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Meet Mark Leslie – Milking cows to Chief Executive

11 May 2024

Milking cows from a young age will do many things for you. For Mark Leslie, Chief Executive (CE), it was where his passion for the agricultural industry grew. Growing up on a dairy farm in Reporoa instilled many attributes that have helped Mark get to where he is today. One thing is for sure – dairy farming requires commitment, a trait Mark prides himself on throughout his life and career.

Mark studied at Massey University (with the late Dr Warren Parker one of his Lecturers) and completed a degree in Agricultural Science. He then spent 25 years with Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms, leading their Operations and Supply Chains in his more recent roles. When the opportunity arose to be CE of Pāmu, it was too good an opportunity to pass up – it was a chance for Mark to get back to his passion of farming. 

The life of a CE is foreign to most people, not many get to this level in their careers. So, what does a typical day look like for Mark? 

“A typical day or week sees me engaging with key stakeholders (i.e. Board, Government, partners from milk and livestock processors to fertiliser companies) and working with the leadership team as we focus on delivery of our strategy. However, my favourite days are when I get out on farm with our teams, like recent visits to the West Coast and Northland, to see their mahi and the pride they have in our farms and progress being made.”

Values as a package

We are all familiar with our values – Grounded, Bold, Shoulder-to-shoulder and Genuine. Mark sees them as a package that guide the decisions he makes, and he enjoys seeing them being lived by Pāmu teams every day. 

“I see these playing out on a daily basis through a number of examples:

  • Grounded – brings to life my passion for leaving the environment better for future generations, which I often see on farm visits through the 10,000 QEII hectares that have been established, fencing off water ways or even the genetics programmes.
  • Bold – the privileged position of Pāmu, of being a profitable farming business but with the scale to leverage to trial ideas to solve the challenges agriculture is facing, striving towards a greater vision for Aotearoa. 
  • Shoulder-to-shoulder – the response of many to Cyclone Gabrielle and supporting our 20+ impacted farms or even recently when you see examples of farms on Staff at Pāmu supporting each other with stock counts and covering silage stacks.
  • Genuine – open and honest feedback from people on what's working and what's not and how we can work together to improve, plenty of examples in the engagement survey which are fantastic.”

The love of the job

There are so many great things about being the CE of Pāmu but when asked three things that Mark loves about his job, he said “Being on-farm and seeing our Pāmu Purpose and Strategy come to life through our teams, the ability to support New Zealand Agriculture meet future challenges, and seeing our people grow, develop and move into new roles.”

That passion and drive makes getting out of bed in the morning easy for Mark. “I’m motivated by the opportunity to see our Pāmu teams addressing the expectations from our customers, regulators and the changing climate, while continuing to deliver improvements to our farming practices. At the same time sharing the learnings we have with the broader farming community.”

We talk a lot about farming excellence at Pāmu – for Mark, what it means is simple. 

“Farming Excellence to me is about challenging ourselves to be better every day, setting clear goals and delivering results.”

Getting these basics right can lead to further success. Seeing these successes is what Mark said has so far been his best moment as CE, “I love seeing people developing and succeeding; this might be by farming excellent improvements or external success through industry awards. It brings me a real sense of pride.”

We are lucky to have Mark as our leader at Pāmu, the knowledge and experience he brings has led to a clear vision and strategy for where we are heading as an organisation. Through his leadership and guidance, everyone at Pāmu is striving for farming excellence daily – making a difference to Aotearoa in many ways.