Alison Watters at LIC

November 2014

Science meets commerce when LIC appoints its first female board member

Dr. Alison Watters was recently appointed the first woman director of LIC, the farmer-owned dairy genetics company. She is very excited by the opportunity to use training and experience in a governance role for the company, which combines dairy genetics with dairy technology and automation.

Scots by birth and resident in New Zealand since the age of three, Alison attended Massey University to study agriculture and later went on to gain a PhD in human nutrition. She was Director of Human Nutrition at Massey between 2002 and 2005 and then worked for Fonterra commercialising food innovation between 2006 and 2011. Because of the demands of home, a husband and two teenage daughters, Alison resigned from Fonterra and after years of being involved in not-for-profit governance roles, started looking for commercial governance roles.

Alison and her husband Andrew went dairy farming in 1999, and in 2003 won the National Sharemilker of the Year title. They now own a 630 cow irrigated dairy farm in Wairarapa on the north bank of Ruamahanga River, south east of Carterton, and live on a family farm in Manawatu, where Andrew is executive director of MyFarm in Feilding. A Nuffield Scholar, Andrew’s previous dairy industry experience was as milk supply and then farm services manager for Kiwi Co-operative Dairies, a legacy company of Fonterra. 

The original dairy farm has been in the family for five generations, and was passed on to Andrew to farm with his uncle when Andrew’s mother passed away in 2001. Andrew and Alison bought the neighbouring farm in 2003, and combined the two properties in 2009. When they won the National Sharemilker of the Year title in 2003, they were sharemilking a 300-cow herd in Pahiatua in Southern Hawke’s Bay. At the time they were also sharemilking the family farm at Carterton and were preparing for their first dairy farm purchase in June 2003. Subsequently they bought the farm next door and combined the properties and built a new 56-bail rotary farm dairy in the middle. It is equipped with the LIC Protrack in-bail EID and intelligent drafting system.

The dairy farm has a 180ha milking platform and last season produced 249,000kg MS. It is managed by Wade Hamlin and Alison, Andrew and Andrew’s cousin Lorraine Wells have oversight of the farming operation working in conjunction with Wade and his team, and farm advisor Brian Clarke.

At home on a small farm at Colyton, Manawatu, the Watters have beef cattle and space for horses as they pursue their equine interests with all members of the family riding with the Rangitikei Hunt Club.

Alison’s keen interest in business decision making and strategy implementation stems from the couple’s national sharemilking win in 2003. The judges said their detailed business plan provided a clear direction for the farm business and was a key factor in their success. “They knew exactly where they were in relation to that plan and they knew how all the different facets of their farm operation contributed to that plan,” the judges said.

Alison is also a board member with financial responsibilities for Equestrian Sports NZ Eventing, a member of the Nga Tawa School Diocesan Board, a former board member of Carncot Independent School for Girls and has had management roles for the national dairy industry awards.

The voluntary governance positions have resulted from family activities, schooling and eventing.

After resigning from Fonterra in 2011, she planned to get more governance roles and move beyond voluntary to paid positions. She joined the Institute of Directors and has taken some courses, while watching the directorships being advertised. She is delighted to have been elected to the LIC board, but wasn’t motivated by being the first woman appointed. “That was not the point. A combination of my commercial, science and farming backgrounds gives me a unique set of lenses which will be of benefit to LIC.”

Her first impression of the LIC board is that the meetings are well chaired and well run with a good balance of experience and expertise around the table. Her own input from the science background will be useful and she will be able to play an active part. LIC has evolved its products and services to include not only animal breeding and genetics, herd testing and on-farm data collection through MINDA, but also better management packages for dairy farming and farm automation tools like Protrack. It has a large export business and new CEO Wayne McNee has said the company is aimed at $1 billion a year revenue by 2025, for which annual growth of 15% will be required, presently 10%. Revenue is over $200m and R&D over $20m.