Hooray Henry? No, there's plenty still to do

ANDREA FOX
Last updated 05:00 11/02/2013
STILL WORKING HARD: Sir Henry van der Heyden, 55, intends to keep up his current pace of  work until he is 70.
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
STILL WORKING HARD: Sir Henry van der Heyden, 55, intends to keep up his current pace of work until he is 70.

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Right off, Sir Henry van der Heyden and I put our lists on the table in the boardroom of Tainui Group Holdings in Hamilton. Mine comprised typed reminders to ask him - things like, "What were you thinking being a stock exchange director when your Fonterra farmers were beating their co-operative chests?", and, "Did you really act like some dairy industry godfather?"

His was two handwritten pages, one particularly busy and headed "Future". You just knew whose list he would find more interesting.

Van der Heyden is serious about his lists. He is a man who owns up to being driven by objectives and achieving them.

The Waikato-born engineer and owner of four dairy farms finished on December 17 as chairman of New Zealand's biggest company, Fonterra. It marked the end of 20 years' service to the $14 billion dairy industry. Then, he sat down and wrote his objectives for January, his holiday month.

"One was to catch 40 to 50 trout at Tarawera. I'd hit 47 by the end of January."

While "connecting again" with family and friends at home on Rotorua's Lake Tarawera - he spent about 100 nights a year away from home during 10 years heading Fonterra - van der Heyden said he also thought about what he was going to do for the next 15 years.

He is 55, and has resolved to "work at this pace" until he is 70.

"There are just two big drivers for me now - family and friends, and New Zealand Inc. I'm going to fill my time absolutely to the maximum with the right balance between chairmanships and directorships."

Family, he says, is his first touchstone, New Zealand Inc next.

"Now I'm going to join them together. Ultimately, I want my grandchildren in New Zealand. We have to create something for our grandchildren so they want to be here. You'll see me crop up in places that define New Zealand."

This week he was made an independent director on a new Foodstuffs company, Kiwi-owned operator of the New World and Pak 'n Save supermarkets.

This post will fulfil his New Zealand Inc appetite for a while, he says, given he is the new chairman of Tainui Group Holdings (TGH) - an organisation with big plans - a director of Auckland Airport, and Rabobank New Zealand and Australia, and a director of Fonterra till May 31, as well as guiding private business interests in New Zealand and overseas.

It is time, he says, to repay people who have been "uncompromising" in their support of him. Top of this list is his wife, Jocelyn, who has never complained about the workload that has kept him from his family for big chunks of each year, or about the incessant phone calls when he was home. As a farmer-elected director of Fonterra, he had to be available to its 10,500 shareholders.

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He intends putting his time back into helping his four adult children "reach their potential". Two are in the dairy industry. He has four grandchildren - so far.

"There are also friends that have supported me, some outside agriculture, that I will help in any way I can. That's my payback to them - it's very important to me.

"Tony and Megan Jones started on our farms 20 years ago. They've looked after all of them, so I owe them. I am going to put some energy into helping them now."

Expect van der Heyden to become a big noise in the rise of Maori business. He is fizzing, in a focused, steely way, about heading TGH, the commercial investment and development arm of the Waikato Tainui tribe with assets of more than $600 million.

Of Dutch heritage, with a Maori grandchild, he is picking Maoridom to have a huge impact on the direction of New Zealand and to be a big part of the economy in 20 to 30 years. Many people, he suspects, are oblivious to the likely scale of that impact.

"And TGH will be a core part of Maoridom. I felt this before I took on the role. Maoridom feels very similar to the dairy industry of the past, and - I am being respectful here - Maoridom can achieve what Fonterra has achieved.

"The opportunities are the same, the disciplines needed are going to be exactly the same. What dairy is to New Zealand, Maoridom will be to New Zealand in 20 years' time. And I want to help shape that," he says.

Van der Heyden has proved a master at unifying disparate interests - not without controversy and not without making himself unpopular - and shepherding them in the direction he wants to go. In the dairy industry, cases in point were the 2001 unification of three vastly different commercial cultures - Kiwi Dairies, New Zealand Dairy Group and the Dairy Board - into the juggernaut that is Fonterra, and the introduction of share trading among farmers (Taf), with its $525m initial public offering which, for a period, carved deep divisions within the co-operative, setting farmer against farmer, and farmers against directors.

Now, he is shepherding among Waikato Tainui. In a speech last week at Turangawaewae Marae in Ngaruawahia, van der Heyden urged the tribe and its layers of hierarchy to simplify governance structures and management to return more money and benefits to Tainui's 63,000 tribal members. "It's no different to simplifying the dairy industry structure to benefit farmers [as we did]," he says.

To make tribal members more prosperous, Tainui must have the correct governance and processes.

"For TGH to be able to meet its business objectives, we need the support of the other stakeholders of Tainui because today the capital sits in different places.

"Maybe I was a bit hard [in what I said], but it's much better for it to sit in one place and TGH is the right entity. For that to happen, we have got to engage with other stakeholders. To have much simpler governance processes will benefit tribal members but it also puts more responsibility on TGH, but all capital needs to sit with TGH."

Why would he want to start another long and difficult journey banging heads together?

"I like doing the hard stuff. I'm going to put the majority of my effort and time into it. It's a challenge but it all comes back to what drives me. I want my grandchildren in New Zealand, and New Zealand has to resolve these issues."

Industry chatter that Fonterra was "the Henry van der Heyden show" and that he was hanging on until May because he just cannot give up his baby was "absolutely wrong".

"I can't wait until May 31 so I can get on with my career. Once again, that's politics - playing the man, not the ball. It's the thing that lets the dairy industry down."

Van der Heyden has heard, and weathered, all the accusations - that he influenced farmer elections his way, that he was a master at manipulation - "that's an insult!" - that he spent most of his career trying to demutualise the co-operative, that he drove it relentlessly towards the NZX.

He says it is all arrant nonsense, the result of co-operative company politics, and "like water off a duck's back". He has a tough hide, he says.

There have been "bugger-all" lows, though the 2008 melamine baby-formula poisoning scandal in China, which drew in Fonterra's joint venture Sanlu and killed several babies, did affect him.

Van der Heyden's resilience to "dirty dairying politics" could be partly because he is "solution-focused". "What defines me is, if someone is telling me about a problem, I am clicking into a solution, never the problem."

This could help explain why he joined the NZX board as a director in 2005 and stayed until 2009, apparently oblivious to how it looked for a staunchly farmer-owned co-operative wrestling with a capital restructure debate to have its leader at the top table of the stock exchange.

Van der Heyden explained he was developing his governance skills and, yes, politically, it was not the best time to do so.

"But it is the right decisions that drive me. It was the first time in my and Jocelyn's life that she was disappointed in me."

He counts the launch of Taf as a high of the Fonterra job, and plays down the prospect that its success has created the share redemption risk it was designed to eliminate.

Was it all worth it?

"Absolutely. I can honestly say I woke up every morning before the alarm really looking forward to going to work. I looked forward to making a difference.

"A lot of value has been created for our farmers. That is what motivates me - our farmers, Fonterra and New Zealand Inc, which becomes very important for me now."

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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