New Fonterra CEO: 'I am connected with the business 24/7'

New Fonterra CEO: 'I am connected with the business 24/7'

Theo Spierings says IT is 'extremely important' to maintain competitiveness.

New Fonterra chief executive Theo Spierings says information technology is “extremely important” to maintain market competitiveness for the company. At a press briefing on his first week on the job, Spierings, joined by Fonterra CFO Jonathan Mason, outlined IT’s role in the dairy giant’s supply chain, and providing critical data to staff and customers.

On his personal experience with technology tools, Spierings says he walks around with “two blackberries and laptops”, which was in stark contrast the first time he visited New Zealand in 1994 without these devices.

“The world is at a much higher speed and if you miss out on that speed, or if you don’t connect, then you are going to drop out or be at a competitive disadvantage,” says Spierings.

Spierings sees social media as vehicle to promote Fonterra, but is not big on using it personally. “I don’t have the time for that, but am I connected with the business? Yes, 24/7.”

CFO Jonathan Mason says business is still about people and relationships but information systems are an important part of the business world today.

He says Fonterra is currently upgrading its systems, and this includes consolidating the systems for Australia and New Zealand and deploying new modules from SAP for planning and streamlining and automating its supply chain.

Fonterra is also working to get information to staff and customers through different devices. “The old school was PC… the new school is, you want it [data] on your iPhone, in different devices.

“We are working on all those different areas in IS to make that an advantage for us,” he says.

Fonterra, with its 16,000 staff around the world, is the second largest IT user organisation in New Zealand in this year’s MIS100.

Spierings was queried on his views on innovation and says Fonterra is “very well placed in the world” when benchmarked against the number of people and spend in research and development.

“The question is always, what are the priorities we are setting and how do we allocate to those priorities?”

For a commodities business like Fonterra, he says, the innovations will focus on improving and optimising processes, value add ingredients and tools to meet the needs of customers.

Spierings, who is Dutch, has been working in the dairy industry for 25 years and has been assigned to five different continents. In Holland and in his family, he is known as “the milkman”, he says.

He joins Fonterra from Royal Friesland, a dairy farmer co-operative, which had merged with another company in 2008. Thiering describes himself as a “builder”, rather than a change manager. “I believe when you have to change you are saying you are not doing well.”

His goal is to make Fonterra the ‘envy of the dairy world’. Like the All Blacks, Fonterra is something New Zealand can be “extremely proud of”.

He says Fonterra is well placed to run an integrated business model for “grass to glass”.

“We have control of the supply chain and a fantastic customer base,” he says.

He cites the importance of the three Cs – customers, consumers and the community. “If you understand their needs you can build on that,” says Spierings.

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