Improving governance with fresh eyes 

Michael Bell, Managing Director of Fiber Fresh, discusses appointing an independent director through IoD's DirectorSearch.

A Rotorua family business opened its doors to good governance because it makes sense, adds value and will help them grow to new heights.

“The idea was a bit daunting,” Fiber Fresh Managing Director Michael Bell says of appointing an independent director onto his company’s board.

“Bringing someone we didn’t know into the working secrets of our 30 year old family business was something we had to think about seriously. It is a big undertaking opening that door. But once we started the process our confidence grew, it just makes sense now. Why wouldn’t we?”

Fiber Fresh, a world leader in fibre nutrition for calves and horses, currently employs around 50 staff and exports from its New Zealand manufacturing base to a growing number of countries, including Singapore, Malaysia, Hong Kong, Korea, Japan and the Middle East.

Initially advised by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise that it needed to consider appointing an independent director if it wanted to continue to grow and develop, Fiber Fresh contacted the Institute of Directors (IoD) to ask about DirectorSearch and took the leap.

“Like most small businesses we initially didn’t know where to go or how to do this but understood why it needed to happen,” Mr Bell says.

“The bigger we get the more common sense it becomes, because it’s about practicing good governance. The calibre of the directors the IoD provided us with was unbelievable. Anyone on the short list would have been perfect, and it’s amazing that those people wanted to be on our board. The process has given us so much confidence.”

The IoD maintains New Zealand’s largest database of independent directors, and helps companies match individuals’ skills and experience with their specific business needs.

“We are approached by a broad range of organisations looking to appoint one or more independent directors to their board. Family businesses in particular are seeing the benefits of having independent and objective views, to assist them in meeting their needs,” IoD Board Services Advisor Kelly McGregor says.

“It’s about bringing confidence to our investors, banks and the government agencies funding us. I think a board member coming into our family company is going to add value, because they’re coming from an independent background,” Mr Bell says.

“We work with clients to determine their criteria and use this to provide a long list of suitable candidates for consideration. We can also assist with the overall appointment process and regularly participate on selection and appointment panels to provide an objective view.”

Experienced Tauranga director and IoD Chartered Member Grant Jeffrey was chosen by Fiber Fresh. His first board meeting was in September.

Mr Jeffery says having an independent eye on a company is not only comforting for shareholders but also gives external stakeholders more confidence.

“Independent directors bring fresh viewpoints to a board and thus enhancing the board’s ability to make strategic and operational business decisions that maximise the value of the business,” Mr Jeffery says.

“I have a global sales and manufacturing background reaching back to 1991. Along with these skill sets, I continue to be part of my family businesses, hold Directorships on other medium sized companies, all of which allows me to bring those dynamics and experiences to businesses such as Fiber Fresh”.

Mr Jeffrey was also appointed to the board of Jenkins Group Ltd via the IoD DirectorSearch service last year.

Fiber Fresh says they’re looking forward to what happens next.

“It’s about bringing confidence to our investors, banks and the government agencies funding us. I think a board member coming into our family company is going to add value, because they’re coming from an independent background,” Mr Bell says.

“It’s about setting up structure, having fresh eyes and involvement from a high level professional outside of what we know. It’s important as he will hold us to account and make us more astute in governance.”

For more information about DirectorSearch, click here.