THERE was a changing of the guard at CBH Group last week after Cascade and Dalyup grower Simon Stead was appointed chairman of the board, with the new leader stating he was "disappointed" that Wally Newman decided to resign from his role as a director.
Mr Newman had been a part of the CBH board for 20 years and acted as chairman for six, however he decided to step down at last Wednesday's board meeting, effective immediately.
Mr Stead said he had a close working relationship with the outgoing chairman and thought he still would have added value to the board.
"In the discussions about the timing on when the transition to a new chair would take place, Wally made it clear that if that was to be sooner, he thought it best he was no longer there," Mr Stead said.
"Going into the board meeting I was aware of his stance, that if he did not remain as chairman he would stand down as a director.
"I do appreciate why he did it, he was very clear that he thought if he wasn't going to be the chair going forward, he would give me all the space I needed to take on the leadership role without feeling he was looking over my shoulder or pulling the strings."
The top two positions are elected by the board and were up for election following grower director elections earlier this year.
Natalie Browning, who runs a continuous cropping operation on her property at Kondinin, was elected deputy chairwoman after joining the CBH board as a member director in February 2018.
Farm Weekly asked Mr Stead, Ms Browning and CBH if any other directors, including Mr Newman, nominated for the chairman's position, but they didn't comment, saying it was an internal board matter.
Ms Browning said she has a great amount of respect for Mr Newman.
"Wally was the chairman when I came onto the board, I absolutely respect his decision to step down and fully support him and want to acknowledge what he's done for our co-op over the past 20 years," Ms Browning said.
"He provided a lot of support for me when I first came onto the board, as the first female grower director, Wally went above and beyond to support me, my children and my husband."
With Mr Newman's seat on the board now vacant, the co-operative has two options - either hold a bi-election for a casual vacancy or have the board appoint someone to take that position.
Mr Stead said that decision would be made at the next board meeting.
"Wally stepping off the board was not expected and we need to take the time to process that bit of information and form a collective view on the best way forward for replacing him," Mr Stead said.
"It's best not to rush the decision, we've got a myriad of other things going on in the business, not least the coronavirus which has meant all of our meetings this week have taken place via Skype."
With fresh leadership in place, the board has renewed focus on the core which is the storage and handling and marketing and trading businesses.
Mr Stead said for him, it was imperative to keep driving the network strategy, which was adopted several years ago, and get the bulk of that work completed.
"Growers need to bear in mind that the strategy on the network is a rolling plan and as the production and trade of the WA crop changes we're adapting that strategy," he said.
"It's pretty heavy in capital spend in the front years but that's to get the network built that we believe will best serve the growers in adding value to the crop.
"That is the main focus and there are lots of smaller issues around the side that we'll deal with, but it's imperative we stay focused on building the network for growers."
Ms Browning said it was a massive privilege initially to be elected onto the board by growers and a further privilege for her peers to put their confidence in her to be their deputy chairwoman.
"When I did get onto the board as the first female grower director, I felt it came with a great level of responsibility and thought it was really important that I did a good job in the role," Ms Browning said.
"I thought it was important that women understood it's been a role that I've loved doing, I've really enjoyed it and it's been a great environment to work in.
"Being deputy chair comes with a great level of responsibility which I take very seriously and I'm really looking forward to building up a good rapport with growers, working collaboratively with management and having a unified board that operates in a professional manner."
The next CBH board meeting will be held via video conference in early June.
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