Dairy chairman steps down
by Shawn Cumberbatch
The cash-strapped Pine Hill Dairy has been hit by fresh controversy.
In the face of stinging criticism from the local dairy community and concerns about $4.6 million in losses now being made public, Chairman Sir Allan Fields, resigned from his longstanding position at the helm of the Barbados Dairy Industries Limited board when the company held its annual general meeting this morning.
And while both the retired business executive and Banks Holdings Limited CEO Richard Cozier insisted he had voluntarily retired after 15 years, the farming community was convinced he was a casualty of the PHD’s current problems, including major disagreement with dairy producers over the milk quota system.
Additionally, as both Sir Allan and Cozier denied that another director, Dan Stoute, had similarly stepped down, outspoken farmer Sir Charles Williams, who attended the AGM, remained dissatisfied and called for heads to roll over the “monumental mistake” he said was made in the purchase of new equipment for the PHD.
He also announced that in an effort to ensure the island’s 17 dairy farmers did not suffer further, he accepted an invitation from Cozier to be a free consultant “when necessary” to help the company rebound.
Reports of Sir Allan’s resignation emerged from what sources said was a “lively” AGM at the PHD’s headquarters.
He said, however, that it was “absolutely not” true that his department was due to the company’s current troubles, including strained relations with dairy farmers.
“I resigned from the board of Banks Holdings Limited in November and having done that, and because I am an appointee of Banks Holdings on the Pine Hill Dairy Board, I thought it was appropriate for me to resign, I wasn’t asked to resign but I thought it was the appropriate thing to do,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“There is nothing mysterious about it or anything like that and I explained that to the shareholders this morning at the meeting. Everybody said what a great job I had done and gave me a lot of plaudits and I said ‘Thank you very much!’. Trust me, it was nothing to do with the farmers. I have nothing to shy away from with the farmers. The farmers are hurting as we are, we [PHD] cannot make money with the current price of milk.
Cozier said there was nothing untoward about Sir Allan’s department, adding that with the BHL board due to meet near the end of this month a decision would be made on his replacement.
The BHL boss said the departing director was worthy of praise and that difficulties the PHD was now facing could not be attributed to him.
“He was a leader in terms of the board room who sought to bring the dairy into the 21st century in terms of their processes and systems and things like that and certainly would have given good advice,” he said.
Cozier also denied that this morning’s AGM was a stormy one, saying it “was no stronger in terms of the content from the floor and participation that he has seen in the past”.
He said no major decisions emerged from the annual meeting and that both the dairy and farmers were continuing discussions in an effort to get government assistance.
But Sir Charles, who acknowledged he was very vocal at the final meeting chaired by Sir Allan, continued his call for someone else beside dairy farmers to be “punished” for PHD’s current state.
“Any company that’s run by a board of directors and makes a mistake, they represent the shareholders and the shareholders should pay for it. Usually when that happens heads roll or a head rolls. Sir Allan declared that he is retired this morning, but I made it very clear at the meeting that I still think that 17 farmers should not pay for the monumental mistake that was made at the dairy, the choice of new equipment,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“Of course I still hold that view and I said it this morning, but having said that I am a dairy farmer and I would like to see them succeed so I have volunteered to join Mr. Cozier in his efforts to put it right and to see if we can get a meeting with the Minister of Agriculture because the directorate have made a mistake, the shareholders have to stand the loss, not 17 dairy farmers. They have done nothing wrong, why should they be the only ones to be punished? A monumental mistake has been made and it has to be corrected and the sooner the better.”
These latest developments came as the PHD reported it lost $4.6 million up to the end of August 31 financial year last year, following a $6.65 million loss in 2011.
“The future of the dairy industry will present as the largest challenge in the coming financial year. Input costs, across the entire industry sector, exemplified by the recent announcement of the increase in feed prices, continue to escalate and the farmers, processor and Government must continue to work closely to develop strategies to ensure the sustainability of this vital industry,” the directors said in their December 11, 2012 report.