New Zealanders 'scoop the pool' in trans-Tasman agribusiness awards

Volker Kuntzsch and Mat Hocken took home the trophies.
Volker Kuntzsch and Mat Hocken took home the trophies. Photo credit: Supplied

New Zealanders have scooped the pool in the 2019 Rabobank Leadership Awards, taking out both titles in this year's trans-Tasman awards ceremony.

At the awards dinner held in Auckland on Thursday night, New Zealand leaders completed a clean sweep of the trophies with Volker Kuntzsch, the chief executive officer of New Zealand's largest seafood company Sanford, announced as the winner of 2019 Rabobank Leadership Award.

Mat Hocken, the director of Manawatu dairy company Grassmere Dairy, received the 2019 Rabobank Emerging Leader Award.

The awards are held annually and recognise the contribution of leaders from across New Zealand and Australia's food and agribusiness sector. 

The 2019 event marked the 20th anniversary of the awards and the first occasion the awards dinner had been held in New Zealand.

Presenting the flagship leadership award, Rabobank Australia and New Zealand managing director Peter Knoblanche said Volker Kuntzsch was a hugely deserving recipient, who had made an enormous contribution to New Zealand's seafood sector.

"Volker was appointed into the CEO role at Sanford in 2014, bringing with him an international track record of more than 25 years in the industry and a global reputation.

Volker Kuntzsch, the chief executive officer of New Zealand's largest seafood company Sanford, won the 2019 Rabobank Leadership Award.
Volker Kuntzsch, the chief executive officer of New Zealand's largest seafood company Sanford, won the 2019 Rabobank Leadership Award. Photo credit: Supplied

Over the past five years, under his leadership, Sanford has transformed from a commodities player into a business which is focused on creating value for its customers and the company, while at the same time becoming a major advocate of sustainability and creating high-end consumer goods," he said.

Knoblanche said Kuntzsch's influence had "extended well beyond Sanford alone".

"Volker's extensive industry experience and his natural ability to bring industry participants together have seen him play a major role in the evolution of New Zealand's seafood industry. This contribution started in the late 1990s when he visited New Zealand while working for Unilever and convinced the industry to go for Marine Stewardship Council certification.

"In more recent years, he's engaged extensively with a wide range of domestic and international seafood industry participants and has been the driving force behind improved industry awareness of sustainability issues. He also played a pivotal role in the redevelopment of the Auckland fish market which opened in 2018."

Knoblanche said Kuntzsch also sat on a number of seafood industry boards, while his leadership in the area of sustainability had seen him appointed to the Sustainable Business Council.

With the awards held in New Zealand for the first time, Knoblanche said it was fitting to see Mat Hocken become the first Kiwi to collect the Rabobank Emerging Leader Award since its introduction in 2013.

Director and owner of family business Grassmere Dairy, a 1000-cow dairy operation on the banks of the Oroua river in the Manawatu, Hocken returned to the family farming business in 2013, successfully growing the enterprise and making his mark as an industry leader both locally and nationally.

Mat Hocken won the Rabobank Emerging Leader Award.
Mat Hocken won the Rabobank Emerging Leader Award. Photo credit: Supplied

A former New Zealand age-grade rugby representative, Hocken spent 11 years overseas completing an MA in Political Science and Government at Cambridge University in the United Kingdom and working in government and industry consultancy roles in Belgium and Australia.

Presenting the award, Knoblanche said Hocken was "one of those exceptional emerging leaders who has the combination of business, technical, interpersonal and entrepreneurial skills, as well as academic and sporting success".

"It is the complete package that makes him stand out."

Hocken had also made a significant contribution to his rural community in the Manawatu and nationally in a number of leadership roles, Knoblanche said.

He is the joint-founder and chairman of the Rural Innovation Lab, an advisory board member of Massey University Business School and a director of MyFarm investment syndicates in the apple and kiwifruit sectors. 

Hocken had also held positions as dairy chairman of Federated Farmers Manawatu-Rangitikei and as associate director of the New Zealand Rural Leadership Trust.

"Across his various industry roles, Mat has shown he has the ability to bring together a broad collaboration of people - from farmers, Māori agribusiness representatives, technology companies, researchers, corporates and start-ups - to focus on helping solve the challenges facing New Zealand's food and agriculture sector."  

Both the Rabobank Leadership Award and the Emerging Leader Award are peer-nominated and judged. 

Previous New Zealand-based recipients of the Leadership Award include Sir George Fistonich, Sir Graeme Harrison and Sir Henry van der Heyden.