’s something to take away.

Future pipeline
Aley is optimistic for the future of the agricultural industry, believing the groundwork is in place for the next generation to grow Australia’s food sectors.

“Youth and succession planning are crucial in any industry, just as we need a constant pipeline of sales and projects. There are more jobs in the industry than ever before, and there is great infrastructure in place through graduate programs and different supporting groups.” she says.

Aley has also been involved in several industry committees throughout her career, including:

  • Future Farmers Network
  • National Farmers’ Federation
  • Nuffield Australia Farming Scholarship

Her belief in young people and wider support for the industry stems from the support she received starting out, and continues to benefit from.

“There were a few key people – a CEO who was instrumental in pushing me to test my limits, an industry mentor turned friend who has made time for endless chats about the industry and the challenges I’m facing, and my father,” she says.

Future hopes
Having been named Emerging Agribusiness Leader 2013 by Rabobank, and one of the 100 Women of Influence 2014, Aley has seen early success, but is not resting on her laurels.

“The AIFST has just launched our three-year plan to establish ourselves as a thriving national organisation representing food professionals, giving our members a voice and support,” she says.

Australia is sometimes called the food bowl of Asia, but it’s more the delicatessen. We don’t have the capacity to feed the entire continent, but we can provide high-quality products that have been value-added onshore, that we can demand a premium price for – that is Australia’s future role.”

Aley’s youthful confidence and vision is helping inspire the next generation of agribusiness leaders, and breaking down barriers in an industry considered vital to Australia’s future.

Do you know of an exceptional business owner implementing innovative and forward-thinking initiatives in food beverage and agribusiness? Find out more about the Rabobank Leadership Awards