Farmer fight makes it tough

Brad ThompsonThe West Australian
CBH chief executive Andy Crane.
Camera IconCBH chief executive Andy Crane. Credit: The West Australian

Infighting is threatening to tear apart the board of Australia's biggest farming co-operative and its only female director is caught in the crossfire between warring factions.

Independent director Samantha Tough could become a victim of the power struggle within the 12-member CBH board which has major ramifications for senior management, including chief executive Andy Crane.

Dr Crane, who has led CBH and its 4300 members in WA to profits of $162.5 million and $131.7 million in the past two years, is also in the sights of some grower-elected directors.

Ms Tough could be forced off the board in what shapes as a blow to CBH's ability to attract quality independent directors to help run a grain handling and marketing business which had a turnover of $2.8 billion last year.

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Insiders believe her departure would shift the balance of power on a board made up of nine farmers and three independent directors appointed to add corporate and financial acumen.

Ms Tough joined the board in February to replace Diane Gander-Smith, who resigned after a three-year term. She is the most recent addition as an independent director and the second female board member in CBH's 81-year history.

It is understood a majority of the grower directors could refuse to endorse Ms Tough before a member vote on her appointment at the annual meeting on February 23.

Under the CBH constitution, the board must have nine grower members. It can also have up to three independent directors.

Reducing the current board to 11 raises the prospect of a challenge to chairman Wally Newman, who took over the reins from Neil Wandel in August.

Mr Wandel, who held the board together for six years despite deep divisions, announced his plans to stand down in April. The move came soon after elections in which Rod Madden replaced Clancy Michael as a director.

Adding to intrigue over the future of the board and management, nominations have opened for elections to replace Mr Wandel on the board when his term expires in February.

Two other spots are in the mix, with John Hassell and Brian McAlpine up for re-election.

There are strong and conflicting views on the board about investment outside WA and management issues as CBH faces increasing competition in the deregulated grain industry.

Ms Tough has served on 24 boards over the past 15 years and is a highly respected director in the private and public sectors.

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