15th annual Kerferd Oration
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...