In the third of our mini-series on the DNA of high-flying enterprises, we look at Greenlea Premier Meats and its recipe for success
Managing director Tony Egan likes to compare his team at Greenlea Premier Meats to the All Blacks - but not in the way you might think.
This is no hard-sell "winners" positioning. Egan makes the connection first in a self-effacing story when asked about 'pivotal leadership' - the first of eight prime qualities identified by KPMG (see '8 strands of DNA' below) as the 'DNA' of successful businesses.
Questioned about his leadership ability when interviewed for a job, Egan was asked what he was good at. He wasn't, he replied, good at livestock buying, butchery, accounting or marketing.
Didn't he have any special skills, an exasperated director asked? "I said I was good at extracting the best out of people who are better at those things than I am."
"It's like the All Blacks in the Rugby World Cup, if I can make that analogy," he says. "There are different people in different roles in a very dynamic playing field and you are there to ensure they have free rein to express themselves."
For him, leadership is a matter of a perfectly balanced team with a wide range of skills, like the All Blacks, with all members knowing their roles precisely - but not afraid to step out of the ordinary if circumstances dictate.
With 450 staff, last year's turnover $385m and 600 products exported to more than 40 countries, Greenlea has turned heads in an industry not always known for harmonious work relations and visionary thinking beyond the basic functions of a meat processing business.
With advanced boning and freezer technology as part of a $40m investment over recent years and a commitment to year-round operation as opposed to a seasonal presence,
Greenlea processes about 236,000 head of cattle a year.Greenlea also developed the Muslim halal market in New Zealand, ensuring cattle are killed humanely in accordance with religious traditions. It developed Malaysian and Indonesian markets where many of the growing Muslim population live - part of a predicted global growth from 1.6 billion now (23 per cent of the world's population) to 2.2 billion by 2030.
Simon Hunter, KPMG's head of Performance Consulting and the architect of the Enterprise DNA study, says more companies like Greenlea are needed if the government's target of exports hitting 40 per cent of GDP by 2025 is to be reached.
Hunter says Greenlea have differentiated themselves not only in terms of Enterprise DNA but best practice: "You have the giant dinosaurs of the meat industry who do massive volumes but who don't add a huge amount of value. Greenlea, on the other hand is a family business and is smaller, more nimble and geared up to get the absolute most out of every carcass and by-product.
"The revenue per head is higher and the cost per head/per kg is lower as are fixed costs; what Tony Egan and his team are doing is applying deep disciplines at every stage to keep on optimising that equation. They are never satisfied what they have today will be good enough for tomorrow."
Egan, while acknowledging the 'DNA' importance of a strategic anchor, talks enthusiastically about attitude, people, common goals and adaptability: "My grandfather told me once: 'I don't care what you do in life - you can be a street sweeper.But make sure you are the best street sweeper.'
"I apply that in my business life - if you are going to be in the meat processing business, be the best, be innovative, progressive, look constantly at best practice round the world, incorporate it, change your strategy if you need to, be light enough on your feet to make that change and encourage people to think outside the square; be creative."
"Strategy at times can be overbearing and too formal - it is directional but it shouldn't stop vitality and not stop people modifying and adapting and changing direction if they need to. It is more important for an organisation to focus on the fundamental drivers of the business - our core competence; how do we protect that, measure it and ensure it is industry-best?"
"It's more about agreeing on a course of action and getting on with it, doing something with it, getting some energy and excitement going. You need people who have courage, responsiveness and the willingness to get up and try again if they have failed the day before. A leader really has to take what they bring each day and turn it into something special.
"The secret of Greenlea is not so much about the next big idea which is better than anyone else's in the industry - it's about doing a whole range of things across the organisation consistently well."
Egan channels the All Blacks again in illustrating how the company strives to meet not just business and financial goals but personal and community goals: "Sure, it's looking for innovation and adapting and being strategic - but it's also a bit like the All Blacks.
"It's about being grounded, playing as a team, getting through the challenges and winning on the scoreboard. You might get tackled a lot, it doesn't mean people won't score tries against you but it also means they get to express themselves."
Orginally published in the NZ Herald
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