Applications open for Trans-Tasman agribusiness management programme

Derek and Bronnie Chamberlain
Bronnie Chamberlain (right), along with her husband Derek (eft), completed the first module of Rabobank's Executive Development Programme in 2018, describing it as a "game-changer" for their business.

Applications for the prestigious Rabobank Business Management Programmes have opened for 2019, with the Farm Managers Programme – the course for up-and-coming young farm leaders – returning to New Zealand for the first time in a decade.

Todd Charteris, Rabobank
Todd Charteris.

Announcing the opening of applications for this year’s intake for the two residential programs – the Executive Development Programme (EDP) and the Farm Managers Programme (FMP), which are designed for progressive New Zealand and Australian farmers looking to take their businesses to the next level – Rabobank New Zealand chief executive Todd Charteris says it is fantastic news to have the Farm Managers Programme returning to Kiwis shores for the first time since it was last held in Christchurch in 2009.

This year’s FMP – a programme developed for younger farmers looking to enhance their management capabilities – will again take place in Christchurch, from June 23 to 28.

The EDP – which caters for experienced business owners or senior managers – runs as two modules (a year apart) and this year will be held at the Macquarie Graduate School of Management in Sydney with the first module running from August 25 to 30 and the second scheduled for July 2020.

Charteris says there is a strong appetite for ongoing business education among Kiwi farmers, with close to half of the 1,200 graduates from both programmes over the 20 years since the EDP was launched coming from New Zealand. The FMP has been running since 2006.

“New Zealand farmers are extremely progressive and have a strong drive to continually improve their knowledge and develop their businesses, and this has been very evident in the enthusiasm they have shown for the business management programmes,” he said. “This year, young farmers interested in attending the FMP will have the opportunity to do so right here in New Zealand.”

Charteris says it is: “possibly more important now than ever for farming businesses to invest in the management skills of their people.

“While Rabobank expects another strong showing from New Zealand’s agricultural sector in 2019, with commodity pricing, weather conditions and the exchange rate all anticipated to align in New Zealand’s farmers’ favour, there are also several downside risks,” he said. “These include concerns over the Chinese economy and the potential trade fallout from the US-China trade war and Brexit.

“While you can never fully future-proof farming businesses from these types of risk, many can be managed through strategic long-term planning. The programmes equip participants with knowledge in topics such as financial and risk management, strategies for growth, negotiation, leadership, communication and innovation.”

Charteris – himself a graduate of the EDP – says another key benefit is the interaction with other farmers, with the relationships formed on the programmes often continuing long after their conclusion.

“The residential aspect of the programme allows participants the opportunity to build a strong network of like-minded farmers from across New Zealand and Australia,” he says.

“In many cases, relationships started on the programmes endure far beyond the completion of the course with the regular Business Management Programme alumni events providing an ongoing opportunity to re-connect with other graduates.”

EDP “game changer” for Southland farming couple

Bronnie Chamberlain, along with her husband Derek, completed the first module of Rabobank’s Executive Development Programme in 2018, describing it as a “game-changer” for their business.

The Chamberlains are the owners and directors of West Range, a 2,300-hectare property in Eastern Bush, Western Southland. The original farm was established in 1913 by Derek’s grandfather and, over the decades, numerous farming properties have been purchased and sold to build the farm to where it is today. The main income streams for the business are derived from bull beef and lamb fattening and some dairy support.

Bronnie Chamberlain says the couple decided to apply for the EDP after it was recommended by members of a national farm discussion group, of which they are part. She loved the strategic planning component of the course and says that the content from this part of the program has frequently been referred back to in the months since the couple returned home.

“This really helped us to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the business and our opportunities for growth and, with us both doing the course, it was quite interesting to discover that Derek and I had quite different opinions on where this business was at,” she says.

“By going through this process, we were able to share with each other our different views and better understand each other’s way of thinking and what we could do to improve the business.”

The couple also found the programme’s SMART (Specific, Measureable, Achievable, Realistic, Time-bound) goal-setting session extremely valuable.

“On the course, we went through the process of putting SMART objectives in place for our business and this really helped us to commit to what we are doing since we’ve come home and made us take a bit more responsibility for our actions,” she says.

As a result of information presented at the programme, Chamberlain says, the couple had made a number of immediate changes to their business operation including a greater emphasis on time management and business efficiency.

“We’re now at the stage where we are focusing on what we put our time into and what low return activities we actually spend less time on. We’ve also recently brought in new software and systems to improve access to information and this has meant that staff meetings are a lot more effective and efficient,” she explains.

In addition, Chamberlain says, the Executive Development Program had prompted the couple to seek additional outside help with business decision making and are providing the advisors with the business plan and budgets beforehand so they can see the trends in the business.

“With this additional information, these meetings have been much more effective,” she says. “We’ve found it really useful to have another set of eyes looking at what we are doing and challenging us on the decisions we are making.”

Applications for the FMP close on Friday, March 29 and the EDP on Thursday, April 26. Further information and applications can be found at https://www.rabobank.com.au/agribusiness/business-management-programs/.

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