MeatPack is a family-owned food-processing business based in Sydney, Australia. The company, which has over 27 years’ experience in meat products, fresh soups and prepared meals, has processing plants in New South Wales and Queensland. Its customers are the major retail chains and food-service companies in Australia and abroad. MeatPack is led by the founder and CEO, Derek Bison, who is the fourth generation of his family to work in the meat industry. In 2013, the company was performing well, with group sales of over AUD$300 million. One of the strategic goals MeatPack set in 2002 was to become a 1 billion dollar company by 2020. However, in order to meet these targets, the company is currently dealing with two major sets of changes: senior leadership changes and cultural and performance changes.
Senior leadership changes
Over the past two years, Bison has been keen to develop the leadership competencies of his senior strategy team. He feels that there are a number of ways in which his leaders could develop further and he recognises that he could have helped with this more in the past. He describes himself, for example, as ‘interfering, visionary, driven, competitive, obsessive, never satisfied and restless’. With a view to changing the mindset and behaviours of his senior strategy team, Bison started working with an executive coaching and senior leadership development company. A number of his team members said that they were gaining a lot of insights from this exposure. Initially, Bison was very enthusiastic about this, too, but in the past year he has stopped his own direct involvement in the coaching, although the senior strategy team continue to be involved.
In the past two years, MeatPack has introduced an enterprise resource planning (ERP) initiative, which seeks to integrate multiple divisions of the company such as finance, production, investment and management. At the heart of this system is the desire to be more structured and efficient in ensuring that each line is hitting and exceeding its targets. Part of this system is also about encouraging managers to change their methods of communication. In the past, dominating, shouting and other aggressive forms of confrontation were quite common practice. There was a focus on making things happen instead of understanding how things worked and why they were not working. As with any results-driven organisation, this created a culture with a top-down environment for the managers, in which targets had to be reached.
Bison has been strongly influenced by his executive training at the Harvard Business School and one of his major goals at MeatPack has been to install a flatter structure across the organisation, which empowers managers and supervisors to take on greater responsibility and accountability. For example, he has encouraged line managers to take a more hands-on role in terms of the recruitment of personnel and performance appraisals. In general, there has been an overall drive to get people across the company to lead rather than manage (Kotter, 2001). The CFO and COO both feel that this has been a positive endeavour, but find that this is taking place ‘in pockets’, and that Bison could lead more by example with respect to the senior strategy team.
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