One-time Gisborne man now leads Rabobank with focus on agriculture
DUNEDIN — Rabobank New Zealand chief executive Todd Charteris has always had a connection with farming and the South.
While not choosing to pursue a career in hands-on farming, the way it worked out meant he had that “absolute connection’’ and focus on agriculture, he said during a visit to Dunedin last week.
He might not get back to the South that often but when he did get the opportunity to drive through his old haunts, it was a reminder of what it was “all about’’, he said.
Born in Tapanui, where his father was a stock agent, Mr Charteris grew up in West Otago, South Otago and Southland.
After boarding at Otago Boys’ High School, he completed a commerce degree, majoring in finance, at the University of Otago.
He paid for his tertiary studies by shearing in Central Otago and in the North Island.
Mr Charteris worked on farms in Central Otago and for Wrightson as a graduate in the livestock department in both Christchurch and Greymouth.
Heading to London in the late 1990s, he moved into finance, utilising the skills from his degree.
Returning in 2000, he joined Rabobank, working firstly as a finance officer in the Te Puke office and then moving to Gisborne where he spent 10 years.
He had various roles within the bank and ended up managing the East Coast strip down to Wellington, developing his skills through that time. His three children were also born there and it was a place the family enjoyed calling home.
The next move was to Melbourne, where Mr Charteris quipped there were “a few more traffic lights’’ than Gisborne.
It was a great opportunity for his family to explore some new sights and he spent four years managing Rabobank’s Victorian business, followed by two years in Sydney as national manager Country Banking.
That national role gave him exposure to the vastness of Australia and the diversity that existed in its agricultural scene, whether commodities or production systems, he said.
He returned to New Zealand in January last year when he was appointed chief executive of Rabobank New Zealand, based in Wellington.
It was a “fantastic’’ opportunity to lead an organisation he felt passionate about because of that sole focus on agriculture. Those in the team shared the same passion and he felt very privileged.
What attracted him to the bank back in 2000 still attracted him today; that focus on food and agribusiness and the consistency and reliability it aspired to have in the marketplace. It was important for him to have a sense of purpose.
When it came to the agri sector, there was a lot going on from a regulatory point of view and increased regulatory oversight. That was what society expected, he said.
The key was to understand what clients’ challenges were, how the bank could help, and its part in a changing environment.
It was about helping clients understand the opportunities that existed within that environment and also keeping ahead in a rapidly changing business environment.
Right now, some of those clients were enjoying good prices, with good commodity returns and a good outlook.
Looking at the fundamental drivers in terms of population growth and global demand, New Zealand was well placed.
“It’s just how we maximise these opportunities,’’ he said.
In the dairy industry, there were some positive signs with improving milk price forecasts; there was also some uncertainty around regulations and some of the environmental impacts, although that was nothing new for farmers — “they’ve been dealing with it for a long time’’. Hopefully, there would be some more clarity around that this year and balance was needed in that conversation.
“It’s really important to bring balanced discussion to a lot of these things.”
Sheep farmers were “pretty happy’’ with sheep meat returns, which was “not before time’’.
There was also interest in horticulture, particularly in the North, with a lot of permanent plantings, and increased investment in cherries in the South.
There were some wonderful examples of great business and farming practices, the stories of which needed to be told.
Asked whether he was concerned about the loss of connection to the land, Mr Charteris said he believed there was still a high degree of connection.
Care needed to be taken not to be steered by the minority discussion, as he believed the vast majority that were silent were city-based and “absolutely proud’’ of what the country’s food producers did.
They produced great food to great standards and that was something that needed to be celebrated, he said.
New Zealand had only to look to other markets in other parts of the world where consumers did not have that same degree of confidence, he said.
There was no doubt that there were some challenges facing the bank’s clients. He expected there would be a need for increased investment in some areas and there were going to be more costs.
The challenge was how to turn that into a competitive advantage in the market place, he said.