Agriculture and farming is part of Nerida Connors’ family heritage, since the early 1950s. On completing her Hotel Management degree with an aspiration to become a fitness instructor, Nerida was figuring out her next career move, when her father requested that she help out in the family’s pastoral business for a few months to fill a staffing gap. She said yes, and since then, has embraced opportunity and continuous learning at every turn, building her career in the red meat industry to reach her current executive role as General Manager Commercial with OBE Organic.
Nerida has strategically led OBE Organic to an industry leadership position, through a multi-faceted approach to sustainability that has included developing OBE Organic’s Reconciliation Action Plan, attaining workplace Mental Health certification and advancing gender equality.
Tell us about your role at OBE Organic?
My role at OBE Organic of General Manager – Commercial, was newly created to provide the business strategic support to deliver growth and optimise business performance. Drawing from my experience, I am tasked with improving systems, productivity and commerciality across the business functions.
I am able to explore enhancements to business activities such as meat processing, at the same time, lead and guide a team of young professionals into the next generation. As part of the executive leadership team of this dynamic business, I add value by my forward-thinking approach, insightful financial and production interpretation and ensure compliance and strong financial control.
How is OBE Organic leading change in the beef industry?
We truly believe in our mission of helping people lead better, healthier lives. Selling our beautiful organic beef to the world is an obvious way of living that mission, but we go beyond that to support our employees and the people in our supply chain to build a stronger business for us and a better life for them.
This is done through the People pillar of our FLOURISH sustainability program, focusing on Safety, Resilience & Diversity. Some examples of this include:
- OBE Organic is one of the first agribusinesses to have a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) endorsed by Reconciliation Australia,
- We have majority female employees and Directors,
- We have developed an online farm safety induction program, and
- We’ve been recognised as a Gold Mental Health First Aid skilled workplace.
What are some of the future industry trends on the horizon?
This is a hard one to answer. The one thing I have found in the beef industry is that just when you think you have planned for everything, something comes around the corner completely out of the blue. This has made our industry adaptable and resilient. Our supply chain is seasonal. Sustainability is a buzz word, however does encompass so much from environment to people to business itself.
There is an increase in employee diversity and backgrounds and experiences within the Red Meat industry. At OBE Organic we have always believed that a diversity of genders and backgrounds creates a diversity of thinking which makes our business stronger. A diverse group of advocates for the industry is essential in promoting the benefits of healthy and sustainably produced beef to consumers around the world.
Tell us how you have grown your career from university, through to becoming an executive leader in the agricultural industry.
My career pivot from a Bachelor of Hotel Management to my leadership role at OBE Organic has a common theme: Family.
After completing my university degree in 1996, my father, Ian Kennedy AO., asked me to cover a position at our family business, Kilcoy Pastoral Company (KPC), an export meat processing facility 1 hour north of Brisbane. He asked if I could help out, ‘selling meat to butcher shops for just a couple of months’!
I saw an opening and decided that I wanted to make a go of it. I progressively moved to take on key IT projects at the facility, then transitioning into Finance, I fast-tracked my way through a number of key roles to take on managing the Finance team of this fast-growing agricultural business. Strategy was a big part of this role as the business manoeuvred through some very difficult years.
When the business was sold in 2007 to a foreign private equity firm, I remained for a period of time as an employee before taking the opportunity to commence a Master degree and consult back to both KPC, as well as Harvey Beef in Western Australia. This period of my career was special, as I was able to maintain a healthy work-life balance, whilst consulting, studying and spending more quality time with my husband and two young daughters.
In 2013, I was invited to come back to KPC in the role of General Manager, Strategy and Support, taking executive level accountability for the Human Resources, Business Performance Analysis and Budgeting, Project Management, Information Technology, Environment and Facilities functions and providing key strategic advice to the CEO.
This role evolved to become Chief Operating Officer, further increasing my responsibilities to the next level to drive the overall business strategy and achievement of results, whilst at all times valuing the people at the front line. During this time I was fortunate to be involved in the acquisition and strategic alignment of foreign-owned enterprises in the US and China, providing me further experience and exposure to other markets and cultures.
I started a consulting business in 2018 and welcomed OBE Organic as one of my first clients. Late in 2019 I joined the team permanently. The family feel and strong business values made OBE Organic a natural fit for me.
Your experience has encompassed leading Human Resources, Management Accounting, Projects, Operations, Environment, Strategy, Finance and IT. How did you successfully lead cross-functional teams?
For me it is all about the people and providing opportunities for them to grow in the right role. I am constantly challenging my team to think outside the square and push the boundaries. Reviewing the skill sets and reassessing the requirements of the team are critical to not only the success of the individual, but the success of the business.
I am hands on and, where appropriate, believe in delving into the detail (sometimes it is amazing what you find). I also believe that honesty, consistency and transparency is paramount in getting the best out of any team.
What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?
Embrace every opportunity that is available to you. Nurture your networks and think beyond what is happening right now. My favourite saying from Aristotle Onassis is, “The more you know, the more you know you don’t know”. So, always – keep learning.
You are the female economy. Whether you are a female consumer, business owner or a woman in the workforce, you can create gender equality by choosing female led brands.
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