AS you will be aware, Andrew Spencer is going to leave us as CEO in early August. I’m sure Andrew has covered that, but I thought I’d get my piece in too. Andrew joined Australian Pork Limited in 2005 and colleagues, both existing and past, who were there then have relayed their memories of that time.
It’s fair to say Andrew’s appointment came at a time of relative chaos. As an industry, we were thinking about taking the government (a major contributor of funds) to court. We subsequently did this and lost 2:1 on appeal in 2006. The industry had become a relatively low-profit one, with growing imports bolstering supply and contributing to lower prices, which were still highly seasonal.
While I didn’t join APL until 2007, judging from how marketing operated internally, APL was, let’s be kind, perhaps a little unstructured (the Policy division appears to be an exception as they successfully landed the current model code in 2007). To suggest that Andrew was the right man for the time is to underestimate the fit.
Andrew’s measured, logical, calm and methodical approach to problem solving helped APL make sustainable progress. For example, we have moved from a method of choosing R&D projects which essentially focussed on the Board deciding (I hear) to a system where business plans were written, and projects selected by a diverse group of producers and experts.
As you know, this method is evolving to keep the rigour and add some focus (a smaller number of bigger projects to make a bigger difference). In marketing, we moved away from creating a different campaign every year that ran for an average period of four to five weeks, which didn’t allow much time to build rapport with consumers.
We took a leaf out of the PorkStar playbook, chose a campaign (Get some pork on your fork) based on what the consumer (the person with the money) wants and talked about that to some of the people, all the time. In addition to these improvements in reasoned choice making, the industry has voluntarily removed gestation stalls for the most part and learnt how to manage group housing, introduced an excellent quality assurance scheme, found ways to both manage on-farm profitability while benefitting the environment (biogas) and chosen to invest more in APL levies.
Over the course of the past 14 years, the Policy Division has rebuilt relationships with the government, which I suspect were quite ‘strained’ after the legal battle. My sense is we are now seen by the government departments as relatively easy to deal with, which has to improve the chances of a relatively small industry getting some of what it wants, most of the time.
This is backed up with a government relations ethos of ‘when we come to see you, it’s important’. Speaking from the inside, APL is in a much more consistent and productive place and that is in large part due to Andrew’s leadership. There is a management cycle called the Control-Challenge-Change model that says in order to challenge you must be under control, and only from challenge can successful change occur.
Now, 2019-20 will be a year of challenging our thinking and changing our industry. As producers and others help us shape the next strategic plan, the coming changes should excite us as we embrace them from a position of control. Andrew helped deliver that control.