The appointment of Angus Haslett as Chief Executive Officer and Egon Verheijden as Chief Financial Officer has completely reshaped the top tier of management at CRV. The boards mandate is to further strengthen CRV’s position as a leading international company in genetic material and data to drive growth.
Since they joined CRV on 1 May and 1 September, respectively, of this year, Angus Haslett and Egon Verheijden have circumnavigated the globe at least ten times. Virtually of course. Along with all our people, CRV’s new CEO and CFO have also been forced to primarily work from their own homes, based behind a PC. For the interview with trade journal Veeteelt, they managed to briefly enjoy a change of scene, meeting in the spacious top floor of the head office in Arnhem. ‘With the impact of the corona pandemic, we have discovered the benefits of video calling however I look forward to the time when we can really get to know our people, meeting face to face’, is how Haslett, who hails from New Zealand reflects on an extraordinary first six months as chairman of CRV’s board. He was in fact only able to make the move to the Netherlands several months after taking up the role, and initially lived in the Southern Hemisphere and worked in the Northern Hemisphere.
What inspired a ‘kiwi’ to exchange his home country for the Netherlands?
Haslett: ‘I’ve been part of CRV since 2009 as Managing Director of CRV’s Business Unit Oceania and also managing CRV’s USA operation. CRV is an amazing organisation to be at the helm of. In recent years, the company has evolved into a leading player in the international cattle improvement industry, driven by the cooperative members courage to continue investing in innovation. I see a host of opportunities for the cooperative to continue to contribute to the future profitability and sustainability of farming, playing a key role in ensuring food security, sustainability and the increased levels of animal welfare that society demands.’
Egon Verheijden, you have taken on challenging roles during your career at major, internationally operating organisations. What attracted you to a role at farmers’ cooperative CRV?
Verheijden: ‘What intrigued me was the fact that this cattle improvement cooperative in the Netherlands and Flanders already has a history of 150 years. The cooperative has demonstrated its ability to successfully adapt to changing circumstances. The last decade in this rich history was more turbulent than all the 140 preceding years, and that situation is unlikely to change. I see contributing to the strategy and future direction of the organisation and ensuring the cooperative remains future proof in the landscape of a rapidly changing world as a challenge. The transparent and no-nonsense culture in the agricultural sector is also a very appealing factor. That’s what makes working for a farmers’ cooperative such a great experience.’
Angus Haslett: ‘There is not a breeding programme in the world that is as progressive and adept at responding to this challenge as CRV’s.’
CRV now has a completely new board formed by a duo. One of them still has to become acquainted with the sector, while the other is from the opposite side of the world. Was this a risky move on the part of the Supervisory Board?
Haslett: ‘CRV’s Supervisory Board made a conscious decision to change the way the company is led. Egon and I are ultimately accountable, however we have a strong team of leaders within the business, with a huge depth of experience. The leadership team includes people at the head office here in Arnhem, and also directors of our international business units.’
Verheijden: ‘From within the framework of our leadership team, we have encouraged them to motivate and inspire their own teams to take a leadership role to help drive the organisation.
This will ensure we are informed by the people who are closer to the farmers and the market rather than just via our leadership team. So, individually we may not know all the intricacies of nitrogen legislation in Flanders or the structure of the beef cattle sector in Brazil but members and farmers can absolutely rely on this knowledge being present in our organisation decision making. And this knowledge will be leveraged to develop the best products and services to take CRV forward.’
CRV wants to be a global player in genetics. Can the organisation fulfil that ambition?
Verheijden: ‘Without a doubt. If you take the sales volume of doses of semen, we rank among the top five globally. And in recent years, concerted efforts have been made in building a robust international organisation with business units in various European countries, as well as in New Zealand, Brazil and the United States. On top of that, CRV is in a financially healthy position, and the current corona crisis has had a limited impact on the operating results. The foundations have already been laid. But we can and must further consolidate our position, and we see a wealth of opportunities to do just that.’
Egon Verheijden: ‘The foundations for international development have already been laid. We can and must further consolidate that position.’
Haslett: ‘The conditions farmers work in vary from country to country. But ultimately farmers in every country face the same challenge of producing more sustainable and efficient food under the close and watchful eyes of engaged consumers. From my perspective, there is not a breeding programme in the world that is as progressive and adept at responding to this challenge as is CRV. Our bulls have extremely reliable breeding values for health traits. The breeding value for feed efficiency, developed based on huge numbers of measurements, is truly unique. This drives my conviction that our bulls offer added value to farmers around the world.’
The international market also demands other solutions. In many countries, the use of sexed semen is rising rapidly. How is CRV responding to this development?
Haslett: ‘Rest assured that this development has our full attention. We also recognise its potential. Interest in SiryX semen is also increasing in the Netherlands and Flanders, but it still lags somewhat behind the international trend, as we have a veal sector here that denotes value to Holstein bull calves.
On a worldwide scale, farmers are increasingly becoming aware that using sexed semen, in combination with genomic marker testing and the use of beef bull semen, leads to accelerated genetic progress and greater profitability.’
‘For the beef bull segment, our portfolio offers the world’s ultimate performer in efficiency in the shape of our Belgian Blue bulls. Thanks to a cooperation with the Belgian Blue Group, BBG, we have a wide range of reliable, proven bulls for the beef on dairy segment. This too gives us a strong position compared with the international competitors.’
CRV has long had the ambition to grow internationally. Is this what the cooperative should be aiming for? Until now, the subsidiaries have barely contributed to the profits.
Verheijden: ‘The bottom line is that CRV BV works for the interests of the member farmers in the Netherlands and Flanders. We want to serve them with the best for a competitive price. But maintaining a leading position requires hefty investments. Such as, for example, the development of genomic marker selection and breeding values for feed efficiency. Funding product development is only possible if we realise a sufficient turnover. Herd numbers in the Netherlands are not growing and the opportunities for growth in Flanders are also limited. We can and must further expand our domestic market share, but the greatest opportunities are abroad.’
In Germany, five AI organisations have grouped their breeding programmes under one name in the PhönixGroup. They are also inviting other parties to join. How does CRV view this development?
Haslett: ‘We are always open to partners who want to work with us. Scale in the international AI world is vital, and that is rapidly increasing. But partners must be a good fit with CRV and add value. I don’t think the PhönixGroup initiative will be the last of its kind.’
What will farmers in the Netherlands and Flanders notice about the new management at CRV?
Verheijden: ‘The world in which farmers in the Netherlands and Flanders operate is dynamic and changing fast. The number of farmers continues to decline, while the scale of farms is increasing and profit margins are being squeezed. What the members of the cooperation can expect from us is our continued support in the form of developing the best products and services in response to these changes. But as well as members who are customers, we also have customers who are not members. They are equally important to us.’
‘For CRV as a company, this state of flux entails making more choices than ever before. Not everything we did in the past will be taken forward. We will critically scrutinise the added value of the products we develop, and part company sooner with products that fail to add sufficient value.’
Haslett: ‘We will continue developing products and services that contribute to the sustainability and profitability of farmers’ operational practice. We want to compete on profitability, and that is not always the same as competing on price. The story behind CRV’s products is rock solid. That vision will be communicated even more powerfully and persuasively in the years ahead.’
Text Jaap van der Knaap and Wichert Koopman