New MAF D-G recognises the importance of agriculture

22 November 2001

The Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s newly appointed Director-General is well aware of the importance of the primary sectors, and consequently MAF, to New Zealand’s economy.

As an economist with more than 25 years experience in the public sector, Murray Sherwin says the huge amount of capital invested in agriculture and forestry is crucial to the state of the economy – whether that’s negative or positive. “When you’ve got that much capital invested you’ve got to be getting good returns from it,” he says. “If you are, the economy’s booming and if you’re not, it’s going to be struggling.”

“The agricultural sector has been reminding us over the past few years just how vital it remains,” Mr Sherwin says. “When you look at the modern New Zealand economy, and look for the world scale industries we have, you find them in agriculture, forestry, tourism and perhaps in education.

Murray Sherwin, who’s currently Deputy Governor and Deputy Chief Executive of the Reserve Bank starts in MAF’s top job on 19 November.

Commenting on the appointment, MAF’s present Acting-D-G, Larry Ferguson says Mr Sherwin brings a wealth of management and professional experience to the job. “The appointment of someone of his calibre is further recognition of the fundamental importance of our sectors, and our role, to the well-being of all New Zealanders.”

Along with his governance roles, Mr Sherwin is currently the chairperson of the Reserve Bank’s monetary policy committee, and he has responsibility for the Bank’s economics, financial markets, currency, and building services departments.

Murray Sherwin’s early Reserve Bank career involved substantial work in the field of agricultural economics including export forecasting where, he says, he was up to his ears in agriculture sector issues and policy. The export forecasting work grew fairly naturally from the production of the Bank’s old Overseas Exchange Transactions record of the balance of payments.

At the age of 35, Mr Sherwin was elected to the board of the World Bank, one of the biggest public sector organisations in the world. He represented the interests of Australia, Korea, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and a number of Pacific Island countries. “I was, in effect, an ambassador for that diverse group of countries and it was great experience, especially at such a young age,” he says. But Mr Sherwin’s youth was no handicap in the role. “The New Zealand experience of policy reforms, coupled with my Reserve Bank background in financial matters, equipped me very well to work effectively in the environment of the World Bank board. In turn, the World Bank experience allowed me to develop international networks that have remained valuable throughout my subsequent work.”

Murray Sherwin led extensive negotiations and consultation between the Reserve Bank and the banking industry in the early-1990s, when the Reserve Bank established a new approach to banking supervision in New Zealand. He has also led the Reserve Bank’s international relationships in recent years, and has represented New Zealand on the regional groups established to co-ordinate the international response to the Asian economic crisis.

He has worked at the OECD in Paris in 1979, and he was a member of the Prime Minister’s advisory group in the early 1980s.

Of his new job, Murray Sherwin says it represents a whole new range of issues and challenges and he’s looking forward to the task with considerable pride and eagerness.

Since his appointment, Mr Sherwin has been having briefings from members of the Ministry’s senior management team and their staff. “From what I’ve seen MAF has a lot of good quality people who are well motivated and committed and enjoying what they’re doing,” he says.

The new DG says his initial task will be to familiarise himself with the organisation, its work and its people. Early priorities will be to look at a raft of issues including risk management, HR strategies, communications issues and overall strategic issues.

“I see an interesting question around the way MAF conceives of itself. Is it as a holding company with a number of more or less independent subsidiaries or as an integrated operational unit?” he considers. “The question is where the boundaries lie.”

Murray Sherwin hails from a rural background. Born and raised on a Waikato dairy farm, near the village of Pirongia, he did his secondary schooling at Te Awamutu College before heading off for a year in the USA under an exchange programme. His university studies were completed at Waikato University where he majored in economics with, he says, some dabbling in politics, geography and philosophy.

“My studies were funded by working in the Te Awamutu Dairy Company - operating a milk powder plant - and later by truck driving for a rural transport company,” he says.

Mr Sherwin has maintained an interest in things rural - he is a regular speaker on agricultural economics, exchange rates and broader economics matters at a variety of rural events and has been a commentator in the rural media, including lengthy debates in the pages of The New Zealand Farmer.

He retains a small hands-on contact with the land. Along with his brother-in-law, he has a half share in a 275 ha forestry block in the Wairarapa. And he has a passion for old cars, running and maintaining a 1964 Jag. “I’m a bit of a car nutter,” he enthuses.

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