skip to content

New Zealand’s Sir Henry van der Heyden awarded prestigious trans-Tasman agri leadership honour


New Zealand business leader and dairy industry identity Sir Henry van der Heyden has received the 2015 Rabobank Leadership Award, in recognition of his exceptional contribution to the food, beverage and agribusiness sectors.

Sir Henry, the former chair of global dairy giant Fonterra, was presented with the prestigious trans-Tasman award at the annual Rabobank Leadership Dinner in Melbourne, Australia, tonight, in front of more than 230 agribusiness leaders and industry professionals.

Presenting the peer-nominated and judged award, Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group managing director Thos Gieskes said Henry van der Heyden’s impact on – and contribution to – New Zealand dairy has been “so significant and profound, it is impossible to imagine the modern dairy industry without him”.

“Truly, as much as New Zealand is recognised as a powerhouse in global dairy, I would say Henry van der Heyden has been as equally an important force in the modern New Zealand dairy industry,” he said.

“His role in guiding and driving the evolution of New Zealand dairy over the past two decades has been absolutely pivotal. But more than that, in playing a central role in forging New Zealand’s ascendency on the global dairy stage, Henry has also been very much a champion of ‘New Zealand Inc’. Promoting the interests of New Zealand, its people and its industries is very much a motivating factor in all his activities and business interests.”

A career-long dairy farmer, beginning in share-milking and purchasing his first dairy farm in 1985, Sir Henry emerged to become the most influential architect in the evolution of New Zealand’s dairy industry over a critical 20 year-period for that sector.

As chair of New Zealand Dairy Group (NZDG), Sir Henry was a key player in the creation, in 2001, of global dairy industry powerhouse Fonterra, which was formed from the merger and integration of the three major dairy players in New Zealand – NZDG, Kiwi Dairies and the NZ Dairy Board.

Becoming chair of Fonterra in 2002, he held that position until retiring in 2012.

“With the integration and transformation of the New Zealand dairy industry that came from the creation of Fonterra, New Zealand dairy – under Henry’s leadership – took over its own global destiny in a new and commercial form, emerging to become the global dairy juggernaut it is today,” Mr Gieskes said.

A strong believer in the critical importance of shareholder engagement, Sir Henry’s other major achievements have included introducing share trading among dairy farmers (TAF) and establishing the Shareholder Council at Fonterra, Mr Gieskes told guests.

“While Henry’s approach is understated and very much no-fuss, he embodies all the qualities of great leadership,” he said.  “Henry is a true visionary, he has been a master of unifying disparate interests and has overcome multiple obstacles to deliver the outcomes we now see with the New Zealand dairy industry.” 

Accepting the award, Henry van der Heyden described his leadership style as essentially “very simple”, with engagement being the key component.

“I try to paint a very simple picture of what the future can look like, and, through painting that picture, hope that my passion and commitment to the outcome actually comes through, so that other people can feel the same excitement that I do,” he said.

Sir Henry acknowledged the importance of leadership in creating change and conceded this path could be challenging.

“To set up a global cooperative and to get all the stakeholders – 10,500 farmers – on-side and heading in the same direction is easier said than done,” he said

Other key milestones of which he was particularly proud included Trading Among Farmers, separating out Governance and Representation and also innovations, such as the Global Dairy Trade (GDT).

Sir Henry was awarded New Zealand Chairman of the Year in 2012, New Zealand Herald Business Person of the Year in 2007 and Federated Farmers’ 2013 Agri Personality. In 2009, he was appointed a Distinguished Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit.

Sir Henry is part of a dairy dynasty, saying “milk runs through my family’s veins”.  His parents moved to New Zealand (from the Netherlands) in 1955 to become dairy farmers and set up a future for the next generation.  Five of his six siblings are involved in the dairy industry as are three of his own four children. 

Sir Henry, his wife Lady Jocelyn and their family continue to run their own four dairy farms in the Central North Island.

Now however, his attentions have also turned to helping improve the social and commercial fortunes of a large Maori Iwi.  He is Chair of Tainui Group Holdings, the commercial arm of leading tribal organisation Waikato-Tainui.

Other positions include chair of both Auckland International Airport and Manuka SA, while he also sits on the boards of Foodstuffs North Island, Pascaro Investments and also Rabobank New Zealand and Rabobank Australia.

Mr Gieskes conceded that in being chosen for the award, Sir Henry had actually overcome the “not insignificant obstacle” of his Rabobank board membership, with all independent judges in the peer-voted award unanimous in his selection.

“While we consider ourselves very fortunate to have Henry on the boards of Rabobank Australia and Rabobank New Zealand, I can assure you his win tonight came very much despite this,” Mr Gieskes told the audience. “In the end, it just proved, in all fairness, impossible for judges to ignore how deserving Henry van der Heyden is of this award.”

The Rabobank Leadership Award is presented annually to individuals who create sustainable growth and prosperity at both a corporate and industry level in agribusiness, while demonstrating a wider commitment to society.

Previous recipients include food and agri corporate heads John Watson, Max Ould, John McLean, Nick Burton-Taylor, Robert Hill-Smith, Barry Irvin and Sir George Fistonich as well leading food scientists Dr Bruce Lee and Dr Jim Peacock.  Last year’s winner was Australian Farm Institute executive director Mick Keogh.

Recipient of this year’s Rabobank Emerging Leader – an award category introduced in 2013 recognising up-and-coming young leaders in agriculture – was South Australian viticulturist Zachary Caudo.

The Rabobank Leadership Dinner was held at The Peak at Flemington Racecourse. Keynote speaker was Randall Pope, president and chief executive officer of Westchester Group Investment Management.

For coverage of the Rabobank Leadership Dinner and Leadership Breakfast, follow Rabobank on Twitter @RabobankNZ and @RabobankAU or view curated Leadership Awards content via the hashtag #RaboLeadership.

To view a video on Sir Henry van der Heyden, click here and for further information on the Rabobank Leadership Awards, visit the website. 


Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is a part of the international Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has more than 115 years’ experience providing customised banking and finance solutions to businesses involved in all aspects of food and agribusiness. Rabobank is structured as a cooperative and operates in 40 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.8 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand is one of Australasia’s leading rural lenders and a significant provider of business and corporate banking and financial services to the region’s food and agribusiness sector. The bank has 94 branches throughout Australia and New Zealand.

Media contacts:

Denise Shaw 

Head of Media Relations 

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 

Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 

Email: denise.shaw@rabobank.com


Skye Ward

Media Relations Manager

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 

Phone: 0418 216 103

Email: skye.ward@rabobank.com