Murray McPhail introduced New Zealand to broccoli and bagged salad in the 1970s.
Now the Gisborne founder and director of LeaderBrand has been recognised for his contribution to the horticulture industry by being named a Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the King’s Birthday Honours.
Never one to seek the spotlight, McPhail was quick to play down his achievements, saying his success was down to a team effort.
“I’m incredibly honoured and it is a real privilege to receive such a prodigious award for doing something that has never felt like work,” he said.
“There are so many people who have gone before, and who are still active in the industry, who are equally deserving.
“I humbly accept this award on behalf of all of them.”
McPhail started LeaderBrand from scratch and turned it into one of the country’s largest produce businesses. It now operates farms in Tairāwhiti Gisborne, Matamata, Canterbury and Pukekohe. The company is the largest private sector employer in Tairāwhiti.
McPhail said the company as a team had achieved so much and “I’ve just been there by name”.
“To me the success of LeaderBrand is all about its people. I started off growing plants but ended up growing people, something I’m very proud of,” says McPhail.
Horticulture New Zealand president Barry O’Neil says McPhail’s honour reflects his contribution to horticulture and his investment in, and support of, regional New Zealand for almost 50 years. “LeaderBrand was the first to introduce bagged lettuce to New Zealand as well as provide a 200% guarantee on all its produce. He is also credited as introducing broccoli to the New Zealand palate.
O’Neill said McPhail is a visionary leader, innovative and not afraid to take calculated risks. Throughout his career he has employed thousands of people.
LeaderBrand CEO Richard Burke said McPhail’s vision to create a world-class farm continues to drive the team.
“Murray’s success was in realising quickly which produce grew best in which soil and committing to crops that could be grown all year round. He also had a knack at picking future consumer trends and predicting what Kiwis were going to want to eat in the future. This was one of the key drivers to our investment into bagged salads and our undercover greenhouses.”
McPhail has faced plenty of challenges.
In 1988 Cyclone Bola destroyed his farm. Cyclones Hale and Gabrielle also affected the business but “it was this pioneering spirit and the Kiwi can-do attitude that drove us once again to dig in”.
“Murray has led the industry for 50 years and built from scratch one of the largest produce businesses in New Zealand. He’s been at the forefront of new product and process development in New Zealand produce industry and one of the many reasons he was awarded the country’s highest horticultural achievement, the Bledisloe Cup, in 2016,” Burke said.