For the country’s two largest milk processors, it’s business as usual: milk is coming in, being processed and products shipped to offshore markets without any major hitch.
About 200 farmer shareholders flocked to the ILT Stadium, Southland to hear the co-op leaders ask for more time to turn around the business.
With Fonterra posting net losses for two consecutive years, we would have expected more fireworks at the meeting. There was a flutter of excitement when one shareholder called for more fans “as the air is going to get hotter”.
But apart from a few calls for chairman John Monaghan to resign, it was mostly business as usual for most shareholders.
It’s clear that Fonterra shareholders are willing to give the new management team and directors time to turn the business around.
Monaghan retires by rotation at the next annual meeting and he is likely to pass the chairman’s baton in the new year to a chairman-designate and help with a smooth transition before stepping down in November.
Who will take that baton remains to be seen. There’s Peter McBride, with a proven track record at Zespri. One farmer director with an outside chance would be outspoken Fairlie farmer Leonie Guiney, who fought her way back onto the board after being sidelined by former chairman John Wilson.
Some shareholders are floating the idea of Fonterra embracing its first woman chair.
If Monaghan goes, as is widely expected, this would leave a new ‘top three’ to steer the co-op. The shareholders council has appointed fourth generation Matamata farmer James Barron as its new chair. With Miles Hurrell settling comfortably into his role as chief executive, a new chair would give the co-op the impetus to start a new era.
Fonterra is implementing a new strategy: focusing on New Zealand milk rather than striving to be a global co-op.
The shareholders council will spend the next 12 months reviewing its role and functions. And next year will see the required five-yearly review of the 2016 governance and representation revamp.
Change is in the air for Fonterra. In October 2021 it will celebrate its 20th birthday.
Right now Fonterra farmers and unit investors have little to cheer about. Granted, it is paying a competitive milk price at the farmgate but its financial performance still leaves much to be desired.
There is optimism that the co-op is on the road to recovery. Farmer owners have made it clear that rather than being the butt of jokes they want to walk with heads held high. They will be hoping that when the 20th birthday is celebrated in 22 months such pride will be justified.