20 March 2015

Alliance a global business with Southland heart

The Southland Times

David Surveyor looks at Alliance Group as a global business with its heart in Southland.

The newly appointed chief executive of Alliance has been up and down the country meeting farmers, colleagues and industry group representatives, and visiting plants as part of familiarising himself with his new business.

In December Alliance announced he would replace Grant Cuff, who spent nine years in the role.

“I’m really trying to talk to people and understand the business. I’ve tried to spend a lot of time with farmers over the last month,” Surveyor said.

The feedback he had picked up was about drought, further north of Southland, and price schedules, with questions around why there was so much price movement and what was happening in international markets, and why there was sometimes different pricing for different farmers.

Alliance needed to provide more clarity around schedules and pricing, he said.

“I think we can do a better job of explaining that.”

People seemed reasonably pleased with Alliance’s response to the heavy demand at plants in the early to mid season, and that demand was starting to ease a little, Surveyor said.

There were a lot of positives around the business, including terrific plants like Lorneville and new technology being implemented on the likes of the packaging side of the process.

Surveyor said his CV showed he had a pretty good demonstrated ability to provide business growth and had managed a couple of business turnarounds as well. He had worked both in developed markets and in less developed markets, in Asia.

Alliance had its heart in Southland, but it was a national and international business and as a reasonably international executive he felt well placed to lead the co-operative.

Surveyor was previously Laminex executive general manager, a subsidiary of Fletcher Building, and had previously held roles with BHP in Australia and Bluescope Steel in Malaysia. He was born in Wales and raised in Western Australia, before working on the east coast of Australia. Among his broad boardroom experience was a short stint as a director of Dongwha, which has a plant near Mataura.

“Fundamentally I’ve always been interested in agri-foods businesses and this is a business that ultimately has global demands for protein which are good ... I reckon it’s impossible not to be excited about the challenge of running, and leading, the improvement of a global business.

“This is a business that is important to the lives of farmers. This is a business that’s important to agriculture and ultimately it’s a business that’s important to New Zealand.”

Surveyor’s family is based in Christchurch, and he will commute between the two centres. He is married to Mirjam and they have three children, aged 6, 11 and 13.

As far as outside interests go, Surveyor said the 24/7 nature of the job did not allow for a lot of down-time, but spending time with family was a priority.

“It keeps you grounded and stops you being a big head.”

Outside of that, Surveyor is passionate skier and is hoping to be able to check out some of the South Island’s fields during the winter seasons.