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Fonterra’s Wendy Paul appointed Growing Future Farmers’ new CEO

Growing Future Farmers is pleased to announce the appointment of its new CEO, Wendy Paul. Transitioning from her senior role as Director Culture and Wellbeing at Fonterra, Wendy has been chosen to lead the programme into the next phase of growth.

In one sense, Wendy’s move from a corporate like Fonterra to a community-focused organisation represents a significant shift. In a deeper sense, leading the Growing Future Farmers (GFF) programme is the fulfilment of her passion for the sector. What attracted her to the role was the chance to directly impact the industry at a point of strategic need.

“I’ve had 18 great years with Fonterra and have worked across the entire agrisector value chain,” she says. “During that time, I’ve talked with many farming families around kitchen tables, and I’ve heard what matters to them.

“One thing has stayed with me: they are worried that the next generation of family don’t want to continue the tradition of farming. I saw more than a few tears over that potential break.

“That’s why I went for the CEO role at Growing Future Farmers. GFF is providing career pathways for succession and intergenerational stability in our farming communities. I want to help them do it.”

A solid foundation of progress already exists within GFF. From the original 2020 pilot programme involving 10 students, the 2022 intake stands at 60, and in 2023, 80 students are expected to take up placements on 80 farms in 10 regions across the country.

Further growth is needed and the GFF board believes Wendy has the experience and credibility to take the programme through its next phase.

“Wendy has the team-building skills to lead our 10 regionally-based liaison managers,” says GFF Board Chair Brad Tatere. “From her corporate experience, she knows how to maintain relationships with key stakeholders, and with GFF there are quite a few: students, farmers and farm managers, Government departments and industry-based programme funders.

“A lot of people have to be on the same page for GFF to continue its growth and success. Wendy is the person to help them share the same purpose and work together.”

For Wendy, the next phase of progression has several clear markers. To date, GFF has developed career pathways in sheep and beef, but an appetite for succession planning exists across other sectors. Wendy knows the work of GFF has caught the attention of several industries.

“Succession planning is a problem across many sectors and dairy, horticulture and viticulture are saying, ‘Please bring your student development programme over here’. My role will be to help GFF upscale to meet these wider needs.”

With her experience in a company the size of Fonterra, Wendy knows the importance of scalability for expanding the reach of a vision. She also knows that the operational model of the organisation is a key to sustaining rapid growth.

“GFF operates with a very good regional model, and there is such authenticity with this approach. We need to consider how we’ll keep our person-to-person connections while operating in a way that makes expansion sustainable. I’ve been involved with challenges like this before, so I believe I can lead GFF through this growth phase.”

During her 18 years in the agrisector, Wendy has worked offshore with consumers and is adamant that New Zealand farming offers the world a unique value proposition: grass-fed, sustainable farming from a country that really does care about the land and the animals.

For GFF’s new CEO, bringing young people into the agrisector is a key to keeping that proposition alive and well.