Jones vs Fonterra: Pity the unloved chairman

What’s eating the Regional Economic Development Minister today? Fonterra. He’s “bloody disappointed” by the cooperative, saying it’s become disconnected from the farming community.

He says he’s asked the Minister of Agriculture to consider “whether or not it’s time for us to look at a restructuring of Fonterra”.

You might call this forthright and vigorous. You might call it an interesting proposition that warrants exploration, given what we’ve seen and heard of Fonterra and its seeming capacity to spend staggering amounts of money to earn only tepid results for its farmers.

You might on the other hand be Paul Goldsmith – National’s regional development spokesman. Business confidence is “plummeting”, and he wonders if this is happening because Shane Jones is attacking business leaders.

Pity the poor board member, the unloved chairman, the lonely chief executive, scraping by on a few meagre million, respected by no one, sadly stirring their own instant coffee in the nation’s lunchrooms. How must it feel to have a politician say things about them that don’t begin with “Fonterra is” and end with “a gift from God and a national treasure”.

If the standard of our business accomplishments were poor, then perhaps the minister might be justified in gently and respectfully questioning the wisdom and direction of business leadership.

But really who can gainsay the mighty performance of the likes of Fletcher Building, where 4229 people earn over $100,000 and 46 pull more than $400,000 and only one of their divisions has managed to lose nearly $1 billion in the past two years. Honestly, it was just the one division and who among us doesn’t drop the ball now and then?

And who could seriously question the astuteness of management at Fonterra, where they managed to hold losses to the January half year to just $348 million after writing down their investment in Chinese company Beingmate by $405m?

Only the meanest-minded person surely would look at such a business and say “gee I don’t know, it just seems like they could do a bit better”. Sure, you might know someone who works there who is gobsmackingly incompetent, and sure you may have met people who’ve worked there who say they couldn’t believe how poorly managed the place was, but this is surely just anecdotal and means nothing.

Here’s the thing about New Zealand: Our businesses are run by visionaries of the highest capability. This is why we enjoy a standard of living that is the envy of the world. It would be churlish and disrespectful, frankly, for us to look askance at their work.

Mr Jones surely knows this and respects their boundless talent. This will be just some sport; a bit of biff, a helping of the old media how’s-your-father. The Toblerone will wear off soon and he will resume the respectful cutting of ribbons in the manner we expect of an elected representative of the people.

David Slack is an author, columnist and speechwriter. He was speechwriter for prime ministers Geoffrey Palmer and Jim Bolger.

By: David Slack

Source: RNZ

Link: https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/on-the-inside/359629/jones-vs-fonterra-pity-the-unloved-chairman

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