THE only retail-experienced voice on the Australian Wool Innovation (AWI) board hopes to continue being heard after the November 17 director elections.
With almost 40 years’ experience in retailing, fashion and the clothing industry, Colette Garnsey is one of five candidates for three vacancies on the AWI board and one of three current directors seeking re-election.
Who gets the positions will be determined by voting at the annual meeting in Sydney and by proxy votes completed and submitted by shareholders unable to attend in person.
Ms Garnsey is one of three candidates recommended by the AWI board nomination committee to shareholders in an information pack sent out with formal notice of the annual meeting on Tuesday.
The nomination committee chaired by former AWI board member Brian van Rooyen, vets each candidate’s skills.
It has also recommended shareholders return director James Morgan who manages Outalpa station north of the Barrier Highway in South Australia and is managing director of Mutooroo Pastoral Company which holds another five properties in South Australia’s north-east pastoral area.
But controversially, the committee recommended AWI consultant, Wool Exchange Portal (WEP) working group chairman Will Wilson, ahead of southern New South Wales woolgrower and former owner of Riverina Wool Testers Pty Ltd, Paul Cocking, who is seeking to return to the board.
Mr Cocking was first elected four years ago.
Fifth nominee, also not recommended by the nomination committee, is New South Wales wool broker Don Macdonald.
Mr Wilson has indicated he will step down from his WEP working group role if elected, Mr Macdonald has questioned Mr Wilson’s impartiality and Mr Cocking has said if re-elected he would nominate for chairman should the position become vacant but has ruled out a direct challenge of current chairman Wal Merriman.
In the run up to the annual meeting and director elections Mr Merriman, a co-principal in Merryville Merino Stud, Boorawa, New South Wales, also became embroiled in controversy after he covertly listened in to a sheep breeders’ focus group on genetics without permission, as it was being conducted by researchers for AWI in June, and later apologised.
His recent clash with a member of the media and access to proxy votes has also been questioned by some supporters of candidates not recommended by the nomination committee.
This week Ms Garnsey, who was first elected to the AWI board in 2011, adroitly side-stepped the controversies and declared support for Mr Merriman who has been chairman throughout her time on the board.
“Wal Merriman’s contribution has been extraordinary and is reflected in the current price growers are getting for their wool,” Ms Garnsey said.
“The Australian wool industry was valued at something like $1.9 billion in 2010 and now it has a value of about $3.3b.
“That is magnificent value creation.
“A lot of the credit for that is due to the vision Wal Merriman has for the (wool) industry and his ability to implement the vision.
“Having a vision is one thing, having the ability to implement it is quite another,” she said.
In August Ms Garnsey stood down as executive director of The Just Group owned by Solomon Lew’s Premier Investments, a role that had required her to travel extensively.
She had overseen Australian and New Zealand retail fashion, accessory, children’s and sleep wear brands Just Jeans, Dotti, Portmans, Smiggle, Jay Jays, Jacqui E and Peter Alexander.
She previously held senior management positions with Pacific Brands Underwear Group and David Jones Ltd.
In January she was reappointed for a further two years as one of 14 members of the Trade & Investment Policy Advisory Council advising Trade, Tourism and Investment Minister Steve Ciobo – she was a member of the inaugural advisory committee chosen by former trade minister Andrew Robb.
Until recently she was a Melbourne Fashion Festival board member (since 2006), has previously been a judge of the Veuve Clicquot Business Woman of the Year and a committee member of the Textile, Clothing and Footwear (TCF) Innovation Council (since 2010).
She has a bachelor of business degree from Sydney University of Technology and completed her education at Stanford University Graduate School of Business, California.
She said stepping back from business commitments would allow her “to do some other things that I’ve been wanting to do”, including devoting more time to AWI’s business.
As one of only two women on the AWI board – the other, Dr Meredith Sheil is a specialist paediatrician, medical and veterinary research scientist – and the only board member with extensive retail experience, Ms Garnsey said she believed she had made a contribution and could continue to do so.
“I think my consumer contacts and insights (and) my experience with retail markets was the reason I was approached to join the board in the beginning,” Ms Garnsey said.
“To be successful you have to have a market for your product.
“The marketing of the fibre is what really drives the wool price (for woolgrowers).
“I believe I have a contribution to make.”
Ms Garsney said the future for wool was very vibrant
“There is an emerging really strong middle-class in China that recognises the quality, the value for money, the prestige and all of the natural benefits associated with wool,” she said.
“There has been a lot of investment on the processing side too in China and I’m very pleased to see how much of the clip that is sent to China now is retained there and processed for its own fashion labels and retailing.
“Previously a lot of wool was sent to China for processing and they were re-exporting a lot of it.”
Ms Garnsey said her particular retail and marketing experience, and the experience of other directors, had helped the AWI board “spot” the new trend towards active wear or athleisure clothing very early on and decide to support it.
This had enabled AWI to establish critical strategic relationships with companies developing new wool and wool blend products and opening up new markets, she said.
“There are some very exciting things happening for wool in America at the moment with new projects.
“Because of our corporate associations AWI has been a part of that development and innovation,” Ms Garnsey said.
While her career has focused on producing a garment and marketing the finished product to consumers, Ms Garnsey admitted her affinity with wool was more than a fixation with fashion.
It stemmed from growing up as a girl in country New South Wales, the daughter of a Dalgety stock and station agent.
“My grandparents were woolgrowers and I still have cousins involved (in the wool industry).
“I do have a family connection with wool.
“Yes, I have that emotional connection with it,” she said.