- Komal Mistry has won NZ’s Young Executive of the Year Award for her global work at NZ dairy giant Fonterra Ventures.
- Ventures has a future focus, which invites external submissions of innovative ideas.
- Fonterra Ventures now partners with a B2B platform for online customers in China and with Sri Lankan women who on-sell dairy products.
By Alexandra Johnson.
Leading a team that taps into entrepreneurial ideas from Fonterra’s 22,000 staff and those of global consumers has earned New Zealand-based Chartered Accountant Komal Mistry a top business award.
Late in 2017, she was named the IMNZ/Eagle Technology Young Executive of the Year Award at the Deloitte Top 200 Awards.
As General Manager of Fonterra Ventures, she leads a team which invites submissions on disruptive business concepts from individuals and companies across the globe to ensure New Zealand’s largest company remains innovative and agile.
I’m doing something I love, working with some incredible people making a difference not only in New Zealand but also globally
After just one year in the role, Mistry says: “I’m doing something I love, working with some incredible people making a difference not only in New Zealand but also globally, so that ticks all the boxes and I feel very fortunate to be doing it.”
Winning the award was also a great honour in terms of earning the recognition of the business community in New Zealand. “It was one of those feelings where you win and think, did that just happen? It was a lovely moment to share with the team and Fonterra picked up the Diversity and Inclusion award, so that was quite exciting as well.”
The collaboration platform Ventures builds on Disrupt, an internal operation which reaches out to Fonterra’s New Zealand and international staff for entrepreneurial ideas. Now open to anyone, it focuses on building new revenue streams for Fonterra through a variety of channels - new investment opportunities and business partners and active searches for new ways to deliver Fonterra’s goals. In its first year, Ventures has scanned over a thousand potential partners.
“It is a platform to embrace collaboration and innovative thinking, around the premise that two organisations or two sets of people can go after an opportunity utilising each of their strengths and with mutual benefit,” says Mistry.
“We are looking at new business models, looking at our consumers and customers, and asking how are they likely to want to be serviced? How do we meet their needs with a future focused model?”
Reaching out to global consumers
One of the initiatives is a business-to-business (B2B) customer online platform for foodservice businesses in China. “It allows us to have direct interaction with some of those smaller foodservice customers, rather than through other means. It is enabling us to reach a set of customer groups that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to reach.”
Another program in Sri Lanka benefits both Fonterra and rural women. “Five employees in Sri Lanka came up with a direct-selling model to reach rural consumers through leveraging farmers’ wives as a selling network, so that was a really nice business model and it’s getting implemented at the moment.”
Mistry says there are about four million rural consumers in Sri Lanka who, by the nature of where they live, do not have access to a range of nutritional products produced by Fonterra. “The women on-sell Fonterra products and create a mini business for themselves,” she says. “The program has a positive impact on the community as it empowers women and brings with it all of those advantages that come from that.”
The examples illustrate the diversity of initiatives the company is evolving, and Mistry says there are more in the pipeline, which will be announced soon.
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Mistry says she and her 13-strong team focus on how to future-proof the business by creating new revenue streams and models that are incremental and add value to the business. “We are very focused, have a very clear strategy in terms of the areas we want to pursue, we work at pace, we are well supported by senior management and are very passionate about building these new businesses. That’s largely why we’ve been able to achieve so much in a short amount of time.”
Leveraging accounting work
Mistry is no stranger to hard work. After earning a conjoint degree in law and management at Waikato University, she worked for Deloitte both in London, where she qualified as a Chartered Accountant, and in New Zealand. Her first roles at Fonterra were as a corporate accountant and the company also supported her to complete her legal qualification and to be admitted to the bar.
Mistry attributes a lot of her career success to her accounting background. “Because I had such a deep understanding of the business commercially and the levers that drive profitability, I was able to bring that skill set with me and use it as a key strength to be successful in other roles.” She says while it was daunting to step out of finance, she realised the strengths she was bringing with her.
“It gave me the confidence to think: ‘anything I don’t know I can pick up’, because fundamentally, it’s about providing a return to your shareholders and when you understand the drivers of profitability, it puts you in a good position.”
Mistry advises other businesses to stay plugged into global trends that are going to shape our future. “Being connected, no matter what role you are in, is vital. It’s important to have the intellectual flexibility to shift some of our natural ways of thinking and adapt to the world as it moves. It’s about having the ability to service consumer and customers, or whoever your end-users are, in the best possible way.”
To new members, she believes that being an accountant offers competitive advantage. “Having that financial background, and I’d say the same for law, is an incredible base for whatever you want to do - whether that is going up in that functional domain of pure finance or pure law, or whether that is branching out into business, or going out into innovation - the skill set is very useful in whatever you want to do.”
“It might not be the sexiest thing to do at university, but it is the most solid.” Even with what they do at Ventures, commerciality is the backbone of what makes them successful. “Behind every good idea, there needs to be an economic model that is sustainable.
Fonterra Ventures co-lab is an open platform for innovative collaboration. Read more here.
Alexandra Johnson is a journalist based in Wellington.
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