Maybe that’s a sign of new-found maturity and a welcome move away from the overtly political atmosphere that appointed director Sir Ralph Norris referred to in his address. Speakers recognised those presenting the opposing point of view, farmer directors and appointed directors were praised alike for their contributions to the co-op and their ability to take it forward successfully. Due credit was also paid to management and staff.
This is in stark contrast to the acrimony of some previous annual meetings, where shareholders used the occasion to hit out at their fellow farmers, directors, the government of the day and their policies as well as the scapegoats of the moment. As another appointed director, Ralph Waters, commented, it’s sad to see Fonterra owners beating it up when the rest of the world recognises the co-op for the success that it is. At last there seems to be more emphasis on debating issues internally and attempting to come up with a solution that will satisfy the majority.
The next big test has to be the governance review, where a lot of attention will be focussed this year. Not only does Fonterra have to get this right, it has to be seen to get it right by way of moving with the times as well as holding on tight to the cooperative principles so many hold so dear.
And its increased emphasis on the environmental challenges that all farmers face in one way or another won’t be without its stresses and strains. While some might champion more of the stick than the carrot approach which has been used in recent years, there’s always the danger of a public backlash fuelled by environmental groups eager to prove their point.
When Fonterra has the respect of all New Zealanders, that’s when it can truly enjoy wearing the mantle and responsibility of being the country’s most important business with true pride.