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New Zealand meat industry pioneer named winner of international leadership award

New Zealand meat industry pioneer Sir Graeme Harrison has taken out the 2016 Rabobank Leadership Award, in recognition of his extraordinary contribution to the food, beverage and agribusiness sectors.

Sir Graeme, the founder and chair of one of New Zealand’s largest exporters, ANZCO Foods, was presented with the trans-Tasman award at the annual Rabobank Leadership Dinner in Sydney, Australia, last night.

It is the second year in a row a New Zealander has taken out the honour, with former Fonterra chair Sir Henry van der Heyden the recipient of the award in 2015.

Presenting the award, Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group managing director Peter Knoblanche said Sir Graeme was a “true champion of agribusiness”, who had made an enormous contribution not only as a New Zealand business leader, but also in the international meat industry trade.

“As founder of ANZCO Foods, Graeme Harrison has accomplished the extraordinary achievement of building a business from nothing to one that today has an annual turnover of NZ$1.5 billion and which employs more than 3000 people across New Zealand and eight overseas locations and which markets into more than 80 countries,” Mr Knoblanche said.

“And what makes this even more outstanding is that he has achieved this in an environment and over a time that has been notoriously challenging for the meat sector in New Zealand, with ANZCO formed in the wake of the deregulation of the New Zealand economy and agricultural sector. This saw the virtual overnight removal of subsidies to sheep farmers – a move that led to the New Zealand sheep flock declining to less than 50 per cent of what it was in 1984. To have established and grown a meat processing and marketing business over this time, as well as expanding into Asian markets outside the traditional focus for New Zealand sheep and beef export markets into the UK and US, is nothing short of exceptional.

“Graeme has been inspirational in providing strong leadership over a long period. He has not only formed a company that has performed consistently in both returns and market behaviour, but he has contributed to the industry good throughout his lifetime's work, including recently personally funding a professorial chair at Lincoln University in global food value chains and international trade.”

Mr Knoblanche said Sir Graeme was a “natural entrepreneur who is a passionate advocate for New Zealand agribusiness, championing the potential of the country’s agricultural, forestry and seafood industries at every opportunity”. “He sees enormous potential in agribusiness as the sector that comprises the largest part of New Zealand’s exports and he determinedly and energetically works to further its prospects and promote its interests,” Mr Knoblanche said.

Hailing from a mid-Canterbury farming family, Sir Graeme has worked in a number of roles associated with the New Zealand meat industry since 1973.

As a deputy CEO of the New Zealand Meat Producers Board, in 1984, he founded ANZCO as a sheepmeat marketing company for the board in Japan.

Overseeing the successful growth of the company as it expanded into beef and opened the New Zealand sheep and beef industry’s door into the Asian market, Sir Graeme was managing director of ANZCO for 20 years before becoming chair in 2004.

In 1995, he led a management buyout of ANZCO and in 2001, the company settled on its current shareholding, comprising Japanese food companies Itoham Foods and Nippon Suisan, as well as directors and management.

Today the multi-national integrated beef and lamb producer and marketer is New Zealand’s fifth largest exporter and operates farms, sheepmeat and beef processing plants, the country’s largest cattle feedlot, food manufacturing plants, retail outlets and an innovation centre in New Zealand and has market representation in countries including Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, North America, the United Kingdom, Belgium and Australia.

Mr Knoblanche said that, in addition to his current role as chair of ANZCO, Sir Graeme’s commitment to developing export opportunities for New Zealand agribusiness included his roles as chair of the New Zealand International Business Forum and a director of one of the southern hemisphere’s largest seafood companies, Sealord (which is 50/50 jointly- owned by the Maori people of New Zealand and Nippon Suisan).

Sir Graeme has also been a member of the New Zealand China Council and was formerly an independent director of Westland Milk Products. Despite having spent a significant portion of his career based overseas, including in Japan and the United Kingdom, Sir Graeme has served on leading industry organisations, including the Council of the Meat Industry Association and as a director of Meat & Wool New Zealand, the New Zealand Meat Board and the consortium New Zealand Lamb Company in North America.

In July 2011, Sir Graeme was awarded a knighthood for his services to, and achievements in, business. He was named Federated Farmers Agribusiness Person of the Year in 2010. His role in strengthening economic relations between Japan and New Zealand was recognised by the Japanese government in 2015, when he was awarded the Order of the Rising Sun (Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon).

Sir Graeme – who holds a Doctorate in Commerce from Lincoln University and a Master of Arts (Honours) from the University of Canterbury – is an adjunct professor at Lincoln University and a member of its Council.

Outside of work, he is a long-time marathon and half-marathon runner – crediting fitness as one of the keys to mental strength and focus in business.

Accepting his award, Sir Graeme said the agribusiness sector made an enormous contribution to New Zealand’s economic wellbeing. “New Zealand’s competitive advantage lies with the land, and the agrifoods sector accounts for over 70 per cent of the country’s merchandise trade. If you work it back to GDP, effectively one in four dollars is generated from the land-based sector in one form or other.”

Sir Graeme credits trust as being at the centre of good leadership. “The most important thing in leadership is seeing opportunity, then surrounding yourself with the people who can execute those opportunities – so they’ve got to buy into it,” he said, “The key thing is to have a group of people – those you work with, shareholders, service providers and customers – who trust you. And be prepared to step up and become a future leader.”

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

Other previous recipients include food and agri corporate leaders John Watson, Max Ould, John McLean, Nick Burton-Taylor, Robert Hill-Smith, Barry Irvin and Sir George Fistonich as well as leading food scientists Dr Bruce Lee and Dr Jim Peacock, and Australian industry organisation leader 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 the founder and CEO of herb grower and distributor Australian Fresh Leaf Herbs, Jan Vydra.

The winners were presented with their awards in front of more than 200 agribusiness leaders and industry professionals at the annual Rabobank Leadership Dinner, held at Doltone House in Sydney. Keynote speaker was CEO and managing director of leading natural health care company Blackmores, Christine Holgate.

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
Media Relations 
Rabobank Australia & New Zealand 
Phone: 02 8115 2744 or 0439 603 525 

David Johnston
Media Relations
Rabobank New Zealand
Phone: +64 4 819 2711 or +64 2 7477 8153