Agribusiness managers back to school
Thomas Masao is a manager of a flower-growing business in the north of Tanzania. His company exports flowers mainly to the European market through the Dutch cut-flower auctions. The management believes that the company's competitive position on the international market would be improved if they could better anticipate changes in consumer demand. Suppose they decide to send Masao to Wageningen to follow the new Master of Business Administration (MBA) programme. What would he learn that would benefit the firm ?
The programme will show this manager how to look at the flower business as a production chain and then how the different steps in this chain could be optimised and managed," summarizes Professor Adrie Beulens, director of the Wageningen School of Management for the Food Industry and Agribusiness.
In the case of the flower manager this chain thinking means looking beyond just growing flowers. After an introductory module on management theories, he will learn for instance how he can improve the transport and conservation of his flowers. Furthermore, he will learn how to take environmental legislation in the selling areas into account. Finally, he could apply the obtained knowledge in his thesis, which in his case would deal with anticipating changes in consumer taste and demand. According to Beulens, food and agribusiness is becoming increasingly consumer driven instead of producer driven. Supermarket giant Albert Heijn now makes direct agreements with producers and food industries for a growing number of products on its shelves. Close cooperation with other segments in the chain enables better price and quality control of the products and faster anticipation of changes in the market. Beulens explains that consumers are becoming more critical and demand an increasing lev
el of quality for the products they buy.
With the acquired knowledge, the flower manager could decide to cooperate with the airline which transports his flowers, instead of negotiating for the lowest cost price. Together, they could invest in better facilities on the aeroplanes, so that the flowers arrive at their destination in optimal condition. Agribusiness has to adopt the concept of profit sharing instead of the traditional power bargaining. This requires not only a multidisciplinary but also a cooperative attitude between companies in agribusiness. We never have been very good at that," relates Herman de Boon. De Boon is chair of the executive board of Cebeco Handelsraad, an organization which contributes to the commercial interests of member cooperatives of farmers and market gardeners. Chain know-how is a necessary prerequisite for chain formation and development. WAU has a leading position in research on agri chain thinking and the MBA programme is a good way of dissem
inating this knowledge. Chain development is very popular at the moment," concludes de Boon through his car phone.
Businesses are eager to send their managers on this course. Agri Chain Competence (ACC), a foundation in which the government and agribusiness cooperate to enhance agri chain thinking, provided a start-up grant of half a million guilders to the programme for the first two years. The programme committee has carried out market research among agribusiness companies and food industries to make an inventory of potential candidates for the programme and to tailor the course contents and format to their specific demands.
The full time programme lasts 17 months and will start in August 1997. A part-time version lasting 27 months will also be offered. Classes for part-time students will be held on Fridays and Saturdays. This will enable participants to combine the study with their jobs. Part-time students will probably be residents of the Netherlands or neighbouring countries. The full-time programme will most likely attract a wider range of nationalities.
In spite of the Tanzanian example, Beulens doubts if the course will attract many people from the South, except perhaps from the Middle East and Asia. Tuition fees for the programme amount to 35,000 guilders, which, in many cases, will be paid by the participant's company. Whether potential, but less well-to-do, applicants will qualify for existing fellowships is not yet clear. However, the programme cannot complain about a lack of interest. So far, about 250 people have enquired about the programme. Beulens expects some 20 students to enrol for the part-time programme starting in January. A annual total of 35 participants are needed to cover programme expenses.
Classes will be offered separately from existing educational programmes at WAU. The programme committee is still looking for accommodation. As well as lecturers from participating university departments and researchers from the Agricultural Research Council (DLO-institutes) contributors will also include managers from trade and industry.