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Richard Young: From the shearing board to the board table

By Institute of Directors
10 May 2019
read time
3 min to read
Richard Young profile photo

For most people, shearing may be an unlikely starting point for a career as a director. But that is exactly what Richard Young did. For Richard, who chairs Pomahaka Properties Limited and is an elected director of Silver Fern Farms Cooperative Ltd, having an open and enquiring mind are most important in dealing with the changing context of governance. We spoke with Richard and he shared with us his governance journey, his passions and why he values being a Chartered Member of IoD.

Tell us a little bit more about yourself

My background has been focused very much on the agricultural and agri-business sector. Along with my wife Keri, we farm a 300-ha sheep/beef and cropping property in West Otago. Over time we have diversified our farming operation both on our property but also in a wider sense. Farmers are now running complex businesses often across multiple sectors which prepares us well for stepping into governance roles. I studied at Otago University graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce in Economics. Following that I went shearing with the goal of purchasing a farm which we achieved six years later. Our children are all based in Dunedin with my eldest son Sam being a mechanic. Our daughter Alice is studying human nutrition at Otago University and our youngest Tom is in year 12 at Otago Boys’ High School.

Tell us about the boards you are involved in and what you like most about their work

My interest in governance was initially sparked at a local level through school board of trustees and administration positions with golf clubs and regional associations. Farming businesses are intrinsically linked to the companies and cooperatives we supply and those who we purchase goods and services from. The decision to stand in a Silver Fern Farms (SFF) election was fuelled by a desire to grow long-term sustainable value for SFF, its shareholders and rural New Zealand. I joined Silver Fern Farms Co-op board six years ago as a farmer-elected director. Since that time, SFF has been restructured. SFF Ltd is now in a market-leading position with a strong capital base, thus allowing our customer-focused strategy to come to life. SFF Co-op partners with Chinese company Shanghai Maling, as a 50% shareholder in SFF Ltd. I currently sit on the boards of both SFF Ltd and SFF Co-op and was recently elected by my colleagues as Chair of SFF Co-op.

What skills do you think are important for directors to have, given the changing context of governance?

For me the changing context of governance does not considerably alter the skillset that a director needs. Basic attributes such as integrity, commonsense, critical thinking, passion and work ethic are still the most important. When you consider the issues such as technological disruption, climate change and the like, being of an open and enquiring mind are the most important when dealing with such issues.

What do you think is the biggest challenge for directors?

At a high level two things spring to mind and they are somewhat linked. First, “not seeing the wood for the trees” ie. we focus too much on the here and now at the expense of the big picture and future. Second, trawling through the multitudes of publicly available information and distinguishing the credibility of it when forming an opinion or view.

What are you passionate about outside your governance work?

I am passionate about advancing and training young people in agriculture. Our business continues to be involved with Telford Rural Polytechnic both with having students on farm and through the Future of Food network. I also enjoy following our children’s sporting endeavours and rekindling my competitive nature on the golf course when time allows.

What do you enjoy most about being a member of IoD?

The courses offered are wide and varied and enable you to tailor a program suited to your own stage on your governance journey. Director briefs are timely and informative as is Boardroom.

What do you do to keep on top of your game?

Draw on the experiences and expertise of those I admire and respect. Keeping up to date (reading widely) and pondering what the outcomes of various events may mean at a macro and micro level. Keeping fit, enjoying life and focusing on what I am most passionate about.

What particular IoD courses did you find really helpful? Why?

All courses I have participated in have been beneficial both from a content perspective but also from a networking angle. The chairing the board course is a highlight — great group of people — and for me the ability to focus on the specific skills needed to advance into a chair role should the opportunity arise.

What do you think is the value of being a Chartered Member of IoD?

The process to become a Chartered Member enables you to stress-test your thinking and capability. It may well uncover areas where you can then upskill.

What’s the best advice you’ve been given as a director?

Be true to yourself, back your ability and the diversity of thought you offer. The collective decision making will be better for that.