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Safeguarding the Australian Pork Industry with Proactive Leadership

4 July 2019

In a global industry, already crippled by the effects of African Swine Fever in China, Rhys Collins, Executive General Manager at SunPork Fresh Foods, has big plans to ensure the sustainability and value of Australian pork. 

Since the virus outbreak in December last year, the Chinese pig herd – once responsible for 50% of the world pork supply – has decreased by 30%.

“Pork is a small industry in Australia compared to China. We need to learn from the situation over there and develop effective strategies that will protect our producers and the integrity of our pork.” 

Rhys has worked for SunPork Fresh Foods for over 15 years in almost every department. Working through the company ranks, he has witnessed many different leadership styles and, along the way, developed his own effective approach to leadership. 

“A leader is someone who can empower and provide positive influence to people. In an industry that is facing uncertainty and threat, it’s important that we have people coming through the ranks with proactive approaches.”

Since graduating from the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP), Rhys has implemented learning and development plans to help SunPork Fresh Foods employees not only grow their skills but understand the difference between a good manager and a great leader.

“Leadership isn’t something that’s awarded as a job title. It’s something that’s developed from understanding the value of positive relationships and stepping up to the plate when needed. It’s important that SunPork has a focus on developing effective leaders who can adapt to challenging situations.”

Whilst on program in the Kimberley, Rhys had what he refers to as his “light-bulb moment”.

“I was making rush decisions with a desire to win all the challenges. This resulted in my team getting lost in the caves and a member of my team having a panic attack. I realised that you need to have an enhanced level of awareness to be a leader – both personally and in relation to others. You need to be able to reflect on how you’re feeling and consider the opinions and feelings of others as well.”

To combat the topical African Swine Fever issue, Rhys is collaborating and working with others in an Australian Pork Limited (the pork industry peak body) group.

“We’re currently holding regular meetings and advocating for increased government support. We need to place a higher focus on government policies around border control and consider the potential risks of pork imports coming into the country.”

“To put things in perspective, Australia’s annual pork production can be consumed in China in just 58 hours. Our export industry cannot withstand an epidemic like African Swine Fever affecting the volume of our pork. The strategies that we’re working on are centred around sustainability for each part of the value chain.”

Rhys attributes his experiences on the program to being able to think collaboratively and inclusively within his role at SunPork Fresh Foods. Leaning on his ARLP Alumni network to discuss both universal and more industry-specific ideas has been instrumental in his proactive approach to facing the African Swine Fever issue. 

“Going through the program, I was able to make many diverse and genuine connections with people.  These connections have proved very powerful in my role at SunPork and as a I continue to face both expected and unexpected challenges within the pork industry. Valuing the power of relationships is critical to being part of a progressive and sustainable industry.”