March 2017

108 APAC / March 2017 , Chris Connors tells APAC Insider about the NSWsugar industry within the APAC region and shares his success stories, including being named as APAC CEO of the Year. A Ray of Sunshine Sunshine Sugar is the retail brand for the NSW Sugar Industry and is the only 100% Australian-owned sugar growing, milling and refining producer. Chris Connors goes more in-depth about the company. “We operate as a partnership between the grower-owned NSW Sugar Milling Co-operative Limited and the Australian family- owned agribusiness Manildra Group, each holding a 50% share. “Today, we have a turnover in excess of $200m, employ over 600 direct and 500 indirect staff and have a grower base of over 500 farmers. Our growers can produce up to 2.4 million tonnes of sugar cane each year. We have a refinery production capacity of 250,000mt and direct raw production capacity of 30,000mt. “We manufacture private label sugar for some of Australia’s major retailers as well as our own Sunshine Sugar label that is sold through independent grocery stores. We sell refined and raw sugar to over 300 different customers across all types of food and beverage manufacturing, in quantities ranging from 1kg bags to bulk tankers and trucks. We also sell a food grade molasses to various food manufacturers and processors, and a mill molasses to primary producers. “The sugar milling process is a very efficient one, with virtually no waste product. Dried sugar cane fibre (bagasse) is used to fuel our boilers and the residual cane juice (filter mud) is supplied back to growers as a soil conditioner.” When it comes to developing the company effectively, Chris has a personal philosophy. “Honesty and communication are the two most important characteristics of a person in any situation. These traits I learned early in my career from mining sector mentor Stan Hudspith. Stan was only small in stature, but he was highly respected - when he spoke everybody listened. “I believe this approach aligns well to the Corporate Credentials we have developed through our cultural engagement team: ‘Uniquely setting standards in sugar - we are in the business of growing, producing and selling sugar, setting standards and protecting our growers and our community.’” As well as this philosophy, Chris possesses certain attributes which he feels have been key in his success as CEO. “As my earlier mentor taught me, honesty and communication are important behaviours for a leader. Add to this a lot of hard work and a track record of career achievements and the foundations are laid for a successful CEO. “Throughout my time as a leader I have also made the deliberate decision to surround myself with good people – people that are competent, passionate and driven. I entrust these people with respect and believe a mutual respect in the workforce goes a long way to establishing and maintaining a strong culture of sustained performance.” Until well into the twentieth century, growing and milling sugar cane was a very manual and labour intensive operation. It was the Australians that led the way in development of innovations such as mechanised harvesting and loading, bulk handling and automation of cane receivables. Today, every business whether large or small is seeking out opportunities to reduce costs and improve productivity and the potential that technology offers is ongoing. “In our milling and refining business we are focussed on ‘sweating our manufacturing assets’ and enhancing performance throughout the supply chain,” explains Chris. “For example, we have a just- in-time supply program that has been in place for some years that optimises the hauling of cane to the mill with the minimum number of trucks. “Our growers are not strangers to harnessing technology either as many already utilise GPS precision guidance systems to reduce soil disruption, save time and reduce fuel usage. GPS Autosteer is also becoming popular as farmers can tap into the base stations we have installed at each Mill and achieve greater accuracy in row placement and alignment. “Research and development is also key to our industry, and we have been active in developing and delivering new plant varieties with targeted disease resistance and weather resilience.” With regards to future aspirations, Chris has ambitions both as a CEO and for the company as a whole. “My goal is to lead a diversified business that is delivering not only a stronger income stream but also giving opportunities for our team to participate in the many new processes that we will introduce. I want to guide the business through this exciting time. “Our future aspirations are already in train through the diversification of our product range and income streams. This is supported by the cultural program that ensures we have a vibrant and skilled workforce in place. “Our work is also focussed on ensuring a strong grower base and crop production area through our Agricultural Services program and cane land retention initiatives. “Having been a part of life in northern New South Wales for more than one hundred years, Sunshine Sugar is passionate about continuing to provide our local communities with employment opportunities, growth and prosperity.” 1702AP03