Watch the citation read by Chris Simpson and Sir Dryden's acceptance speech here.
In the Waikato of the early 1950s, lived a teenage boy whose life was about to be transformed by education. A uniquely valuable and lasting kind of education, because it was the education of individually motivated discovery. During his first two years at Matamata College, the young Dryden Spring read all five volumes of Winston Churchill’s monumental work: “The History of the Second World War.” It was the beginning of a lifetime of reading widely, of a lifetime’s involvement in public affairs, in leadership and in service to others. It was also the genesis of this man’s deep understanding of the wider world, of our global interdependence and the need for New Zealanders to adopt an international perspective.
Dryden Spring was born in Taranaki, but grew up in Walton, amongst the heartland of New Zealand dairy. Sir Dryden Spring’s name is synonymous with New Zealand’s dairy industry. He started sharemilking in 1960 at the age of 20 and immediately took interest in the social and economic affairs of this important group of farmers. His leadership qualities were in demand in the Sharemilker’s Association, and in 1966 he was elected New Zealand Chairman of the Association. By 1969 he had purchased his own 100-acre dairy farm at Walton, and in that year was elected Vice-President of the Waikato Federated Farmers and a member of the Dominion Council. Wherever Dryden Spring went, he impressed all those with whom he associated, and it was clear that New Zealand farming could benefit enormously by taking advantage of his talents.
But it was in 1973 that a major shift occurred for Dryden Spring, as his prior focus on milk production broadened to a deep understanding of dairy processing and marketing, when he became a director of the New Zealand Cooperative Dairy Company. In that year he was also chosen as “New Zealand’s Outstanding Young Man of the Year”. That title, we now know, was a significant understatement. Sir Dryden Spring is one of the outstanding New Zealanders of the late 20th century and a man who has helped build our prosperity and change our thinking about the world.
I would like those of you in the audience who are old enough to remember, to cast your mind back to the early 1970’s and think about what sort of country New Zealand was then. Britain had just joined the EC, and New Zealand politicians, like Sir John Marshall, were traipsing around Europe with a begging bowl, telling European leaders how many New Zealanders had died in their wars. That was how we expected to sell butter. It was special pleading and dependency at its worst, and it was undignified and unsuccessful.
The dairy industry has always been one of New Zealand’s most important. In 1923 it was responsible for 40% of our export earnings, but by 1960 it had dropped to 25%, and by the late 1980’s to 14%.
At the start of this new century the dairy industry experienced a renaissance which, in a large measure, is due to the leadership of Sir Dryden Spring. His in-depth knowledge of the entire dairy industry, from the milking shed to the corporate boardroom, allowed Sir Dryden to oversee an extraordinary process of reorganisation within the industry.
The New Zealand Dairy Board was the single monopoly seller of New Zealand’s dairy exports. As a member of the board, Sir Dryden was able to turn his attention to international trade. When you speak with people within the Dairy Board they tell you a remarkable story. Here was a man who seemed to rise to every challenge put to him, to quickly grasp the essence of any problem no matter how complex, and to match the minds and intellectual capability of all those with whom he came in contact, whether they be farmers, economists, politicians, international traders, or dairy scientists.
Sir Dryden’s approach was characterised by wide background knowledge based on extensive reading, by meticulous attention to detail and to getting his facts right, and by a genuine personal interest in knowledge for all those people with whom he dealt.
He has never forgotten his sharemilking roots, he has always consulted with a broad network of dairy farmer acquaintances, and almost uniquely within New Zealand, he has had the respect of the entire industry.
When Dryden Spring became the Chair of the Dairy Board in 1989, he introduced a global positioning strategy. Instead of selling by special pleading, he ensured that New Zealand was selling products that people wanted to buy because they were seen as the best. The basis of that emphasis on consumer products was a major investment in research and development within the dairy industry, and with it a focus on science and technology as the source of wealth generation.
Sir Dryden led the Dairy Board for 10 years and during that time the Board’s turnover increased from $3.9 billion to $7.7 billion, and Fonterra now stands as New Zealand’s largest company by far. During his leadership, dairy export earnings rose from 14% to 22% of our total exports. New Zealand’s share of the international dairy trade over this period rose from 20% to 33%. Growth in dairy exports outstripped every other significant industry.
Sir Dryden’s leadership was not confined to the dairy industry. He served as Chairman of ANZ National Bank from 2007 to 2012, having formerly served as a director of the National Bank of New Zealand. Here he spearheaded the consolidation of the two brands, overseeing the mammoth undertaking of merging two different operating systems with hundreds of thousands of customers. This undertaking was highly successful, with ANZ achieving approximately 33% market share.
In the 1990’s Sir Dryden was invited to become a member of the APEC Eminent Persons Group, which in 1993 drafted the APEC Vision of Free and Open Trade in the Asia Pacific. He was a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council, chairman of the Asia New Zealand Foundation, and a founding trustee of the New Zealand Business and Parliamentary Trust. His influence and wisdom saw the Asia Pacific markets open up to one another, strengthening the relationships between APEC members and increasing the opportunities globally for New Zealand exporters. His achievements in the dairy industry and service to New Zealand were recognised with a Knight Bachelor in 1994, just one of many well deserved awards and accolades he has received in his lifetime.
Sir Dryden has served as the Director of many more companies in New Zealand, sat as the Chairman of many governmental advisory groups and has always been a man willing to give his time and experience to mentor New Zealand’s next generation of leaders and visionaries.
Tonight, we honour Sir Dryden Spring. We honour his work in building a high technology industry with a global perspective. But especially, we honour Sir Dryden Spring for the principles which he has brought to all his intellectual endeavours: read widely, distil the essential ideas, prepare thoroughly and understand the facts, and deal with openness and honesty, always with an interest in people. And we honour a man who has never forgotten his farming roots.
Indeed, he attributes his experiences as a farmer for some of his success in the corporate world. In his own words:
“There are a couple of things about farmers… generally you’re ‘it’… you are the plumber, carpenter, vet nurse, understanding chemistry for fertiliser. You have to be able to do all that – be adaptable. And you have to think long term. In the month of April, you will determine by your actions what sort of spring you will have on the farm. So you always need to be thinking ahead. Your ability to plan and organise is a pretty significant requirement for leadership, as is ensuring the successful execution and implementation.”
The Waikato is a much better place thanks to Sir Dryden’s selfless service and we are honoured to induct Sir Dryden Spring into the Waikato Business Hall of Fame. He is truly a homegrown hero of our country and an amazing example of what we can achieve when we turn our gaze outwards to the wider world.