“I will miss the enthusiasm, energy and ability of the people within this industry ”
In his final days as Aquaculture New Zealand CEO Mike Burrell reflects on his time in the industry…
In July 2006 I was at the launch of the New Zealand aquaculture strategy surrounded by the great and the good of New Zealand’s marine farming industry. To be honest, I was feeling a little smug – proud of what I thought ‘I’ had achieved in pulling together this strategy.
I leaned over to a well-known industry figure and said ‘what do you think?’ He fixed me with a steely gaze and said ‘you might have fooled the rest of them but I know you’ve just borrowed our watch, told us the time and charged us a fiver’.
I was gutted.
In that moment I realised that consultancy can never be anything more than reflecting back to people things they already know to be true. So when Peter Vitasovich asked me if I would be interested in leading a new organisation that he and Callum McCallum and others were establishing, I jumped at the chance to follow through and implement the strategy, rather than writing ‘just another report’.
Race ahead a year and we’re standing on stage at the official launch of Aquaculture New Zealand. Callum leans over to me and says – ‘I thought it [the strategy] was just going to be a report – I never thought we’d get this far’.
And that was just the beginning.
I feel privileged to have been given the opportunity to work for this fantastic industry. I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of the progress you have made collectively over the past five years.
A former boss of mine said to me, ‘it’s all a waste of time unless you can get the law changed.’ After a hell of a lot of hard work by a lot of people, both within and outside the industry, and the support of two successive governments we did just that – we changed the law.
After a lot of advocacy, and championing from companies and government the single largest R&D project in New Zealand’s aquaculture history began last year under the name SPAT NZ. This $50m project will fundamentally change the industry through domestication and selective breeding.
Before I joined the aquaculture sector, I’d worked with a range of other primary industries, which shared the same challenge around achieving scale and market discipline in export markets. I knew this would be a challenge for our sector. But following on from the mussel price collapse in 2008, through the foresight of the Minister of Economic Development and the leadership of our companies, a new opportunity was seized to create a joint venture partnership in the emerging market of China under the Pure New Zealand Greenshell brand. This project is now being hailed by government as a template for other New Zealand primary export industries.
None of these achievements would have been possible without the leadership, focus and common purpose of the AQNZ chairman and board. Peter V has done an incredible job of pulling this industry together and maintaining the momentum and sense of purpose that was required to implement the growth strategy. The executive and board of AQNZ, provided an inexperienced CEO with the support and guidance he needed in his early years and this support has continued through to this day. I’d particularly like to acknowledge the support of Peter, Callum, Paul Steere, Ted Culley, Mark Gillard, Bruce Hearn, Laws Lawson, and Graeme Coates, as well as my Board, and the support of the regional and species organisations.
From the beginning, I set out to create a different kind of industry organisation. One that would focus on ensuring we gave effect to the strategic direction of our board. To do that I chose people who brought energy, professionalism and passion to the organisation. Nothing we’ve achieved over the past five years could have been done without the efforts of the AQNZ staff. Because of these people and the continued leadership at the board table, I am certain this organisation will continue to be the voice of the New Zealand aquaculture sector and will drive the implementation of the growth strategy over the next 15 years.
I will miss the enthusiasm, energy and ability of the people within this industry – from the independent farmers though to the leaders of our largest companies. I know how challenging the past few years have been for everyone, and I would like to thank all our shareholders for getting behind the organisation and making it as successful as it has been.
I will also miss all of the people who support the aquaculture sector – the “aquaculture team” – the scientists, lecturers, planners, engineers, politicians, councillors, government officials, iwi leaders, lawyers – all those who make the aquaculture sector the forward thinking, vibrant and exciting industry that it is.
It has been my great privilege to serve this industry over the last five years and I wish you all every success in achieving your billion dollar goal in what I hope will be much sooner than 2025.
All the very best, Mike.