Thursday, 19 December 2019 09:50

No value added — Editorial

Written by  Staff Reporters
Jayne Hrdlicka. Jayne Hrdlicka.

OPINION: The unexpected departure of A2 Milk’s chief executive last week was an unpleasant, but timely reminder of the destruction of value often seen between the farmgate and the end market.

Jayne Hrdlicka, apparently unaware that working for a global dairy business would involve international travel, resigned suddenly citing “excessive travel commitments”. She was in the job a mere 18 months, long enough to receive a huge share allocation as part of her salary package. She sold a big chunk of those shares, in two lots, making $4.3m and $2.1m respectively. 

The news of her resignation rocked the markets, wiping more than a billion dollars off A2’s market value.

There’s no suggestion of illegality here. But there’s a huge question for A2’s board about whether its own decisionmaking on the big calls like appointing the CEO is adding value for shareholders. In this case the answer appears to be ‘no’.

The same questions were of course levelled at Fonterra’s board this year and they also came up a long way short. 

You can’t argue that a $605 million loss on the back of billions of litres of farmers’ hard work isn’t a huge fail. 

Theo Spierings, the chief executive who presided over the company in the years leading up to this result, was paid $43m during his seven-year reign.

That’s the real shame here. All that blood, sweat and tears expended by farmers to produce a high-quality raw product for the world and the businesses charged with taking that product to market, despite massive salaries and head office costs, failing to turn a profit.

It’s a wake-up call for all primary producers. Whatever vehicle they use to get their valuable produce to market, don’t take it for granted that the processing and marketing parts of the chain are being smart or efficient or adding any value whatsoever. 

Make sure. Read the company reports, attend the meetings. Ask questions. Don’t fall for the spin. 

To use the colloquialism, ‘keep the bastards honest’.

There’s too much at stake in 2020 – and beyond – to allow such largesse and waste to go unchallenged.

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