Developing agribusiness leaders

Shane Bodiam reflects on the Australian Agribusiness Leadership Program (AALP) he undertook last year and how it was about the journey, not the outcome.

Like most participants, finding time in his diary to undertake the three-session AALP in 2016 was difficult for Shane Bodiam, Chief Operating Officer of Hassad Australia. Despite the short-term pain, he made the commitment to join the first AALP program.

“Life is chaotic at the moment, but I just jumped in,” Shane explains. “The company was in the middle of a transition with our new CEO, John McKillop, commencing only a few months earlier”.

“Being in a senior leadership role, it was a pretty hectic time to go into a program that starts with four days away from your phone, but it was important to the company and to John and I that I do this, and really embrace expanding my own network.”

Shane says a little courage and pushing from John McKillop paid off, thanks to the dramatic change of pace the program enforced.

“I’m someone who believes change has to be embedded, and I was surprised how much the AALP managed to embed key principles in communication and planning in just a short time,” he says.

“The first session, where we unplugged and really were outdoors, facing challenges and brand new group dynamics, was different for everyone.

“I remember on the third day the penny dropped for me that it wasn’t about the outcome, it was about the journey we went on through each of those activities.”

It’s an approach Shane recently deployed during Hassad Australia’s annual management conference.

“I used some of those key concepts around embedded learning. We’re always trying to instill ‘business thinking’ into our farm managers, and we all see thousands of spreadsheets a year and presentations full of financial acronyms,” Shane explains.

“I reversed that dynamic and placed people in groups that were very diverse in terms of their skills and perspectives,” he says.

“We bused the group over to a Hassad property, and the teams had to report on steps they would take to improve the business. It was about trying to create an unfamiliar environment through an activity where you apply a little heat, but ultimately people walk away understanding what all those acronyms mean in a practical sense. It was really successful.”

Shane grew up in the small town of Trangie, in Central New South Wales and he has been involved in family and corporate agriculture since graduating from the University of New England with a Bachelor of Rural Science in 1993.

From the very beginning his passion lay in operations, so when he received an Auscott scholarship prior to his studies, he leapt at the chance to learn from a leading agribusiness.

“Auscott is a wonderful example of a successful corporate business. Their core values around engaging the industry in which they operate, supporting research and development and developing people are values that we would like to emulate at Hassad Australia,” he says.

“When you start to be involved in anything of scale, it’s fairly daunting because of the complexity, and you very quickly learn that you have to keep breaking down the business into its basic parts, because there’s always so much happening. You have to have good people working each of those parts to make it all come together.”

This point was reinforced during the time Shane took to complete the AALP.

“My time away from work reminded me that things do keep turning over without you, so it’s important to make sure you’ve shared the right information with your team and have the right systems in place.” He says.

Since starting work with Hassad Australia in 2011, Shane has focused on driving a sustainable, successful path for the company. To do this, he has drawn on years of experience.

“There are always a lot of things outside your control, but it’s about trying to create that framework so that people are aware of the right basis on which to make their decisions. People development and succession planning coming through will be very important for us.”

His own development is something Shane acknowledges sometimes took a backseat to the day-to-day responsibilities of work.

“I’m now starting to look at opportunities I haven’t previously had the time for,” Shane says.

“Because I do see myself continuing in senior leadership, I know there are still areas I need to develop my skills in, everyone has weaknesses.”

Through the close bonds quickly forged with his AALP cohort, Shane says he valued the chance to receive honest feedback.

“The big take-home for me was communication. In the business world, we’re all extremely busy, which can stand in the way of bringing your team along. The caterpillar game is one I reflect on often”.

He cites a visit to Westpac’s innovation space, the ‘Garage’—designed to foster the rapid development of new ideas—as a highlight of the second session.

“It was an excellent concept, which really resonated. I’m sitting in my office now surrounded by whiteboards as a result of that,” he says.

“We use them a lot in terms of really trying to understand exactly what the challenges are as we come up with solutions.

“The AALP brought home the importance of asking ‘why are you doing something’? It’s no good creating an impressive spreadsheet if the right planning hasn’t gone into it.

“Since the program I am keeping some notes under a ‘reflections’ tab. It’s usually along the lines of ‘slow down, make sure people are engaged, make sure people understand why’.”

Shane says the program was an invaluable chance to compare notes with other senior agribusiness leaders.

“Our group engaged very closely. My network has expanded as a result of the AALP, and I know I’m able to draw on this resource for advice. The network will only grow over the years, which is very encouraging to know.

“It’s amazing the leaders you run into who have been through an ARLF course,” he says.

On the personal front, Shane also noticed that work-life balance was a theme common to AALP leaders.

“Everyone emphasized the importance of balancing family time,” he says—a resolution that will be applied as Shane prepares to coach his son’s rugby team this year.

He is also stepping into more situations where he is a spokesperson for the mission and the ethics of the business he represents.

“I’m enjoying being exposed to different forums and the chance to speak to new audiences,” he says.

Hassad Australia’s cropping and sheep production takes place on 14 property aggregations across five states, totalling around 300,000 hectares.

“Sustainability is naturally a huge part of our business, it isn’t enough to just look at margins,” Shane says.

“Every business has its core aims, and we are a sovereign wealth creator for a foreign entity, we set ourselves the highest standards.” He says.

“We live and operate in rural communities and we constantly have to ask whether we are making sure we engage our local communities and stay connected. For our company, it is not about who I am or who our CEO is, it’s about the people on the ground in each local area. They are ultimately our face. It’s about making sure they’re aware of that framework that we work in, and how we can and can’t operate.”

It’s with these complexities in mind that Shane says Hassad Australia will continue to invest in developing its leaders through the AALP.

“We’ve identified someone for this year’s course, and I think the experience will bring out parts of their personality that I’d like to see develop. I’m looking forward to watching them evolve.”

Article may be reproduced and distributed. For high resolution images, please contact Monique Brouwer on 0400 913 813.

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