‘Speer’-heading the future of ag – 2018 emerging leader award winner

Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) chief operating officer Anna Speer has been recognised as a trailblazer, with vast potential, in the food and agribusiness sector as the 2018 recipient of the trans-Tasman Rabobank Emerging Leader Award.

Ms Speer was presented with the award – recognising exceptional up-and-coming leadership in Australia and New Zealand’s food, beverage and agribusiness sectors – in front of around 200 industry peers at the annual Rabobank Leadership Award dinner in Sydney last night.

Presenting the award, Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group managing director Peter Knoblanche said Ms Speer was a dynamic leader, with a strong track record at the helm of one of agriculture’s most disruptive marketplaces, AuctionsPlus, and now poised for further leadership growth and success at AACo, Australia’s largest beef producer.

“At 36 years of age, Anna has already well and truly made her mark not only in the livestock industry but the wider agribusiness sector, as an early adopter of technology,” Mr Knoblanche said. “And as one not daunted by change, but rather someone who invites and embraces it, Anna has been at the forefront of much of the innovation and transformation we have seen in the livestock supply chain.”

Backed by strong and practical knowledge of the ag industry, Mr Knoblanche said, Ms Speer’s stellar career had seen her “work her way up from a ringer in the stock camps to now overseeing 21 pastoral stations and farms, covering one per cent of Australia’s land mass.”

“All in just eight years”, he added.

“Anna’s authenticity, and belief in herself and others, has seen her build strong credibility as a leader,” he said. “And her reach and influence will only increase, as she sits in the driving seat of Australia’s oldest continuously operating company.”

Appointed chief operating officer of AACo’s pastoral activities in August this year, Ms Speer said she is “stepping into what is probably the biggest and most exciting challenge I have had to step into, in my life”.

Managing all facets of AACo’s paddock-to-plate supply chain, Ms Speer said, “the people in the stock camps enjoy having someone who was doing what they did eight years ago, it demonstrates to them that you can go anywhere with the right attitude. I also remind them that I need them as much as they need me. They are the experts on the ground and play a critical role in the long-term success of AACo.

“Change is the only constant in life, it is naturally scary but with a collaborative and brave approach to life, being a teacher and a learner, you can go anywhere,” she said.

It has been this focus on “trust, authenticity and curiosity, alongside learning to empower and build a team of passionate people” that has driven much of Ms Speer’s success.

Accepting the Rabobank Emerging Leaders award, she said, “I am humbled to receive such an accolade and it inspires me to continue to be brave and do great things in our industry. I also want to assist others in believing they too can do great things in our industry, to give them the same opportunities that I have had.

“I spend a lot of time working with people, pushing them to think about how they can evolve and stretch. A good leader must focus on upskilling and empowering their teams. Given the amount of support I have had over the years, it is critical to pay it back. I was so fortunate to do the Australian Rural Leadership Program.”

Describing the program as a “game changer”, Ms Speer said “it made me understand myself, my volcanoes, it helped me get rid of being passive-aggressive, and taught me that empathy and trust will always win people over. When you know yourself you can start to know others.”

Another key leadership attribute, behind much of Ms Speer’s career trajectory, is her “trust in the magic of new beginnings”.

“Change is uncomfortable and sometimes you look like you are coping with it magically,” she said. “But in reality, it is uncomfortable, that is human nature. But if you don’t embrace it, you don’t get to find out what’s on the other side.”

Initially studying science at university, Ms Speer then packed her bags and moved up to the Northern Territory. “I thought I was a country kid, but arriving with a dressage saddle at the stock camps at Auvergne Station with Consolidated Pastoral Company, I was clearly not. A bit of hard work and curiosity changed that over the following five years.”

Ms Speer then went on to study a bachelor of primary and secondary education, via distance, while working in the stock camps as a senior station hand, then stud register.

“During that time I started teaching in remote Indigenous communities,” she said, “it was a wonderful eye opener into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, an experience I wish more people had the opportunity to get.”

Swapping station life for the office, Ms Speer took a role at Livestock Exchange, saying it was “a brave move given my lack of knowledge in tech, however it was a ‘sink or swim’ moment for me and I learned so much about our red meat supply chain, the importance of traceability and provenance”.

Working up the ranks from customer relations manager to general manager, Ms Speer was then headhunted for the AuctionsPlus CEO role in 2010. Focused on enabling change, and creating trust online, during her four years at the helm, Ms Speer re-engaged the 30-year-old business to take it to ‘Australia’s largest livestock marketplace’, facilitating the exchange of over $830 million worth of livestock per annum.

Now heading up AACo’s pastoral operations, feedlots, southern processing and breeding activities, Ms Speer said “my role is managing the supply chain, from the genetics to the paddock all the way through to the box. I will be focusing on the cultural change piece ensuring we become customer-centric across the entire business”.

“It is such a privilege to be part of the industry,” she said. “It actually makes me quite emotional when I think that this company (AACo) is almost 200 years old. We have the opportunity to do something no one else has done.”

Being in the role for two months, Ms Speer is focussed on the supply chain and the culture. “Once you get the people in the right roles with clear accountability, trust and empowerment, you can do anything,” she said.

The Rabobank Leadership Awards Dinner, held on October 11, 2018 at the Sydney Town Hall, saw chief executive officer of Nuffield International Jim Geltch take out the 2018 Rabobank Leadership Award, recognising the “fundamentally important” role he has played in the Australian and New Zealand food, beverage and agribusiness sectors.

Keynote speaker at the annual awards dinner was former chairman and CEO of Kellogg Company, Australian John Bryant.

Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is a part of the global Rabobank Group, the world’s leading specialist in food and agribusiness banking. Rabobank has nearly 120 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 38 countries, servicing the needs of approximately 8.4 million clients worldwide through a network of more than 1000 offices and branches. Rabobank Australia & New Zealand Group is one of Australasia’s leading agricultural 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
Phone: 02 4855 1111 or 0418 216 103
Email: skye.ward@rabobank.com