Success tips from Agribusiness Leader of the Year 2011

We profile Robert Radford from Radfords – a Gippsland family-run meat processing company with an annual turnover of $30 million.

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What are the traits of an effective – and profitable – agribusiness leader? We ask Robert Radford, Agribusiness Leader of the year 2011 and Managing Director of Radfords – Gippsland’s only large-scale domestic abattoir.

Established by Robert’s father in 1946, Radfords processes 80,000 cattle and 120,000 sheep and lambs each year. In the two decades since his appointment to the top job, Mr Radford has grown the business eightfold.

Factor in weather

To be an effective leader, know your variables so you can make knowledgeable leadership decisions, notes Mr Radford. The critical element that differentiates agriculture businesses from others, for instance, is weather. “During a decade of drought, agribusiness had to contend with numerous supply issues – lack of water, de-stocking, rapidly escalating feed costs and so on,” he points out. “Insulating your agribusiness against unreliable weather and longer-term climate change are stay-in-business strategies.”

Walking the talk, to accommodate climate change, Radfords has slashed electricity consumption by 4 percent, gas by 30 percent, fuel by 19 percent and water by 44 percent since 2005.

Globalisation advances

The rise of globalisation has altered the organisation’s leadership strategies over the years. “Since I assumed leadership of Radfords, changing economic circumstances – for the better or worse – have been a constant, mostly driven by Australia’s ever increasing participation in, and exposure to, international markets,” he says. “This has intensified my essential strategies of keeping informed, valuing the good advice of others and adopting innovation to facilitate business growth.”

Resilience and risk management

Building and maintaining good relationships with external influences, particularly bankers, is essential to offset risk, says Mr Radford, as is making hay while the sun shines. “Be aware that there are particular times for expansion, profit maximisation or conserving resources until the business cycle peaks again,” he says.

Continually research, too. Know what’s happening in the market, he adds.

Planned market expansion

Along with organic growth, Radfords has developed products to win niche market share. The business is exploring entry into Tier 1 exports (essentially offal products and halal markets) but its continuing assessment of the market indicates that the timing is not yet right to activate its plans.

Championing best practice

Business sustainability ultimately depends on environmental sustainability and this philosophy has been at the forefront of the organisation’s decision making, particularly in the past seven years. Steps taken to improve environmental sustainability have attracted both grants and accolades, such as NAB Agribusiness Awards.

“Over the past decade or so, 10 of the 12 meat processors in Gippsland have closed, while Radfords’ investment in innovative technology, people development and environmental sustainability has seen our business flourish.”

Impact of NAB Agribusiness award wins

Winning both the NAB Agribusiness Leader of the Year and NAB Environment and Energy Management Awards has attracted significant media publicity, which Mr Radford says has led to increased sales and international inquiries.

Taking out the awards have been pretty good for staff culture, too, he adds. “Working for an abattoir isn’t perceived to be the most glamorous job in the world and winning these awards confirms for our employees that Radfords is a good business to be part of. The award wins also enhance our efforts to create a workplace culture where every employee looks for ways to improve our performance.”

Top seven leadership tips for agribusiness

Consider implementing the following in your daily working life, suggests Mr Radford.

  1. Champion a climate change plan.
    Plan ahead to economically insulate your business against climate change.
  2. Accept that you don’t – and can’t – know everything.
    Look for, and adopt, advice from others. Internally, encourage input from staff and act on it – don’t just pay lip service. Externally, seek advice from government agencies, industry bodies, bankers, accountants and consultants on issues and opportunities within their area of expertise.
  3. Continually drive innovation. 
    Don’t rest when you have success. Keep researching, developing and/or adapting methods and technologies that will help either growth or efficiency, or both.
  4. Build enduring relationships.
    In particular, nurture links with banks and regulators. If you encounter a business problem, let them know what it is and develop a plan on how they can help you to fix it.
  5. Network.
    Be an active participant in both industry and broader business and community networks – they can be great sources of information and opportunity.
  6. Be socially responsible and let everyone know that you are.
    Being a good corporate citizen is much more than donating a few dollars to the local school or footy club. It demands that your business decisions and actions show an awareness of community.
  7. Stay informed about the changing landscape (natural, corporate, political, economic).
    In this way, you can act to take advantage of change, rather than react to what has become a problem.

Find out more about the NAB Agribusiness Awards