Female Leader, Dalene Wray, Managing Director OBE Organic

Dalene Wray Managing Director OBE Organic beef exporter is a fifth generation Queensland beef producer and is a visionary industry leader. OBE Organic is farmer-owned Queensland organic beef company, which serves as a progressive exemplar for innovation in the organic beef industry and broader red meat industry. The company’s supply chain is fully Certified Organic and is one of the first in the beef industry to introduce a Reconciliation Action Plan.

She started her career as a radiographer and then a tour guide in France, before joining OBE Organic in 2003. Between 2009 and 2015 Dalene gained invaluable international business experience whilst living in Beijing and then Hong Kong, driving business opportunities for OBE Organic in Asia and the Middle East.

Dalene has been instrumental in innovating OBE Organic and driving industry thought leadership. OBE has created one of the Australian beef industry’s first formal sustainability programs, FLOURISH, which is based on UN Food and Agriculture Business Principles. She’s also initiated a data-driven veterinary science project to help OBE farmers improve animal health and wellbeing and therefore productivity outcomes for their herds.

Dalene is a recognised global leader in her field and in 2017 visited Mongolia on the invitation of the United Nations FAO to advise on the development of a Mongolian organic beef industry. She is a member of a number of advisory committees including: a Member of the DFAT Council for Australian Arab Relations, a Member of the Telstra Qld Regional Advisory Committee, and an Industry Advisory Group Member for theAustralian Government Farm Cooperative Project.

Having grown up in rural Queensland and lived and worked in Europe, Beijing and Hong Kong, how have these diverse experiences shaped your leadership?

In two ways. 

1 – it really drives home we are all people sharing one planet.  I think we are more likely to see opportunity if we embrace diversity in all its forms. And we are more likely to run good, ethical businesses when we really understand there is no backup plan if we make a mess of this planet. I like to think I encourage diversity and ethical behaviour as a result.

2 – it gives me confidence in who I am and makes me feel grateful for what I have.  I think it’s pretty natural for people to be always be comparing themselves to others, and always wanting more, or thinking their town or country is cooler and better than others. Believe me, when you grow up in Birdsville and then spend time living around the world you learn everywhere has good and bad points, and so you learn to be comfortable wherever you are, and grateful for what you have.    

You are on the DFAT Council for Australian Arab Relations. How did this appointment come about, and what are the Council’s key priorities?

I have extensive expertise in encouraging trade between Australia and the Middle East. Most notably, I developed OBE Organic’s market presence in the Middle East (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates), and I have visited six countries across the Middle East to promote our business.

I first got in touch with CAAR to discuss opportunities to bring a Dubai-based food artisan and author to Australia as a CAAR Speaker, under their annual grants program. Whilst I did not end up pursuing this opportunity, the Department got in touch in 2017, as the Foreign Minister was interested in appointing new Board Members, and I was considered a good fit for the role.

The objectives of the Council are to:

  • empower the peoples of Australia and the Arab world to develop a holistic and contemporary mutual understanding;
  • support positive and collaborative relationships between Australia’s Arab diaspora communities and the broader Australian community; and
  • support activities that encourage increased trade and investment between the two regions.

OBE Organic is one of the first Agribusinesses (not listed on ASX) to have an endorsed Reconciliation Action Plan. What results are you aiming for?

We want to contribute to the goals of Reconciliation Australia of creating social change and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples through a RAP that covers relationships, respect and opportunities.

Within OBE, that means increasing our employee’s understanding and respect of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and taking steps like building connections to other like-minded organisations and introducing procurement and recruitment policies. Implementing this plan is consistent with our FLOURISH sustainability emphasis on people and diversity, because we know encouraging a range of thinking and looking to provide equal opportunities for everyone will benefit us over the long term. 

As an SME though, the impact we can have within the footprint of our own company is very small, so we are hoping to influence others as well.  In our supply chain for example, we will be looking to see if there are opportunities for indigenous stockmen and women to work on remote cattle properties. And in agriculture more broadly, we are hoping other agribusinesses will hear about RAPs and consider developing their own plans.                                                                             

You’re a passionate diversity and gender equality advocate. What would you like to see change to advance to accelerate progress towards greater leadership diversity?

There is an enormous talent pool in the agribusiness industry, and we need to capture the benefits of having both male and female perspectives in the boardroom. Women are as involved as their brothers and fathers in our industry and are well represented up to middle management, but at higher leadership levels 90 percent are men. We need women and men to drive change in the beef industry and to talk about why gender equality at every level is a great thing for the industry and families.

At OBE Organic we provide a flexible workplace for parents returning to work, and practical tools. This is based on my own experience, where I took my children all around the world as babies, including to sales or committee meetings if I had to. Technology is playing a role in making this easier, and you can be a board member from a property in Central Queensland using email and video conferencing to participate in meetings. This is enabling women and men to participate in leadership roles, while living remotely.

Organisations can do more to accommodate parents returning to work by being flexible, being aware of when they are scheduling meeting times and being proactive around keeping in touch while employees are on parental leave. For parents, I recommend having a strategy around your return to work, not hesitating to own the conversation and ask others for what you need. Most of the time people are happy to accommodate you.

What has been your greatest challenge?

I have big challenges every single day! I deal with climate: OBE Organic sources cattle from a continent with great climatic variability. Also, I deal with complexity: we export beef to multiple markets around the world. I deal with tough operating conditions: OBE is a farmer-owned SME that’s run on co-operative principles to benefit family farmers, but competes against multinationals and companies with deep pockets.

And I deal with all the other challenges that come with juggling a business and young family. It’s hard balancing work and life. Sometimes work takes priority over life and sometimes sick kids get in the way of work. Fortunately, experience suggests it all works out in the end.

What are you most proud of?

I’m proud to be someone who is not afraid to have difficult conversations with influencers on matters of critical importance to our future prosperity, such as diversity, reconciliation, sustainability and animal welfare. I know from experience that conversations lead to actions which lead to solutions. You can’t achieve solutions to complex problems without first starting a conversation.

What’s one piece of advice for future female leaders?

In the spirit of reconciliation, I would like to draw on the NAIDOC Week 2018 theme ‘Because of her we can’. What is female leadership? It’s nurturing, helping, assisting and unashamedly inviting other male and female leaders to: ‘show me how’, ‘support me’, ‘walk beside me’ and ‘empower me’.


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