A quarterly, semi-formal meeting with four key influencers is driving better strategic performance for the 2020 Tararua Farm Business of the Year winners Simon and Trudy Hales.

But the real strength of the board lies in the opportunity for the Hales to tap into the individual and collective knowledge of its members to make better short-term, tactical decisions.

Their advisory board was established just over four years ago when Trudy introduced the concept after she attended an Agri-Women’s Development Trust course on business management.

Simon acts as the informal chairman of the board, which comprises him and Trudy, their farm consultant John Cannon, BNZ rural manager Sam Monaghan, and their accountant Neil Ivamy from MCI & Associates. They meet off-farm, usually in their accountant’s office in Dannevirke, and have an agenda that is set for each meeting by the Hales.

“Getting off the farm means we are focused just on the agenda and the meeting, rather than wondering why the dogs are barking or who that is driving by the house,” Simon says.

The meetings usually start at 3pm and coincide with a farm visit earlier in the day by Cannon.

After some early lack of formal agenda setting, the agenda now rolls from one meeting to the next with additional items added as required. Each meeting typically covers a review of the past three months of farm activity, discussion on any changes from previous plans, and then a look ahead at topics such as financial performance, taxation planning, market trends, and broader opportunities for diversification.

Minutes are taken by banker Sam Monaghan, who delivers a detailed summary to each member of the board, including action points that are monitored at the next meeting.

‘Getting off the farm means we are focused just on the agenda and the meeting, rather than wondering why the dogs are barking or who that is driving by the house’

Simon says the tactical strengths of the advisory board were reinforced last year when the farm endured a major summer drought and that was followed by the lengthy Covid-19 lockdown.

Having people available on the phone and video who have a deep understanding of the farm’s physical qualities, management capability and financial status, plus a wider appreciation of market opportunities, meant the Hales were able to quickly develop, adopt and adapt plans to deal with both challenges.

Cannon says this relies on the capacity of the Hales to collect and deliver information, which is shared with all the board members, often through cloud-based software systems.

“These guys (Simon and Trudy) are selling themselves a bit short. Our ability as an advisory board to interact with them comes down to the fact these guys measure, monitor and have that information in front of us so we can interpret it and help them make better decisions,” he says.

Every board member has to be prepared for the quarterly advisory meetings where the performance of the business is reviewed before the focus turns to future opportunities and challenges.

The Hales say the board is there to advise but they still retain ownership of all the decisions. Having an experienced team of rural professionals in regular contact with their business means they gain the maximum value from the time and skillsets of each member.

There is a ‘no-surprises’ policy in place for every member of the board. Simon says this allows open and frank conversations because nobody is holding anything back.

But there is also a sense of fun, and time for discussion on a wider range of topics than just the farm business.