From outsider to new Agbiz CEO, we meet Theo Boshoff

After serving Agbiz for more than 14 years, chief executive Dr John Purchase will retire at the end of December 2021. He is succeeded by the organisation’s current legal intelligence boss, Theo Boshoff. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

After serving Agbiz for more than 14 years, chief executive Dr John Purchase will retire at the end of December 2021. He is succeeded by the organisation’s current legal intelligence boss, Theo Boshoff. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Agbiz has announced that Theo Boshoff will take the reins as its CEO from 1 January next year. Boshoff is currently the head of legal intelligence and will take over from Dr John Purchase when he retires at the end of December.

Agbiz has announced that Theo Boshoff will succeed Dr John Purchase as its chief executive on 1 January 2022. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

In an interview with Food For Mzansi, Boshoff spoke candidly about leading Agbiz at a youthful age.

Also, he describes his hefty future to-do list, including fostering inclusive growth and driving transformation in the agricultural sector.

“Transformation in the industry simply has to pick up pace,” says Boshoff. “I am of the firm belief that there is a sincere willingness to do so from the industry and we may be surprised at how quickly it can take place if the correct enablers are put in place.”

Agbiz chairperson Francois Strydom says Boshoff was appointed following a “rigorous and comprehensive recruitment process”. Purchases is set to retire at the end of December this year after serving the organisation for more than 14 years.

Theo Boshoff: What really sets Agbiz apart is the culture of excellence that has been created. You can have the best strategy in the world, but ultimately it comes down to the culture of the organisation. John, under the guidance of the Agbiz steerco, has certainly led the way for us in this regard.

As outlined in our strategic intent, we advocate for an environment wherein agribusiness can thrive and reach prosperity, thereby uplifting the people in the industry. Stability is often an underrated principle, but the last 14 years have shown that if you consistently do the right things, for the right reasons, then you earn credibility and prosperity will follow.

We did a little happy dance when we noticed that you were 32 years old. What would you say to older farmers and agriculturists who might feel a little uncertain about you stepping into the shoes of Purchase, who is now retiring. The average age of a farmer in our country is 62, after all.

There are certainly big shoes to fill, so I can understand the apprehension, but I would ask them to give me a chance. Actions speak louder than words. I would ask to be judged by that measure. When I entered agriculture about ten years ago, I was very fortunate to work alongside giants of the sector. This is still the case and one need not look further than my colleagues at Agbiz, the membership and other like-minded organisations to see just how vibrant, innovative and diverse the sector really is.        

Every new job is guaranteed to come with a long to-do list. What are the key issues that you would like to tackle head-on?

Business conditions are becoming less predictable around the world and in South Africa. This causes uncertainty, but it will also present new opportunities for companies that are adaptable. We will also need to adapt in the way in which we serve the industry.

It is common knowledge that rural municipalities, where agribusinesses operate, are struggling more than ever to provide basic services such as logistics infrastructure, water and security. Similar challenges on a national level also have an effect up and down the value chain.

On the plus side, recent events have helped to build up trust between state institutions and the industry, so there is increasing scope for public-private partnerships to address some of these issues.

On the policy front, we need to ensure that all policies and laws regulating the sector are viewed through the prism of fostering inclusive growth.

We simply don’t have the luxury of different policies working in isolation from one another and everything must be geared towards the NDP’s goals of inclusive growth.

Transformation in the industry simply has to pick up pace. I am of the firm belief that there is a sincere willingness to do so from the industry and we may be surprised at how quickly it can take place if the correct enablers are put in place. This includes meaningful partnerships with the private sector and extending real, secure property rights to the majority of South Africans and removing the uncertainty that currently prevails around property rights.

Capacity has not kept up with demand when it comes to critical enablers such as biosecurity, logistics infrastructure, and regulatory services such as inspectorates or product authorisations. We need world-class institutions for the sector to thrive and public-private partnerships will likely play a greater role in the future.

Finally, the favourable climate we have experienced of late masks South Africa’s vulnerability to the effects of climate change. South Africa is lagging behind the world in both mitigation and adaptation.

Unless we finalise policies and programmes to address this, we may find export markets for our products more difficult to access. The gravity of these issues will need close collaboration with partners in government, labour, business and organised agriculture.  

Describe the moment you first fell in love with South African agriculture.

I actually didn’t come from farming stock or an agricultural background, but having travelled and lived on communal land for a while I developed a very keen interest in land rights, which are so critical for the agri-sector. When I was doing research, one thing led to another and a door opened for me to work in the sector.

What really made me fall in love with South African agriculture and agribusiness was the generosity of its people. I came in as an outsider, but through hard work and enthusiasm I was embraced as one of their own.

Despite being highly professional with world-class companies, the South African industry hasn’t lost its values or any of its charm.

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