BY Christmas, Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) will have 28 fewer staff than when its new chief, Richard Norton, arrived in June - and a new approach to business.
Mr Norton said MLA is “about 80 per cent of the way there” in its quest to cut $6 million from operational costs, “and that’s just with people and process”.
“We haven’t dived into efficiencies,” Mr Norton told Fairfax.
“That means there’s quite a bit to go in terms of reviewing international markets, the on-farm team and the corporate services team.”
Mr Norton admits the line at the exit door means “that morale at MLA is certainly not at an all-time high”.
The view from inside MLA is less euphemistic. One senior staff member, who calculates that about 400 years of combined experience will leave MLA in the second half of 2014, doesn’t think morale has ever been so low in an organisation.
But the door isn’t just swinging one way. This week MLA announced that Stephen Potts will become the organisation’s chief operating officer on November 3.
Mr Potts is moving to the job from his current role as chief financial officer and company secretary with the Sheep CRC. He previously spent six years in finance management roles with BHP Billiton.
MLA’s internal restructure is the first step toward reforms which, if they succeed, will make the company under Richard Norton unlike anything that has gone before.
Along with a more cost-effective organisation, the new managing director is on a quest to build transparency to its levy payers into MLA’s DNA.
That will be apparent to producers attending a pre-AGM roadshow scheduled to run through Queensland late this month, where Mr Norton will be on the stump to outline his vision for the MLA extension model, among other things.
“The model is around MLA being able to stand up, hopefully after 12-18 months time, and be able to say that the only research and development projects that we’re doing come from grassroots consultation or the beef industry strategic plan,” he said.
MLA staff are currently talking with the North Australian Beef Research Council (NABRC) and potential members of NABRC’s intended southern counterpart, to build the feedback system that will inform MLA’s R&D program.
Similar thinking is being applied to the organisation’s communications and marketing teams, the first to be pulled apart and rebuilt as part of the restructure.
Mr Norton said he has asked for the organisation’s customer relationship management (CRM) system to be updated, to better segment levy payers by region and production system. That’s already there to a degree, Mr Norton said, but not the extent he would like, because he wants to build MLA’s producer-focused communications around it.
“Guys in Far North Queensland don’t want to be reading through MLA Feedback on what the latest innovations are in the lamb industry,” Mr Norton said.
“What we do in comms has to be reporting how the levy is being spent in your production area - then you understand what is actually happening.”
The marketing team is being similarly challenged.
“I’m challenging them to give me some data that enables Australia to capture the global demand for beef and lift the domestic price for cattle,” Mr Norton said.
“I’ve tipped the model upside down and said to the marketing team, demonstrate to me that we’re getting the best return on investment with data and evidence, and show me a plan that says this is where the red meat industry and consumer demand will be this year, next year and in three years.”
Some of that forward thinking will be driven by a new Consumer Insights team, a response to last year’s systems review that took MLA to task for not providing adequate “thought leadership” to industry.
The Consumer Insights team will be asked to advise industry on future trends (and distinguish trends from fads), “so industry can structure itself around defined strategies”.
“MLA produces a lot of information, a lot of data. I want it packaged so it’s there to provide some leadership to industry, to say that this is where you should be concentrating strategies to get the best value.”
“That’s what we’re about now: putting the levy payer at the centre of everything we do, and making sure that there is adoption out of our R&D and real outcomes out of our marketing activities.”