Fonterra goes double-Dutch

Fonterra's new chief executive Theo Spierings has expereince in both the international dairy sector and farmer co-opertives.

The strong Dutch influence on New Zealand’s dairy industry continues with the recent appointment of Fonterra’s new chief executive Theo Spierings.

Spierings – from Holland – replaces outgoing chief Canadian Andrew Ferrier, who will step down in September after been at the helm of Fonterra for the past eight years. The new chief will join current chairman, and son of Dutch immigrants, Sir Henry van der Heyden at the top of New Zealand’s biggest company and the world largest dairy exporter.

New Zealand’s dairy sector has had a long association with the Dutch. Many immigrants from Holland came to this country in the 1950s and were attracted to the dairy sector due to its potential for rewarding hard work. This tradition continues today, with recent Netherlands arrivals such as Willy Leferink and Aad van Leuuwen becoming major players in this country’s dairy industry.

Spierings appointment may raise some questions about the depth of talent at the co-op and in NZ business in general. It may even provide a political platform for more xenophobic types like Winston Peters to query why a local has not been appointed to the role.

However, most rational people will see it is a good thing that Fonterra has attracted an international leader of the calibre and experience of Spierings to lead NZ’s biggest company into its second decade.

Spierings not only has experience in the international dairy sector, but also working with dairy farmers in a co-operative model. He was chief executive of Royal Friesland Foods and presided over that company’s merger with Campina to help form one of the world’s largest dairy co-ops.

This kind of international dairy sector experience and an understanding of farmer politics make him an ideal candidate for the Fonterra role.

Van der Heyden, and the others on the co-ops’ selection team, who chose Spierings should take a bow. It is an inspiring choice and we can look forward to the double-Dutch act taking Fonterra ahead during its second decade.