Kiwi dairy and seafood leaders claim Rabo agribusiness awards

Rabobank ag leadership wins to talented NZ achievers

New Zealand North Island dairy farmer, Mat Hocken.

New Zealand North Island dairy farmer, Mat Hocken.


The big Rabobank Leadership Awards event has celebrated its 20-year history with a NZ dinner, where locals scooped the pool.


Kiwi candidates have taken out both honours in the trans-Tasman awards which recognise exceptional leadership in the food and agribusiness sector.

New Zealand dairy farmer, international rugby talent and Cambridge University graduate, Mat Hocken, and Namibian-born scientist, turned chief executive officer of NZ's largest seafood company, Volker Kuntzsch, have been named, respectively, as emerging leader and leadership winner at the 2019 Rabobank Leadership Awards.

Mr Hocken, who worked in Australia for almost five years before returning to his family's 1000-cow Grassmere Dairy in lower North Island, is the first young New Zealander to win the Emerging Leader Award.

Coincidentally, the leadership winners were announced in Auckland on Thursday night.

20-year celebration

It's the first time the big awards dinner has been held outside Sydney or Melbourne in its 20-year history of recognising leadership achievement in the Australian and NZ agribusiness sector.

A contingent of about 60 Australians made up about a third of those representing farm sector companies and farming businesses from both sides of the Tasman at the gala event.

The annual awards are judged by an independent panel of former winners.

Presenting Rabobank's flagship Leadership Award, the bank's Australia and NZ managing director, Peter Knoblanche, described Mr Kuntzsch as a hugely deserving recipient, who had made an enormous contribution to that country's seafood sector as CEO at Sanford since 2014.

Prior to arriving in NZ his international track record spanned more than 25 years in the seafood industry, starting as research scientist in South Africa.

Under his leadership, Sanford had transformed from a bulk seafood commodities player to focus on high-end consumer goods, while also becoming a major advocate of fishing industry sustainability.

Volker's extensive industry experience and his natural ability to bring industry participants together have seen him play a major role in the evolution of NZ's seafood industry - Peter Knoblanche, Rabobank

Mr Kuntzsch previously held senior industry leadership positions, such as president of Nippon Suisan (US); president of King and Price Seafood Corp (US); global marketing director for Nippon Suisan Kaisha (Japan); managing director at Hangana Seafood (Namibia), and senior roles with Unilever in Germany and Britain.

Recent business developments achieved in NZ included the introduction of innovative fishing and farming practices to help maintain fish stocks, lift product quality and reduce environmental impacts.

Volker Kuntzsch, Sanford.

Volker Kuntzsch, Sanford.

"Sanford has also shifted the supply chain focus from fishing, fish farming and processing towards the needs of customers and consumers," Mr Knoblanche said.

"Volker's extensive industry experience and his natural ability to bring industry participants together have seen him play a major role in the evolution of NZ's seafood industry, starting in the late 1990s when he visited NZ while working for Unilever and convinced the industry to go for Marine Stewardship Council certification."

Emerging leader, Mr Hocken, 41, returned to the family farm in 2013 having previously worked in Europe, and for the Australian Export Finance and Insurance Corporation.

Mat is one of those exceptional emerging leaders whose combination of business, technical, interpersonal and entrepreneurial skills, plus academic and sporting success - Peter Knoblanche

He has since grown the enterprise and made his mark as an industry leader locally and nationally.

A former NZ age-grade rugby representative, who also played for the Belgian national team, Mr Hocken spent 11 years overseas completing a Masters degree in political science and government at Cambridge and working in government and industry consultancy roles.


Mr Knoblanche said Mr Hocken was "one of those exceptional emerging leaders whose combination of business, technical, interpersonal and entrepreneurial skills, plus academic and sporting success were sure to see him become a significant influence in NZ agribusiness".

"Mat joined Grassmere Dairy during a period of tough economic conditions and, with the support of his wife Jana and family, has navigated succession challenges and implemented lean business management into the operation," he said.

He had also made a significant contribution to his local Manawatu rural community, and nationally.

Mr Hocken is a Nuffield scholar, a joint-founder and chairman of the Rural Innovation Lab, an advisory board member of Massey University Business School and a director of MyFarm investment syndicates in the apple and kiwifruit sectors.

He is a former regional dairy chairman of NZ Federated Farmers and an associate director of the NZ Rural Leadership Trust.

"Across his various industry roles, Mat has shown he has the ability to bring together a broad collaboration of people - from farmers, Maori agribusiness representatives, technology companies, researchers, corporates and start-ups - to focus on helping solve the challenges facing NZ's food and agriculture sector," Mr Knoblanche said.

"He's an exceptional young agribusiness leader who has a passion for the industry as well as a desire to keep learning."

Making a difference

Leadership winner Mr Kuntzsch said he enjoyed using his management skills to build trust and make a difference in people's lives.

"It's not necessarily about me leading all of the change, but about assembling a team of people who understand what needs to be done," he said.

"For me, bringing people together with different capabilities and nurturing their progress towards a common goal is the most fantastic thing."

Emerging leader, Mr Hocken, said he was fortunate to have a supportive family network and a great team on farm, which enabled him to pursue a number of off-farm projects."

"I'm also lucky to have to worked with a number of great people throughout my career overseas and here in NZ," he said.

The Nuffield network had also guided, inspired and encouraged him to take on leadership positions.

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