Big beef business Australian Agricultural Company (AACo) has recruited Asian online retail specialist Jessica Rudd – daughter of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd – to its board.
Ms Rudd is the founder and managing director of Jessica’s Suitcase, which sells Australian lifestyle products into China online.
Her appointment is effective immediately.
The announcement of her new job coincides with AACo posting a half-year net loss after tax of $37.7 million, despite a 16 per cent lift in earnings before interest tax, depreciation and amortisation (EBITDA) to $16.1m for the six months to September 30.
Total sales revenue of $197.2m was down 7.9pc on the same period last year, in part reflecting a strategic decision to transition AACo’s meat marketing to internal supply chains.
Chairman, Donald McGauchie, said Ms Rudd’s extensive marketing and digital expertise would enhance the board’s skills base and bring an added dimension to directors’ discussions “given her generational perspective and deep understanding of markets, especially Asian markets”.
In 2016 she was appointed Australia and New Zealand Lifestyle Ambassador for Alibaba.
Ms Rudd began her career as a media and intellectual property lawyer before leaving the profession to work in crisis communications and as a contributor to print and broadcast media.
She lived in Beijing for five years where she gained a “nuanced knowledge” of demand for quality Australian brands.
"I am pleased to be joining AACo,” she said.
“Australia's oldest company is also one of its most innovative and I join the board at a time when the path from Australian paddock to global plate has never been faster.
“I look forward to being a part of this company's future."
Tough decisions being taken
Mr McGauchie said AACo had come a long way from being “a cattle company”.
“We made a decision that to drive shareholder value we had to become a branded business,” he said.
“Tough – but highly considered – decisions were made as we have executed on the strategy.”
He said the first-half results for 2017-18 demonstrated progress had been made, and “the work still being done”.
“Most importantly the team is consolidating the strategy and ensuring excellence in its execution,” Mr McGauchie said.
AACo’s three pillars of focus were branding and marketing, integrated supply chains and innovation and technology.
“While there are some external headwinds, we are pleased with the traction we are achieving,” he said.
“Our priorities now are completing our executive line-up, continuing the investment in our systems and processes and ensuring we continue to improve performance across the business.”
Challenges affecting the business included increased competitive dynamics in certain markets, a higher Australian dollar, higher input prices (including feed), and an “elevated cattle price environment” for beef processor Livingstone Beef.
Operational highlights in the past six months included the company’s brand launch in Taiwan in June, and stronger average sale prices across luxury and premium brands.
However, the company’s new processing business based 50 kilometres south of Darwin had been “impacted by global market dynamics”.
Company debt was refinanced from $400m to $500m, extending its loan arrangements until September 2022, at a lower lending cost.