03/09/2009 - 00:00

Structure, training secures quality staff

03/09/2009 - 00:00

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NZX ProFarmer Australia started as a joint venture between ProFarmer US and communications firm Cox Inall in the drought of 1994.

Structure, training secures quality staff
FRESH FIELD: Richard Koch says deregulation of the Australian wheat market had increased competition. Photo: Grant Currall

NZX ProFarmer Australia started as a joint venture between ProFarmer US and communications firm Cox Inall in the drought of 1994.

Since then, the small business has become a growing independent supplier of agricultural news and commodity market information, grain prices, and strategic grain marketing advice.

Backed by more than 50 years of collective industry expertise, ProFarmer's publications and associated services cover a broad spectrum of agricultural interests in both domestic and international markets.

In October 2008, the Nedlands-based company was bought by NZX Limited, a Wellington-based company,

The New Zealand company operates and regulates securities, energy and agribusiness markets, and provides a range of agricultural data to customers generated by trading activity on the local market.

NZX provides a range of agricultural data to customers generated by trading activity on the local market.

ProFarmer managing director Richard Koch established his business in Perth after becoming disenchanted with the banking sector.

"At the time I was stuck in a middle management void in the banking industry," Mr Koch told WA Business News.

"I knew I had better skills, education, knowledge and business judgment than many ahead of me, but couldn't see myself reaching my potential in the environment I was working in.

"I was also frustrated by a rigid system that took forever to make what I thought were no-brainer decisions."

NZX ProFarmer, which has five full-time employees and three contract workers, has no direct competitors in Western Australia, although Callum Downs, which predominantly operates in South Australia and Victoria, offers similar types of services.

Mr Koch said despite a lack of players, the sector remained relatively competitive.

"With the Australian wheat market having just been deregulated, grain marketing has been tossed on its ear," he said.

"There has been a significant lift in competition in businesses endeavouring to find a space to service the growers' grain marketing needs."

While the competitive landscape has changed, Mr Koch said the biggest issue faced by the business was attracting quality staff.

"Being based in Perth during the mining boom, as our business continued to grow it took us six months to find appropriate staff," he said.

"Unless you get to a certain size where training is a specialist function, the training impost can be very significant on senior staff."

Mr Koch said recruiting challenges placed pressure on senior staff to perform their roles and offer mentoring to junior employees.

"We had to slow our growth down and senior management needed to outsource certain tasks, like marketing and telesales, and implement proper processes and procedures to ensure that key functions were performed adequately," he said.

"Each fault in the outcome was scrutinised in order to improve processes and procedures as well as to provide adequate training to staff in order to eliminate further mistakes.

"We have recently hired a more senior staff member to help mentor our junior staff, provide structure and direction to their development, as well as release stress from increasingly overloaded organisational structure.

"Multi-tasking is a key element of staff training. It ensures that each staff member knows most facets of the business, so if something goes wrong or is being missed we have mechanisms to recognise and rectify these.

"This gives our business sufficient flexibility to guarantee continued operations and transfer of skills.

"It also gives each employee a vision of their place in the organisation as well as understanding the contribution of each function to the general outcome."

Mr Koch said the company's organisational structure was now well defined, with each staff member directly responsible for the outcome of their job function.

Emphasis was placed on staff professional development, with new members of the team employed to broaden the company's skill and expertise base, as well as set professional standards.

"To capitalise on these pre-requisites we create an open creative atmosphere in the office where questions can be asked and ideas flow freely," Mr Koch said.

"We also invest into internal and external training of each new staff member as well as encourage self-development through assignments outside individual comfort-zone.

"This accentuated emphasis on individual contribution to business success, strong focus on professional development of each employee, and politics-free atmosphere, gives us competitive advantage in the tight recruitment market."

Mr Koch said now that the worst of the skills shortage appeared to be over, the company's junior staff was starting to add value.

"Given the development of the current team we are preparing a strategy to resume growth at a greatly accelerated pace," Mr Koch said.

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