Mark Piper is Fonterra’s Director for Category, Strategy & Innovation. He’s the first non-scientist and non-degree holder to head up the Fonterra Research and Development Centre in its 93-year history.
Mark’s long career working across many parts of Fonterra’s business, his close connection with customers, and his absolute passion for dairy enables him to successfully lead a hugely talented team at Fonterra.
Founded in 1927, the centre is home to more than 300 researchers, engineers, and scientists from more than 40 countries, with more than 100 PhDs, 4,500 years of combined dairy experience, and 350 patents.
How did you first start in business?
I started at Fonterra when I was 19 in a packing plant after going to University for about three months. It wasn’t the right learning environment for me because I am more of an experiential learner. After some temporary roles, I was made full time before becoming a supervisor. After six years, the scale and range of roles at Fonterra allowed me to make a professional change that took me in directions I never knew were possible. I’ve worked in manufacturing supply chain and IT before working in Japan for three years and in the United States for five years heading up the Americas region.
Why did you decide to become a Business Mentor?
During lockdown, I reached out to CEDA CEO Linda Stewart and Palmerston North City Mayor Grant Smith to see if I could be of any help in my spare time with companies that may be struggling through COVID-19, or any start-ups wanting help to get up and running. They directed me to Business Mentors New Zealand which I signed up a month ago. Since then, I have been matched with two start-ups, both of which have an environmental focus. I have a strong desire to help businesses in trouble, having successfully turned around some major business units within Fonterra. I want to share my experience and learnings in an effort to support businesses to thrive.
How do you think COVID-19 will change how we do business?
Over many years, New Zealand businesses have embraced outsourcing because it didn’t make sense for us to manufacture things locally due to economies of scale. Others employ just-in-time management, but the question COVID-19 now raises is whether we’ve gone too far and made ourselves less resilient in some critical areas. This leaves us vulnerable when supply chains become stressed or disrupted as they have with COVID-19. I am not talking fabrics or consumer electronics but the products or services we need so that we can continue to do what we’re good at. As a business community we need to face up to this resilience question and there are bound to be local opportunities that we can make the most from.
The next is how to leverage the great work done across New Zealand in our response to COVID-19.
The way New Zealand has dealt with COVID-19 has the real potential to further strengthen our global reputation as a producer of the world’s highest-quality, sustainably-produced foods. The world is looking at New Zealand because we take health and quality food production seriously.
It has not been lost on our export markets that the primary industries were an essential service throughout the lockdown. That says to a person overseas that if they are going to work with a country and import food items from it, New Zealand is a pretty good bet. We didn’t face disrupted food production like in other countries and instead kept things going. To my way of thinking, those food importing countries will remain interested in partnering with us because it shows them that we care about people and quality food, something we’re fundamentally good at it.
What are your big three tips for business?
First is to understand the difference between cashflow and profit. Cash is critical to pay staff and suppliers and to the overall health of your business.
Second is to build yourself a roadmap to where you want to be in the future because many businesses have great ideas but fail by trying to do all of them at once.
Third is to understand how you treat people like your customers, your staff, your suppliers and those you interact with. Are you the sort of person that people wish to do business with or to work for?
What is the best piece of advice you ever received?
It is to ask the ‘so what’ in everything. People are often great with data but poor with insights and if I am presenting, I challenge myself to tell a story and the ‘so what’ behind that story.
What’s your favourite Manawatū company and why?
Having lived in Japan, I love Japanese food and Yatai in Featherston Street is a very authentic Izakaya casual style restaurant. Barbara and Atsushi are just nice human beings and you feel special every time you go there. It is a great business and the food there is ridiculously good.
What do you do to relax?
I used to play inline hockey for New Zealand but being a father of six children, with five of them aged 12 and under, my family is my biggest focus outside of work. We home school five of our children, so I am very much a home body but after working long hours, I tend to escape by reading or watching movies.
How do you rate Manawatū as a place to live and do business in?
We moved to Manawatū over three years ago and we love it here. Manawatū has a great community spirit and offers everything we want professionally and personally. The business community is well connected and resilient, and there is great council leadership from the Mayors down. There is also a genuine determination to make sure that we don’t just survive COVID-19 but thrive. Now, it is about figuring out what the future looks like and what new industries we can attract here to join us.
For more information about Business Mentors, click here.
If you’re looking to grow your business, CEDA can help
CEDA has an expert team of Business Growth Advisors who work across the Manawatū-Whanganui region, helping businesses of all sizes and in different sectors to grow.