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Country Life: Mark Allison

Back in 2013, Mark Allison was appointed Chair of agribusiness giant Elders, although it wasn’t something he’d planned for – or even something he wanted – at first. “I had no intention of going back to executive life,” he admits.


“In fact, during the board meeting that they asked me to be Chair, I was considering the option of resigning from the board and focusing on my other business interests.

“At that stage, although I was the most experienced ag director, I was also the youngest publicly listed director and least experienced publicly listed company director, and I felt that my voice wasn’t being listened to. So at the board meeting, where I’d planned to step off the board, was when the board took the decision to change the Chair and asked me to be Chair. I thought to myself, ‘I don’t need to do it, I don’t particularly want to do it, but Elders is really, really important and so I’ll do it.’”

The same reasoning saw him accept the role of CEO in May 2014. After an extensive search that was narrowed down to a few candidates, Mark was designated the best option.


Again, it was not something he was especially hoping for – just four months prior to the appointment, he’d ruled out his interest in the role while he was still an active participant in the selection process. It was even noted as a controversial and unexpected move by Australia’s business media at the time.

But Elders’ board realised their best option – it was Mark’s sense of duty and love for rural Australia and its agricultural producers that proved to be the deciding factor. From his perspective, he’d already had a successful career as a CEO and had moved into the non-executive director field, but he realised it was important – not just for Elders, but Australia more broadly.

It was a massive decision. I thought that it was important for Australian agriculture and for regional, rural Australia.

Even so, it wasn’t an easy move. “When the board asked me if I’d step down from Chair and be the CEO, for me, it was a massive decision,” Mark recalls. “When I became Chair, Elders was almost bankrupt so I significantly reduced the Chair’s salary. As Chair, I’d also taken the position that the next CEO had to live in Adelaide and be part of the business.

They can’t fly in, fly out. Now, of course, that was something I wanted to renegotiate very quickly when they asked me to be CEO. But I didn’t. I mean, it was very, very powerful symbolism.

“So the decision then for me to go back to executive life and be a CEO in Adelaide meant that I would be here by myself, away from my family, which I have been for six years. It was a massive decision. I thought that it was important for Australian agriculture and for regional, rural Australia. From my viewpoint, I really enjoyed my non-executive career. I loved the variety and I tend to enjoy that kind of stimulation, like a lot of people. But I just thought this was utterly crucial, so I agreed to do it.”

Turning things around

Mark’s new responsibilities came at a difficult time, which was in fact the motivator behind the changes in leadership. The long-lived company had fared poorly after the global financial crisis – in 2014, shares were trading at just A$0.11, far less than the A$12 share price in 2008.

An aggressive expansion into other industries and markets – telecoms, insurance, aquaculture and fine china – saw it saddled with some A$1.2 billion in debt. Elders’ market capitalisation was just A$50 million and hadn’t returned dividends in a decade, making investors understandably wary.

Given that Elders was in such dire financial straits, Mark saw a necessity in undertaking a fairly radical approach to course correction.

To begin with, Elders’ external consultants were cut loose – he saw them as unnecessary to the turnaround process and something of a hindrance. He’s blunt about the negative impact the bank had during this period as well; he describes it as “sucking blood”, while “penalising us for not being able to generate the cash it wanted”.

As a patterns guy and a numbers guy, I’ve always been a return-on-capital person.

Mark credits merchant bankers and those consultants as playing a role in Elders’ fraught financial position, but he and the team started fresh after his appointment, ready to take the company in a new path towards profit and security.

Along with the 40 most senior members of the team, the CEO undertook an “Eight-Point Plan” to return the company to sustainable earnings growth by FY2017. Over the course of a few days, the team drew up the fundamental thinkings of the Eight-Point Plan. The Eight-Point Plan is based on an ROC driven portfolio approach to running the business, with high financial discipline.

“As a patterns guy and a numbers guy, I’ve always been a return-on-capital person and obviously, Wesfarmers had pioneered that long before I was around,” Mark says.

“So I explained the return-on-capital and financial discipline aspects of it for public-listed companies. I set the framework with all the bushies, the 40 senior managers, and then we established what we needed to do. And that’s why the Eight-Point Plan, particularly the first one, was very operational. But it was just a clear representation of what we needed to do, where we needed to do it and the target.”


Mark says the new strategy and focus helped stir the Elders team to work towards the turnaround. “In that period, you could feel the excitement now that we had clear direction,” he remembers.

“My leadership style is very clear, consistent, low-pulse-rate messaging with overwhelming authenticity. Hence why we got rid of the external consultants who were just sucking blood out of us and making a buck, but weren’t accountable for the outcomes – we were now relying on the experience of our own people.”

While Mark started afresh without external consultants when he took on the role of CEO, he didn’t completely wipe the slate clean. One of the most important decisions he made was to keep the existing management team, where other leaders may have jettisoned the people who had overseen poor financial performance in the past.

He describes the team as one of the best in agriculture and from 2014 to today, Mark says it’s more or less the same management now. “I liken it to my agronomy days – we’ve got the people, which is the seed you put in the ground,” he explains.


“So we’ve got this management team. Now, if you apply fertiliser, water, good stewardship, pest control, weed control, sunlight – lo and behold, it grows into a magnificent crop.

“My sense is that these individuals were always good individuals. They were always smart. They were always motivated. Having a very clear and consistent strategy, which they helped develop, empowered them to be their best. That’s part of the Elders’ story that’s not really well understood, because it was basically the same people in those senior management positions.”

From the start of that revival process in 2014, Mark says he had no doubt that management, working under the objectives of the initial Eight-Point Plan, would achieve its target, guiding the company back towards financial health. The stark contrast between Elders’ state in 2014 and its results three years later proved this.

It’s always been a deep belief of mine that if you’ve got a platform, it’s important to make a difference for the better.

Shortly before taking over as CEO, Mark was forced to announce a loss of A$500 million at Elders’ annual general meeting, just six weeks into his tenure as Chair.

But, at the same time, he assured the stakeholders that in three years, the company would finally be able to pay dividends, with more than 20% return on capital, with the ability to report earnings before interest and taxes of A$60 million.

This didn’t turn out to be quite accurate – at the end of the first Eight-Point Plan, Elders finished at A$71 million EBIT, while its return on capital was at 24.2%. The company got into the ASX 300 and started paying back revenue for the first time in years.

In September 2017, share prices were at A$4.30 and, by December, they’d climbed to A$7.33. At the end of 2020, share prices were around A$10.50 – not quite to its pre-2008 levels, but given the global pandemic of last year, it’s still a notable achievement. As another positive point, Mark notes, Elders saw improvement in more than just financial metrics.


In a traditionally male-dominated field, women in management were at about 4%elders, typical for regional/rural agricultural companies. “At the end of 2020, it’s at 15% and we’re looking at 25% by the end of the third Eight-Poi

nt Plan, which is 2023,” he says.

Similarly, workplace injuries declined to less than 10, and in 2020, Elders was down to two lost-time injuries. “We made a lot of progress, but there were no flashy PowerPoint presentations, no big packs of information or data,” Mark adds.

“It was basically the 40 of us, with me leading the debate on what I’d experienced with the six other companies I’d been CEO of, and we established the plan.

“According to external employee surveys, we’ve been in the top three companies in Australia with engagement and enablement of employees. And I’m sure it’s down to the fact that we really did develop that plan together.”

In recognition of his efforts, Mark was awarded the CEO of the Year Highly Commended Award at The CEO Magazine’s 2020 Executive of the Year Awards last November.

A rural upbringing

It’s no surprise that Mark has long exhibited such a sense of duty towards Australian agriculture, and rural and regional areas in particular. He was born into a sugarcane and beef cattle family in Ayr, Queensland, an hour or so outside Townsville.

With that upbringing, agriculture was always something he wanted to do. Of course, it’s not just the family association that drew him to the industry, but also the recognition that it represents.

Strength of diversification

The agribusiness giant provides services that support a wide swathe of the Australian landscape. In fact, Elders’ degree of diversification is one of its greatest strengths, according to Mark. If you’re a city dweller, chances are the Elders logo is primarily recognisable on the front of its real estate business. The company operates 300 branches across Australia, providing not just residential services in urban areas, but also services for rural customers in the form of marketing and sales for farms, stations and lifestyle estates. Of course, rurally is where Elders’ capabilities shine. The company provides a broad array of rural products – basics like seeds, fertiliser, ag chemicals, animal health products and so on, but also agronomist services, offering more advanced solutions. Its agency services provide assistance to primary producers selling grain, wool or livestock, including auctions and feedlot sales. Banking and insurance, broking for woolgrowers and marketing for grain producers are also on offer. Internationally, Elders imports premium, locally produced meat to China. As Mark has praised, the diversity of the company’s services has increased in recent years, with the acquisition of suppliers further up the supply chain. AIRR was acquired in 2019 after a A$187 million offer, placing Elders into the rural merchandise, pet and produce markets. The acquisition of Titan Ag also helped it in the agricultural chemicals space.

However, Mark didn’t consider following in the path of other primary producers within agriculture. His grandfather’s business, which had made him an industry leader in north Queensland’s sugar industry, was divided nine ways among the next generation.

For Mark, the initial career choice was between agricultural science or veterinary science, and which one he’d study at university. Ultimately, he settled on the former, his reasoning being that veterinary science would most likely see him working and living in urban Australia.

Mark’s commitment to rural and regional areas led him to agricultural science, where he could actually make a contribution to those parts of Australia he held dear. That said, he may not be a vet, but his love of animals persists – he shares his home with two cockatiels as well as a Tonkinese cat.

Once out of uni, Mark worked in research across fields like cotton and tropical horticulture. “We did a lot of work to bring in new varieties and new farming systems for greater sustainability, greater environmental stability and to take out more toxic chemicals from the products being used by farmers, and add new precision rate and variable rate technologies, and conservation tillage.”

Of course, Mark’s academic experience wasn’t limited entirely to agricultural science. “One of my majors was in rural sociology and psychology,” he says. “Then I did an economics degree and then the business stuff, and I’m a musician.

“That’s why I see the world in patterns – economic patterns, relationship patterns, behavioural patterns, seasonal patterns and number patterns, in terms of finance. And so the movement from research, which is all around patterns, to management, which in my mind is around market penetrations and market shares – also patterns – was pretty natural, and I really enjoyed it.

“It’s one of the things I’ve enjoyed most with Elders, apart from seeing a couple of thousand people regain their confidence, and regional and rural communities brighten up again.”

My leadership style is very clear, consistent, low-pulse-rate messaging with overwhelming authenticity.

Even though Mark gradually transitioned from research roles into management and leadership, the same guiding principle has shaped his career: the passion for regional and rural areas of Australia, and the agriculture that has been part of his life since childhood.

His participation in a wide variety of industry bodies – on boards or as Chair, in executive and non-executive roles – demonstrates the scope of his involvement with the industry. Besides his work with Elders, he also served as the Chair of CropLife (of which he remains a life member), Agsafe and APVMA, Australia’s regulatory authority for veterinary and agricultural chemicals.

Today, he’s a Non-Executive Director of GrainGrowers, a Director of Grain Technology Australia and the President of Agribusiness Australia. One of his achievements across these positions includes the drumMUSTER program, which has recycled 30 million chemical drums in Australia.


“It’s always been a deep belief of mine that if you’ve got a platform, it’s important to make a difference for the better on sustainability, animal welfare and environmental activity,” Mark insists.

“And that’s the Elders mentality. So when I’ve had a great CEO career and then a NED career, why would I go back to a CEO role? Because Elders has 181 years in regional, rural Austr

alia. We’ve got clients, particularly wool clients, that go back four or five generations. It’s quite a deep-rooted, emotional kind of engagement from my viewpoint and matches regional, rural Australia perfectly.”

The way Mark describes the ethos and the culture of Elders seems to match this emotional engagement completely. It’s a tight-knit community and this fact is perhaps best represented by the pride with which the employees wear the pink shirts that make up their uniforms.

When a young branch manager in a rural town passed away, the pink shirts could be seen lining the town’s main street on either side of the funeral procession.

The pink shirt, Mark explains, is part of the company’s DNA – a recognisable part of regional, rural Australia, and something its employees can take pride in.

Advancing the industry

These days, this sense of rural spirit may be essential for the survival of the industry. Australian agriculture – the prosperity of which has become Mark’s mission – is facing tough times. The past few years have brought drought, severe bushfires and a pandemic, on top of continuing difficulties faced by the industry.

The Elder Family

In 1839, Alexander Lang Elder arrived in Port Misery (today, Port Adelaide), to exploit new opportunities for the Elder family’s shipping and merchant business back home in Scotland. But it was his brother, Thomas, who sowed the seeds for what would become Elders Limited – all four Elder brothers would eventually move to Adelaide, but only Thomas stayed. From 1855, he worked in partnerships in Adelaide and in 1863, he formed Elder, Stirling & Co with his brother-in-law – it was this partnership that would go on to become Elders Limited. Thomas is known for far more than just this, however – one notable achievement is the introduction of camels to Australia from India. As a noted pastoralist, he was also the owner of vast tracts of land, developing areas with low rainfall to be more suited to agriculture. And as a philanthropist, Thomas donated to sports, art and education. After his death in 1897, his combined donations and bequests to the recently established University of Adelaide amounted to nearly £100,000 – something like A$24 million in today’s money.

Agribusiness Australia recently released a report on the state of the industry and Mark outlines a few key problems that need to be addressed by the industry as a collective. Infrastructure is one such issue in a country as geographically large as Australia.

Transport is an aspect of this and Mark says Australia’s domestic shipping and industrial transportation is globally uncompetitive, with the cost of moving wheat from Moree to Newcastle Port twice that of moving wheat from Newcastle to China.


Digital infrastructure is similarly insufficient for lots of industry participants, he adds. Australia has many remote populations and a notoriously poor internet ranking. A lot of agricultural producers therefore don’t have adequate access – Mark claims there are around 300 digital black spots across Australia.

In spite of this, agricultural tech still depends heavily on digital infrastructure, meaning that in some cases, he says, farmers have to take a helicopter up just to get enough of a signal to send off emails. One of the biggest issues is Australia’s relationships with its trading partners.

“Tourism, agriculture, mining, international students – there’s no point in picking fights with your major trading partner who’s going to be a critical part of their economic recovery. It’s possible to be aligned to the US strategically, and hold a major trading partnership with China. We’ve got to be a bit more sophisticated. Now, obviously in response to that, certainly from farmer buddies, I get text messages accusing me of being a communist,” he laughs.


“That’s normal from my redneck buddies. But those trading market access issues are pretty important.” After all, Australia produces A$60 billion worth of food from farms, and only a third of it goes towards domestic consumption, Mark points out.

As he sees it, Australian agriculture is always going to be primarily export focused. Finally, he believes the agricultural industry is facing inaccurate public perceptions of the work that’s being done.

In Australia, the recent live exports debate has dominated discussion around agriculture, shifting the focus to animal welfare. But Mark says the industry is doing much for animal welfare in numerous fields, as well as working towards environmental sustainability.

“I’ve been talking widely for the past 12 months around the triple focus of agtech development initiatives in Australian agriculture: productivity, profitability and sustainability,” he tells.

“There’s variable rate fertiliser and chemical application to reduce rates of pesticides and the expansion of intensive agriculture, which reduces the amount of land use. I’ve always described the agricultural industry as the most noble industry – it’s feeding people. And there’s a lot of stuff that we’ve done and a lot of stuff to do.”

One example is that of ‘mulesing’, a controversial practice undertaken with sheep, particularly merino sheep.

In order to avoid flystrike – a condition where blowfly larvae eat the flesh of the sheep around the backside, causing toxaemia and death – the skin around the sheep’s rear is cut to cause scarring, prevent wool growth and minimise conditions that enable blowflies to attack sheep.

Unfortunately, it’s also cruel – it’s painful for sheep, taking days for the pain to subside and weeks for the wound to heal. In some cases, neither anaesthesia nor pain relief are used, and the RSPCA’s official position is that the practice should be phased out as soon as possible.

Mark notes that the simple fact that it’s painful to sheep makes it problematic, and that European fabric producers are starting to refuse wool from sheep that have been marked.

In response, the agricultural focus has shifted from pain relief to breeding sheep that are less susceptible to flystrike, with less wool growth around the backside, cutting out the need for pain altogether.

Room to improve

Given the number of issues like these, as well as the size of the industry and the number of farmers, it’s difficult to coordinate research and development and innovation focuses, leveraging the weight of the industry to solve problems.

Australia has research development corporations for each agricultural commodity (grain, meat, eggs, horticulture, wool and so on), but these are commodity-based strategies.

Mark himself has long argued for one overarching national industrial research focus, a strategy that the Federal Minister for Agriculture, Drought and Emergency Management, David Littleproud, announced in October in the form of Agricultural Innovation Australia (AIA).


The Elders’ CEO says it offers the chance to bring Australian agricultural R&D up to a globally competitive level. The creation of AIA has seen the industry’s 15 rural RDCs join together to help drive new innovation strategies across the sector.

The Federal government has promised A$1.3 million in seed funding and industry figures believe the effort will make it easier for foreign investors to get involved with Australian agriculture. This kind of focused R&D initiative promises to be an important step in achieving the goal of a A$100-billion sector by 2030.

But Elders itself is simultaneously working with private companies, partners and suppliers to drive innovations and change. FMC, a global chemical manufacturing company, is one example. “With FMC, they’ve got proprietary products,” Mark says.

“They’ve got some generic products, but we try to work closely with them. We’re working with them on sustainability programs. I had a discussion with Kristina [Hermanson, Country Manager of FMC Australasia] recently around this sustainability program globally and also locally, and it’s a very open long-term relationship.”

Collaboration with companies such as FMC represents a greater potential for innovation – one of its major focuses is sustainable crop protection, innovations that the company aims to introduce around the world.

Through partnerships like these, the Australian market will be a starting point for one of FMC’s groundbreaking herbicides. Since partners like FMC represent not just buyers and sellers of Elders’ products, but also a driver of innovation for the broader industry, the agribusiness has seen a transformation in the way it approaches its partnerships over the past few years.

These individuals were always good individuals. They were always smart. They were always motivated.

The change is in part thanks to the unique perspective Mark brings to the subject of the company’s corporate partnerships. “That’s been a fundamental change in our posture from when I was Executive Chair,” he explains.

“The main reason is that, historically, Elders had been quite assertive, verging on aggressive, in its relationships. The culture was very much like that. But I’ve been CEO of some of the major suppliers to Elders. I’d dealt with Elders as a supplier, as well as a competitor when I ran Wesfarmers Landmark. And given my longevity, a lot of these suppliers’ key people and CEOs are people that I’ve mentored in companies I’ve run. I’m also a lifetime member of CropLife, the industry organisation for suppliers.”

During the first of Elders’ Eight-Point Plans, extensive discussion and consultation was sought out with suppliers, and his multifaceted experience with such relationships proved itself an asset.

Openness was prioritised in every interaction with suppliers, with the company explaining its strategic decisions and how they would affect suppliers. Notably, Mark himself was involved in these discussions, where customarily these interactions would be handled a few levels below the CEO.

The transformation that Elders underwent from 2014 onwards necessitated this dialogue. The agribusiness giant had begun to produce its own brands and undertake backwards integration, meaning that by necessity, some suppliers were being replaced.

A long history

Elders’ presence in Australia goes back nearly 200 years. Even from its origins in the mid-19th century, it’s always been based in Adelaide, with a dedication to Australia’s agricultural industry. In the years since the Elder brothers’ early roles in boosting an agricultural industry, the company has seen its way through some of the most turbulent periods in Australian history. During World War II, Elders’ profitable wool sales business was temporarily taken over by the government, for which the company received billions in today’s money from Britain. After the war, with the return to wool auctions, wool revenues soared dramatically. In the latter half of the 20th century, the company undertook several mergers and acquisitions, though not all would last. These included a merger with jam manufacturer Henry Jones IXL, and an acquisition of Carlton and United Breweries and the Australian Agricultural Company. Elders also lost its subsidiary, Foster’s, in 1993 as well as Elders Finance. In 2013, however, the company began to focus on its agribusiness side, selling its forestry and automotive divisions – and shortly after that, Mark stepped in.

Mark acknowledges that this naturally meant some companies would lose out from these changes, but Elders was still careful to consult with those suppliers who were being replaced. “A number of them have actually come in to the strategy with us and grown significantly,” he reveals.

“We acquired a business called Titan Ag, which is a supplier itself, to backward integrate. And we acquired AIRR, which is also a veterinary supplier as well as a health hub business.

And I’ve been totally up-front with our suppliers on that. Many of them are winners. Some of them are losers out of the whole equation, but it’s all been transparent and flagged well in advance.

“The approach changed because, having been in the supplier shoes myself, I always had said to Elders and other distributors, ‘Listen, your strategy is your strategy. You own the strategy, that’s your prerogative. But given that we’ve got long-term partnerships, if you give us early advice on what you’re thinking, then we can work with you and maintain the partnerships.’ So that’s actually the approach I’ve taken now that I’m on the other side.”

Endurance through adversity

For its part, Elders has shown a capacity to endure the severe challenges thrown its way. From the financial downturn it started to recover from in 2014, to 2020’s many travails, the company has proved it is unlikely to end its nearly two-century-long run any time soon.

Country music

Mark has a few more accomplishments to his name than just the financial recovery of Elders. He’s among what is no doubt a minority of CEOs in that he’s written and recorded more than 100 songs across nine albums, dabbling in the genres of country, folk and rock. Many of the albums, he says, were written during his uni days, but to this day, the Elders CEO still finds the time to write and record new material. Like so many others, Mark spent his time in lockdown productively, writing 24 songs this year. He says he’s still recording them with a producer in Hollywood that he’s worked with on his past five albums.

At least part of this is down to Mark’s belief in a base secure enough to see a company through any hard times, while thriving in the good. “In every company I’ve run in agriculture, we’ve had the philosophy that you have to have a cost and capital base at the level where, in bad seasons, you make good money and, in good seasons, you make great money,” he shares.

“I think that’s how good farmers think as well. You no longer worry about the season, the rain, the commodity price. In fact, many years ago in my second or third CEO role, I banned any discussion on weather in executive and board meetings. I mean, there’s nothing to talk about. You control what you can control and you structure your business model so you can make good money in bad seasons.”

This philosophy has been backed up by hard numbers in 2020. After a year of drought, fires and the pandemic, the company nevertheless managed to report a net profit of A$123 million in the year preceding last September.

This represented significant increase on the previous financial year. A rise in summer plantings and a good prospect for rain led Elders to believe demand for fertiliser and crop protection would recover. Mark credits the company’s impressive diversification for its security during difficult periods.

You have to have a cost and capital base at the level where, in bad seasons, you make good money and, in good seasons, you make great money.

“It’s around having a highly diversified business model,” he says. “Because Elders has rural products, crop protection, animal health, dog food, hats, coats, fertiliser. We also have insurance, banking and real estate. We buy and sell sheep and cattle. We buy wool. We’ve got feedlots. We’ve got meat. We’ve got fine food business in China. We’ve got multiple diversifications with a wholesale retail business.”

On a smaller level, the question of succession will also prove an interesting problem. As many – not least Mark himself – noted, going from NED to Executive Chair to CEO was an unusual path.

“We’ve been doing a lot of work in developing an internal succession plan as well as understanding that there’s likely to be external candidates as well,” he says.

“It’s quite a unique period where a Non-Executive Director becomes Chair, then an Executive Chair and a CEO. So I think that’s a bit of an internal challenge.

“But then again, I feel quite comfortable because we have a pool of people who are smart, and South Australia is an interesting area. Having a head office here and being one of the big, key listed companies out of South Australia, you tend to get the best of the best of local people who want to stay here. So I think we’ve got a very positive cohort to deal with.”

Mark believes the pandemic has pushed more people out of the cities into rural communities, thanks to the growing acceptance of remote working. These communities, he says, will return to a thriving state, where once the drain of young people into cities proved an issue.

With the promise of this regional revival, he hopes Elders can work on leadership development – one specific goal is to further balance gender representation, aiming for at least 40 of Elders’ 200-plus branches to be led by female branch managers in the next few years.

“The rediscovery of regional, rural Australia with remote working will be a great opportunity, which will bring more people into the regions, just from a population base,” Mark asserts.


“I think there are great opportunities with our products. We’re sitting at under A$60 billion production at the farm gate level, and we’ve got a target by 2030 to get to A$100 billion. There’s significant growth of our ASEAN markets.

I think the China market will continue to grow if geopolitical issues are settled, and we’re doing a free-trade agreement with the UK following Brexit.

“There are significant markets and opportunities in various pockets around Australia. In South Australia, there’s an agtech hub and we’re looking at the integrated business models where, for instance, for fake meat you need pulse crops.

South Australia is a great environment for growing chickpeas and various pulse crops. So the idea of having a processing facility close to the production point and in relatively close proximity to ASEAN and Chinese growing markets for fake meat – they’re great opportunities.

“There are a lot of reasons for optimism. I think when we crack the internet black spots, there’ll be further jumps in productivity. All the agricultural students that are graduating now are focused on sustainability through genetics, different farming systems and different rotation systems. Elders has been playing a role both in agtech development and in these sustainability programs.

“My sense is there’s lots to be positive about. Agriculture is such a wonderful industry. It’s not like the fintechs that come up, go down, all that sort of stuff. It’s a wholesome, critical industry.”

And Mark remains one of the most vocal proponents of that industry. Even as the CEO of one of Australia’s oldest, largest agricultural companies, thousands of kilometres from where he spent his childhood in north Queensland, he’s yet to lose that deep sense of connection to Australia’s farmers.

In fact, he says that connection is exactly what’s guided him to the position he occupies today. “I’m not sure how exactly other people see my leadership, but I know that everything I’ve done, I’ve always ended up as a leader, with sporting teams, organisations, institutions,” he says.

“And all I can assume is that it’s around the clarity, consistency, the egoless, unspoken concern for what’s really important. And that’s why I agreed to this interview – because I thought it would shine a light on regional, rural Australia. And it’s a genuine, authentic belief.”

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