Mick Keogh - 2014 Rabobank Leadership Award | Rabobank AU
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When he was growing up on his family’s farm in southern NSW, 2014 Rabobank Leadership Award winner Mick Keogh probably never dreamed that he would one day be playing a vital role in safeguarding the interests of all Australian businesses and consumers.

The boy from Holbrook with Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Wool & Pastoral Sciences had established a long and diverse career in the agriculture sector before taking up his current role as deputy chair of the Australian Competition & Consumers Commission.

When he was announced as the Rabobank Leadership Award recipient five years ago, Mr Keogh was the executive director of the Australian Farm Institute (AFI), with a career that spanned working as a farm manager, a university researcher, an agribusiness consultant and an agriculture policy advisor, including 10 years with the NSW Farmers Association as both deputy CEO and policy director.

When he received his Award, Mr Keogh deemed the founding of the AFI in 2004 as his biggest achievement, describing the process as an ‘interesting challenge’.

“As a concept, the Australian Farm Institute was completely new,” he said. “It came at a time where there was significant change taking place in agricultural policy and very few dedicated resources existed to really look at the implications of policy and what it means for Australian agriculture and agribusiness companies.”

Mr Keogh remained at the helm of the AFI for two years after being appointed as a part-time commissioner with the ACCC in 2016.

“At that stage, the ACCC didn’t have a specialist agricultural unit, although it did do a range of activities in the agriculture sector. I was appointed as part of a move to establish a specialist agricultural unit to make sure that the ACCC had the expertise and understanding of a range of competition issues in the agriculture sector,” he explained.

He has now been with the ACCC full-time in the deputy chair role for just over one year and his responsibilities are much broader, as all six ACCC commissioners are involved in major decision making across all portfolios covered by the organisation.

However, Mr Keogh said he still retains oversight of agriculture and small business matters.

“There is an enormous crossover of issues between agriculture and small business. The key issues that many of them face and bring to us are around their interactions with big business and the extent to which that is fair competition,” he said.

“Many of the issues they bring to us stem from problems that are often caused by regulations and arrangements that don’t give much credence to the size of the organisation and assume that all businesses have access to the same resources. But, of course, many small  businesses operate on the basis that the owner is the CEO, the chief counsel, the HR manager, the government compliance manager, the accounting and taxation officer, etcetera.

“In many respects, small business operators are no different to consumers in terms of the resources they have available and their understanding of laws, regulations and contracts.”

Mr Keogh said being recognised through the Rabobank Leadership Awards had given him a ‘degree of confidence to persist, to proceed further’.

“The award is very valuable in that sense. It makes you think, I must have got something right somewhere so perhaps it is worth continuing,” he said.

When it comes to good leadership, Mr Keogh said that based on the good leaders he has met, the starting point was that they were all good listeners and have an innate curiosity to make sure they understand or learn about things.

“The second characteristic is a desire to get things done. Listening is good but endless listening doesn’t get you anywhere. Ultimately the good leaders have to have a degree of impatience to want to resolve things, to make things better,” he added.

In his role with the ACCC, Mr Keogh said he has adopted a collaborative leadership approach.

“We rely heavily on the advice and information we receive through our interaction with industry and small businesses,” he said.

“We have to be quite collaborative and, very importantly, understand all perspectives so we are able to make reasonably objective decisions armed with the knowledge we have been given.”

To find out more about the Rabobank Leadership and Emerging Leader Awards click here.

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