Wild Tomato September2016

Page 22

Interview Rebranding Nelson with a unique, long-term identity will be John Palmer’s business sign-off, he tells Lynda Papesch P HO T O G R A P H Y I S H NA JAC OB S


ith a life-time of outstanding business accolades to his credit already, Nelsonian John Palmer still has one more to add to the list. Chairman of the newly transitioned Nelson Regional Development Agency (NRDA), John has given himself until the end of next year to help develop and promulgate the region’s rebranding. His aim is a brand that will last for decades. John is no stranger to boards, branding, governance and the demands of big business. He’s the former chairman of Air New Zealand Ltd and Solid Energy New Zealand Ltd, a former chairman of Wrightson Ltd, and a former director of Trust Bank NZ Ltd. High profile directorships have included AMP Ltd, AMP Life Ltd, Rabobank Australia Ltd and Rabobank New Zealand Ltd. A professional director for several decades now, he is also passionate about Nelson, having lived in the region all his life, “except for four years at university”. And he proudly traces his ancestry back to the region’s earliest European settlers. “My forebears settled on the land here in the 1840s and we’ve been on the same land ever since. We think of it as our land. We are tangata whenua. We’ve lived and worked the same land for 170 years so our roots run deep,” he explains. His ancestors sailed as cabin passengers to New Zealand on the Phoebe, arriving in Nelson on 29th February 1843. They settled in the Waimea West area where John lives today with Sally, his wife of 47 years. He grew up on the family farm, with sheep and cropping both prevalent; a factor which contributed 22

largely to his early education choices. Initially educated at Nelson College, John enrolled at Lincoln College in 1965, completing a Bachelor of Agricultural Science in 1968, majoring in Farm Management and Economics. Being named joint Senior Scholar in his final year marked the start of his successes. K I W I F RU I T C R I S I S Returning to the family farm after graduation, John bought the property from his father. There, during the early 1980s, a switch to kiwifruit became a defining moment in his life. “Prices were low and growers were being forced off their properties by foreclosures. I was elected president of the Nelson Kiwifruit Growers Association from 1982 to 1985, and then in 1991 became a member of the New Zealand Kiwifruit Marketing Board.” With the industry in crisis when prices collapsed in 1982, John took on the role of board chairman for five years and almost immediately gained national prominence. Tough decisions were part and parcel of the role, along with a major rethink, industry restructure and launch of the highly successful Zespri brand. That was his first major rebranding exercise and it has stood the test of time. Today, with sales revenues of $1.5 billion, Zespri is one of the world’s most successful horticulture marketing companies and the Zespri Brand is recognised as

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