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10Mar

Recognition for hard mahi

Words by Brett Haldane

 

Ruralco Chair Jessie Chan describes her contribution to any leadership team as being a person who always looks for the ‘reality check’.  While clearly qualified to be leading strategy, considering opportunity or risk, and reviewing financial performance, Jessie is very focused on people - their day to day lives, and the work they do.  “I think I bring a grounded view of the realities of life, after all, every facet of any business involves working with people, we’re all different, and we all have different needs.  To run a business well, it’s vital to have the right commercial drivers in place, but it’s really important not to lose site of the people and cultural drivers”.  

These principles Jessie attributes to her father’s influence, and it was through him that she first experienced farming.  “Dad had a portable sawmill and he used to take us to farms, mill their shelter belts and make timber for them.  Because he was a solo Dad, raising the four of us, during the holidays we’d end up kicking around farms with him”.  So, it’s in his memory that she now dedicates her recent appointment as a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit for her services to Dairy and Agriculture.  Jessie was deeply humbled to be included in the New Year’s Honours list, and now looks forward to being invested by the Governor-General in May.

While Jessie admits to being surprised by the nomination, it is a recognition of an industry contribution, through management and governance roles, that spans over 20 years.  Originally from Palmerston North, her early working life included time in the Fonterra Research Institute laboratory and MAF Biosecurity, before moving on to Federated Farmers as a Policy Advisor and then Policy Manager in Wellington. “I learnt a ton about the regulatory system, how we can positively influence policy, and how legislation is created. But importantly, I also learnt a great deal about farming, because I met with farmers across the country, from all walks of life”. 

Jessie now lives in Rakaia, home to her two boys Adam and Noah.  The move was originally due to a change in vocation; in 2009 she became a share milker, and eventually leased a 420ha dairy farm in Dorie.   Passionate about the industry, she joined Federated Farmers as sharemilker Chair for Mid Canterbury, - progressing through a series of local and then national executive positions.  While representational by nature, her time in these roles with the Federation marks the beginnings of Jessie’s governance experience. 

Her first professional Directorship occurred in 2013 when she joined the Ruralco Board.  Now our Chair, Jessie also fulfils directorships with Ngai Tahu Farming, Alpine Energy and Bio-Protection Aotearoa.  She also is a Trustee of ‘Meat the Need’, a charitable organisation providing meat for food bags going to families in need, and in 2017 she was named Fonterra’s ‘Dairy Woman of the Year’.

Reflecting on her career, and the New Zealand Order of Merit, Jessie Chan feels privileged to be, in a position to advocate for the primary sector. 

She uses her involvement with Te Hono, a leader and partnership forum for the primary sector, as an example.  “It’s important that people attending the forum understand that, while it’s fantastic to have ambitious goals for the primary sector, we need to consider how farming businesses can be supported to transition.  It’s great to talk about carbon neutral exports and premium overseas markets, but let’s bring it back to the farm, the hard slog and the daily challenges, and understand how we get to these big visions from there”. 

Jessie is also vocal about legislative change, and a lack of consultation. “Government are not thinking through policy very well at the moment, and it’s having a detrimental impact on businesses”.  She talks about businesspeople feeling that they’ve lost their voice, over a wide variety of issues, and encourages Government to engage.  “Stop and have a conversation, actually listen to those doing the hard mahi, and let’s work together so that New Zealand Inc gets the outcomes it needs”.

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