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In our Ideas that Grow podcast, brought to you by Rural Leaders, we draw on the insights from innovative rural leaders.
Hamish Murray is a high country sheep and beef farmer and a 2019 Nuffield scholar. File photo
Reading Time: 8 minutes

Hamish Murray talks to Farmers Weekly editor Bryan Gibson about how adversity and getting out of the way has helped both him and his team grow.

Listen to the podcast, or read the transcript below.

Bryan Gibson (BG): Kia ora, you’ve joined the Ideas that Grow podcast, brought to you by Rural Leaders. In this series we’ll be drawing on the insights from innovative rural leaders, to help plant ideas that grow, so our regions can flourish. Ideas That Grow is presented in association with Farmers Weekly. You’re with the Rural Leaders podcast, and this morning I’m talking to Hamish Murray. How’s it going?

Hamish Murray (HM): Good. Thanks, Bryan. And you?

BG: Yeah, very good. Thanks. Bit of rain up here in Horowhenua, but not too bad.

HM: We started with some rain this morning, but it is clearing slightly.

BG: Fine, very good. You’re in Marlborough, is that right?

HM: Yeah, we are an hour south of Blenheim, and 45 minutes north of Kaikoura on the east coast, inland from Kekerengu.

BG: And what keeps you busy out there?

HM: We’re a high country sheep and beef farm that stretches into the Clarence valley homesteads about five minutes off the coast and goes all the way into the base of Tapuae-O-Ueneku. So in the Clouds valley, it’s about 35km to the back boundary. We run Merino sheep, Angus cattle and have about 800 beehives.

BG: Awesome. How have things been going this year for you?

HM: We’ve had a great season, about 300mm of rain through late January into early February. I mean our autumn’s been incredible – stock are in good condition and we’re just about through the bulk of our work now. Um, yeah, starting to quiet down for the next six weeks before we look at shearing ewes at the start of August.

BG: Yeah, very good … I noticed from your bio, you went to Oxford, Cambridge, one of those ones [universities]?

HM: Ah, yeah. Cambridge University. Yeah, I suppose like most farmers, when you’re one of those sort of rural kids, you are told to get out and go and do something other than agriculture. And so I spent a lot of my former years kind of trying to give myself an opportunity to do anything other than be a farmer, but, you know, I was sitting on a train on the way to a job interview in London after finishing or graduating from Cambridge that I realised actually that’s not what I wanted to be doing. I really wanted to be back in New Zealand, you know, grow, chasing stock around and being part of the farming community and giving our children the opportunity to grow up with those same experiences as we had. 

BG: How was your time at the UK university? It must have been quite cool, quite eye-opening.

HM: Yes, I was very fortunate to get the opportunity to study there. And I played some good levels of sport playing in the varsity [rugby] match on a couple of occasions and studying economics. And yeah it was an incredible experience. It pushed me mentally, as far as I could have been pushed, you know, just the expectation to perform, or, you know, to be part of that was a great challenge and yeah I thoroughly enjoyed it. I do look back on it very fondly.

BG: Awesome. Now, obviously, um, a few or two or three years ago, 2019, you went through the Nuffield scholarship programme?

HM: Yeah, again, I was very lucky and fortunate to be given the opportunity to do some travel. But I felt that when I was [previously] in the UK, I was on a student budget, so I didn’t really get the opportunity to do the travel that I would’ve liked while I was there. And so the Nuffield scholarship, you know, gave me the opportunity to look at agriculture in all different parts of the world with a whole lot of like-minded people. And yeah, that was equally an incredible experience that I am very, very lucky to have had the opportunity to do.

BG: Now you chose to take a look at the sort of the marketing end of your honey and some other stuff?

HM: Naturally everywhere you go, you get the opportunity to see all sorts of different businesses. But for me, my topic was more around teams. And what made, you know, businesses successful or workplaces more enjoyable and engaging for staff. You know, you’re always looking at New Zealand products abroad and things, but specifically for me, I had a real challenge kind of about five years after coming home from overseas. You know, we had a significant drought in Marlborough, North Canterbury, and it pushed me to that, you know, kind of an emotional breaking point. I’d played top level sports, I knew physically how far I could push myself and studying at Cambridge I’d reached that mental breaking point … but I’d never had an emotional kind of breaking point, like this drought caused, and I’m not unique in that everybody has these challenges, but for me at that time, I exhausted myself trying to keep our team and our staff and our family around me going. And, and that was a significant point for me, which focused me with some help on how to better lead myself. And that then grew over the next couple of years as we recovered from that into, um, how to better lead our teams and things. And so my focus at the time of Nufffield was around, you know, productive, efficient, effective teams and what makes those places more engaging and motivating for staff to work in. And then I was lucky enough with Nufflied to look at businesses all around the world that were held up in these pillars and what made them different, what made them tick, you know, and what that might mean for the future of work in New Zealand and the ag space, especially.

BG: So can you talk a little bit about who you looked at and what are some of the keys to building a successful team?

HM: Yeah, absolutely. So with my travels I got the opportunity to see businesses in the Netherlands healthcare industry that had developed their self-managing teams called Buurtzorg. I spent time in the Silicon Valley looking at a lot of the tech companies, you know, why does Google, or Apple [and others do what they do] – what’s the process, what’s the culture in the startup industry in California and San Francisco? And then also, everywhere I went, [I was] looking at teams and what was making them successful. And then also coming home, I spent time with the Crusaders looking at what made them slightly different. How have they been able to win multiple challenges, multiple championships over the same time, seemingly pulling from the same talent pool as the rest of New Zealand, you know, what makes them slightly different? So, yeah, it was fascinating.

BG: And were there sort of some, you know, takeaways from that, which obviously can be applied to the agriculture situation? What sort of changes did you end up making, say in your own business to overcome the sort of challenges you had with the drought?

HM: Uh, well, a lot of what I learned was building on those challenges that we had been working through … you know self-awareness was a huge one and time building self-awareness together as a team was hugely significant for all of these businesses. They found their own individual ways to work together on the soft skills that make teams work together. You know, people don’t leave a job necessarily because they don’t like it. They leave the job because they don’t like the boss or their workmates and things like that. Whereas so much of what we focus on is the technical stuff that goes with doing the job, rather than actually working on working together and how to best understand the individual attributes that people bring to that team. And, you know, so the little things, as simple as how do people like to be, like to learn, how do they like to communicate? You know, what do I look like, for example, what do I look like on a good day? What do I look like on a bad day and, and how to, how to come up with strategies as a team to overcome those things?

BG: … You mentioned the Crusaders and Scott Robertson’s approach to coaching and team culture and that sort of thing. And he seems to, you know, find out, as you say, the best way to do knowledge transfer, basically, depending on that person’s sort of mental makeup and that’s kind of part of the success, I guess, isn’t it?

HM: Absolutely. They, um, you know, simple things like, um, if one example for me was the Crusaders, every business or every, you know, Super Rugby franchise has their values or rugby team generally has their values on a, on a big print, somewhere in their change room that everyone sees them. And it’s just kind of the way that people do it, but you know the same franchises or businesses have their values displayed, but the real gold comes from when you spend time each year or relatively regularly enough to work out with people, what those values look, sound and feel like rather than, um, you know, everyone can see honesty or whatever it is that is the values of your team. But until you dig deeper with your individuals and as your team, the people in your team change, you know, what does that, how does that look, sound and feel like each, you know, for those particular people at that time? And that’s when that’s the real difference that makes these things come alive and become more of a, uh, an ingrained part of your culture.

BG: Excellent. I mean, it seems, um, sadly that, um, you know, the world we live in, whether it’s the weather or the economy or that sort of thing, it seems to be becoming more challenging for both individuals and workplaces. So this kind of approach and strategy, if you are, you know, running a team is only gonna become more important, isn’t it?

HM: Yeah, well, you know, um, wellbeing and all of those things are, are important, but being able to bring your whole self to work is a kind of, you know, especially younger employees. And, and as you get away from the hierarchy of things, you know, people wanna be able to turn up. They don’t wanna be a different person to work as, as they are at home. And so, you know, how do you to, to truly understand people we’ve gotta listen and ask better questions and, and get to the bottom of you know, truly understanding them to make them to you know, to write a, safety or a, or a network of people around you that, that allows them then to flourish in the workplaces.

BG: So you obviously enjoyed the experience of going through the Nuffield program.

HM: Yeah, I couldn’t recommend it enough. It was one of the greatest challenges for me and the biggest learnings, you know, was all part of the process, but being able to set our business up or, or work with our team and, and create the opportunity for our, our staff to step into that space while I, so I could be away for, you know, five, nearly five months of the year. And they, they really flu, um, grew in that opportunity by me getting out of their way, but give them enough support. So I think that’s been one of the greatest experiences, greatest growth opportunities for me is, is, you know, creating the space for our team to step into. And then they’ve thrived in that, in that opportunity. And, and we haven’t kind of gone back to where we were before, so that has been significant and enjoyable for me. And when I look back on the opportunity, obviously, you know, the travel and the study and the, um, the opportunity to look and, and gain I many ideas from multiple different businesses all around the world was fantastic. But when I think back now a year on what the greatest significance has been has been the growth in our team and in our business because of being able to get my own ego out of the way.

BG: Mm-hmm.Yeah, of course. Um, among all of, all of what we’ve been speaking about, there was the earthquake down your way, too. That was obviously a massive challenge.

HM: Yeah, yeah. It was, yes. We had four of six houses rebuilt. Um, actually, while I was away, uh, my wife and three kids were living in a cottage while our house was being rebuilt. And so Jess managed to, um, kind of manage the rebuild look after three kids who were sort of five, three and one. And, um, and yeah, while I was travelling around the world, so there was lots of challenges in that. Um, but thankfully through that, and, and when I look back on it, you know, that’s all part of the, the, the growth that we’ve all been able to achieve because of it. So,

BG: Mm. Teamwork with the capital tier there, isn’t it. Good grief. Yeah.

HM: Yeah. Very, very lucky. Very grateful. And, um, I’ve yeah, it’s, it’s nice to be able to repay some of the, the, the faith that people have put in me to be able to give that opportunity. So,

BG: Thanks for listening to ideas that grow a rural leaders podcast in partnership with Massey and Lincoln universities, AGMARDT and FoodHQ. This podcast was presented by farmers weekly. For more information on rural leaders, the NHI, New Zealand farming scholarships, or the Kellogg rural leaders program, please visit

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