New chief for Nuffield’s WA branch

Cally DupeCountryman
Nuffield Australia WA's new chairman Reece Curwen, of South Stirlings, and former chairman Nick Gillett, of Bencubbin.
Camera IconNuffield Australia WA's new chairman Reece Curwen, of South Stirlings, and former chairman Nick Gillett, of Bencubbin. Credit: Countryman, Cally Dupe

South Stirlings farmer Reece Curwen has taken the reins as Nuffield Australia’s WA chairman, succeeding Bencubbin farmer Nick Gillett.

He will head the WA branch of Nuffield Australia, a not-for-profit that runs the most prestigious scholarship program in the agriculture industry.

Scholarships are funded by investors and allow recipients to plan and execute a 16-week research program across the globe next year.

Mr Curwen, 33, who runs a broadacre farm with his brother Guy and father Derek, was a 2015 scholar and travelled to 16 countries that year.

His research topic and paper was titled “Growing Your Business With People”, with a focus on how to keep staff content and productive.

It was a fitting topic for the co-manager of a 12,000ha property with six full-time staff, 40,000 sheep, and 8000ha of crops.

“It is quite a large business now, and we rely a lot on non-family members to get the job done,” he said.

“The study was about seeing how other businesses are managing their staff ... getting the best out of them, making them feel as though they are family.

“The scholarship gave me some amazing access to people with extensive experience in that area, and helped me with the farm practices in our business.

“We worked very hard to improve our company’s culture from within.”

Taking on the chairman’s role is a welcome challenge for Mr Curwen, who continued to be involved in Nuffield Australia’s WA branch since completing his scholarship.

During his two-year term, he will lead a team of six on the Nuffield WA executive including scholars from 2014, 2018, and 2019.

Mr Curwen said he was inspired to put himself forward to lead the team because he wanted to “give back” to the Nuffield Australia community.

“I handed in my paper in mid-2016, which was a big relief ... but naturally you find yourself trying to give back,” he said.

One of his biggest challenges in taking on the role will be helping to organise the first Perth Nuffield Australia annual conference since 2013.

The conference will be held at the Pan Pacific in Perth from September 8 to 10, two months earlier than the usual November date.

“There will be a real focus on making it a really attractive conference that people want to go to, especially people outside the alumni,” Mr Curwen said.

“We want to showcase the State and show that WA has a strong future ahead,” Mr Curwen said.

“WA scholars are very forward thinking in what they do, there is a sense of leadership there. a lot of Nuffield Scholars are look at very highly, for guidance and advice.”

Mr Curwen returned to the farm in 2012 and was the first member of his family to complete a scholarship, which enabled him to visit 16 countries.

The scholarships, worth about $30,000 each, give young Australian farmers the chance to travel internationally and explore agricultural issues in a global context.

The bulk of his time was spent in America and Europe, but he did spend some time in Australia, visiting corporate and family businesses for ideas and input.

As well as the opportunity to travel the world, Mr Curwen said the scholarship had provided access to a supportive community of alumni.

“The alumni have been supportive and open to new entrants, and that makes it very easy for someone not that familiar with it to apply for a scholarship,” he said.

It had also given him the opportunity to learn valuable lessons applicable to his own business.

“The goal is to be one of those companies where we are an employer of choice,” he said.

“It was useful,” Mr Curwen said.

“We haven’t had the (staff) turnover we had in the past, and it has helped to showcase our business a bit.

“At the end of the day, the goal is to be one of those companies where we are employer of choice,” he said.

“That is what we are trying to be, after seeing what people do throughout the world.”

Mr Curwen said being located so close to Albany was beneficial when it came to finding staff, location was only “half of the challenge”.

“You still have to make it a workplace where people have ownership over what they do and want to stay,” he said.

“You have to create an environment you want to be a part of more than anything, and enjoy coming to work day-in-day out.

“That may require giving them a sense of responsibility for what they do — and that has sort of been the most valuable tool, empowering other people.”

In handing the reins to Mr Curwen, Mr Gillett said he was a “very capable bloke” who would “do a great job”.

Mr Gillett said he had enjoyed his time as chair after taking over from 2018 scholar and Morawa farmer Cameron Tubby in 2018.

During his time in the role, Mr Gillett attended two national conferences in Darwin and Brisbane, and helped to select WA scholars.

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