15th an­nual Ker­ferd Ora­tion

Ovens & Murray Advertiser - - FRONT PAGE - By CORAL COOK­SLEY

BEGA Cheese ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Barry Irvin AM, has ad­vo­cated that the path for­ward to cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity in a trans­form­ing world em­braced change, col­lec­tive think­ing, shared val­ues and re­silience.

Mr Irvin who has driven the busi­ness’s growth since he be­came the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s chair­man 17 years ago, told a 300 plus crowd in a ho­tel au­di­to­rium to hear the 15th an­nual Ge­orge Briscoe Ker­ferd Ora­tion last Sun­day about his ‘all move­ment is risk’ per­spec­tive to ad­dress this year’s theme ‘rep­u­ta­tion, busi­ness and em­pa­thy.’

The chair­man who leads the $1.2 bil­lion food com­pany – one of five top Aus­tralian dairy com­pa­nies – said he also chaired Gi­ant Steps – a non­for-profit or­gan­i­sa­tion which aids chil­dren and fam­i­lies af­fected by autism.

He said ex­pe­ri­ences – as a boy who grew up on a farm in a small coun­try town, a move to the city to work in a bank, a re­turn to the fam­ily farm af­ter his father died, and later with an autis­tic son – helped shape his guid­ing prin­ci­ples in life.

Mr Irvin said change was risk but risk cre­ated op­por­tu­nity.

“I see change as won­der­ful – it cre­ated an op­por­tu­nity for me in build­ing a won­der­ful com­pany in Bega Cheese and a won­der­ful or­gan­i­sa­tion in Gi­ant Steps,” he said.

With ob­ser­va­tion of how teams and com­mu­ni­ties worked Mr Irvin recog­nised the strength of the col­lec­tive, and power of the in­di­vid­ual with a be­lief that suc­cess re- quired an open­ness to change in a chang­ing world.

Faced with dairy in­dus­try dereg­u­la­tion chal­lenges in 2000, he said as a young chair­man his dreams and fears at that time were shared with many peo­ple.

“Early mod­els and so­lu­tions were formed in the Bega Cheese net­work, in its of­fices, the lo­cal footy grounds and at the pub,” he said.

Fragility was a pre­ferred word to risk.

“If we think about cli­mate change as cli­mate fragility, or com­mu­ni­ties and our val­ues as frag­ile - we may think about them or pro­tect them more,” Mr Irvin said.

He said cul­ture, strat­egy and sup­port of one an­other in a large or­gan­i­sa­tion – vi­tal to suc­cess –re­lied on strong lead­er­ship to re­tain fo­cus and clear goals.

“That’s where my ap­proach to lead­er­ship be­gan.

“I be­lieve that in Aus­tralia, in our com­mu­ni­ties of fam­i­lies, friends, busi­ness and work col­leagues, we must be bet­ter at shar­ing our dreams and shar­ing our fears.”

Col­lec­tive thought helped find a so­lu­tion for his autis­tic son Matty – Gi­ant Steps in Syd­ney – where he has been chair­man since 2002.

“We al­ready knew the value of com­mu­nity, and a cul­ture was cre­ated where chil­dren and fam­i­lies from all walks of life could be helped,” Mr Irvin said.

He said cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity had to be who you were, what you stood for and what val­ues you built in a com­pany.

“Bega Cheese val­ues in­clude sup­port for each other, val­ued cus­tomers and sup­pli­ers, agility and tak­ing own­er­ship,” he said.

“With core be­liefs of work­ing to­gether, cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity comes nat­u­rally, per­vades the or­gan­i­sa­tion, and re­in­forces val­ues that make busi­ness stronger and strat­egy clearer.

“We stood by our val­ues and didn’t fol­low the two largest Aus­tralian com­pa­nies in the in­dus­try when they cut prices to dairy farm­ers last year.

“It in­volved tens of mil­lions of dol­lars for our com­pany.

“Val­ues, so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity and the lead that we took has yielded for the com­pany as much as the com­mu­nity.”

Among Bega Cheese de­vel­op­ments this year was a $460m ac­qui­si­tion that brought the veg­emite brand back to Aus­tralian own­er­ship.

Through years of work and build­ing rep­u­ta­tion, Mr Irvin said dairy farm­ers wanted to join the co-op­er­a­tive with share place­ments over­sub­scribed.

“Cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity re­flects in our val­ues,” he said.

“While some would say val­ues are an im­por­tant part of a busi­ness, l would say val­ues are our busi­ness and our strat­egy.

“Both Bega Cheese and Gi­ant Steps, cre­ated from chal­leng­ing cir­cum­stances, make a huge dif­fer­ence in the lives of peo­ple in the com­mu­ni­ties they op­er­ate.

“We know they are an ex­am­ple of re­silience, of em­brac­ing change, of be­ing open to new ideas.”

Mr Irvin was made a Mem­ber of the Or­der of Aus­tralia in 2008 for his ser­vice to the dairy in­dus­try, and to chil­dren with in­tel­lec­tual abil­i­ties.

ORA­TION NAR­RA­TOR: Bega Cheese ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Barry Irvin AM, talked about em­brac­ing change and op­por­tu­nity at the 15th Ge­orge Briscoe Ker­ferd Ora­tion last Sun­day at May­day Hills. PHO­TOS: Coral Cook­sley Pre­sen­ter of this year’s ora­tion medal Ge­orge...

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