MLA shake-up underway

23 Oct, 2014 01:00 AM
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MLA managing director Richard Norton.
Show me a plan that says this is where the red meat industry and consumer demand will be
MLA managing director Richard Norton.

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.”

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READER COMMENTS

Realist
23/10/2014 4:39:59 AM

Time will tell whether the proposed restructure is serious or just a sham, I suspect the latter. Firstly mandate direct elections for directors not the present jobs for the boys mentality. Current elections are similar to the Russian and Chinese democracy. Secondly, a national ballot of producers, one vote per producer, to determine the amount of the levy, similar to wool growers. Unless both these conditions are satisfied nothing will change and the gravy train will roll on.
ibeef
23/10/2014 6:14:56 AM

There are still plenty of people at MLA who must go. Imagine the return on levy investment we could achieve if we (producers) controlled our own money. Currently MLA gets the money then wastes it on promoting 'brand MLA'. Then they hire ex MLA people as consultants to do work because MLA staff are too busy protecting themselves. This is a flawed model. Industry must take control of the money and the process, employ passionate people with the skills to ensure the money is spent wisely and hire people on a contract basis to do the work that is necessary.
angry australian
23/10/2014 7:08:58 AM

"MLA creates opportunities for livestock supply chains from their combined investments to build demand and productivity","MLA provides services, tools and information that create tangible benefits for livestock producers that flow back to the farm gate.", from the MLA site. How?Where? The MLA has received how many $billions in levies and taxpayer funds and yet red meat consumption drops in Australia. Until these levies are tied to genuine productivity and profit gains farmers are entitled to be upset.taxing producers who may not be profitable to prop up a bureaucracy is a disgrace
Barcoo Battler
23/10/2014 7:38:58 AM

All this is irrelevent IF Joyce has the guts to act on the Grassfed Senate Inquiry results. Why did we have the 8 month circus and all the senators who got a $21K pat in the back pocket to travel the country! CCA support 2/7 Recs (one of which was Rob Moores PPP plan-and they only did that because they knew that by dumbing the tender down to an inquiry to see if we need an inquiry- they would have nothing to fear from their masters). Agforce Cattle support 1/7 Recs. This must mean that the "shopfronts" support ONLY 14% of the grass root producers views.
angry australian
23/10/2014 8:20:17 AM

Isn't is strange that chicken with 2 major processors and a myriad of minor ones, but no overarching compulsory industry or government body can out market the MLA who have hundreds of millions of industry $ at their disposal? Industry should be demanding a cost/benefit analysis of groups like MLA, sacking 28 is just rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic
Bushfire Blonde
23/10/2014 12:17:46 PM

When Twiggy Forrest sells his iron ore to the Steel makers, does he pay for the advertising of motor cars, white goods, building materials etc. that are made out of this iron ore? I very much doubt it and nor should cattle producers have to pay for the advertising of meat. The ones who are profiting very nicely from the supply of cheap cattle should pay for it.
Philip Downie
23/10/2014 3:22:54 PM

IBeef I don't believe you hire contractors unless it is for a one off, but agree you hire passionate people. BB that is correct we had a 10% drop in price in a week people say supply/demand but they don't forewarn you before the sale, so they just want them cheap its not about over supply. To add insult we help pay for their marketing campaigns. MLA show us a tangible benefit at the farm gate, it wont be $/kg live.

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