Chris Venter, the CEO of AGH, the investment holding company with interests in a number of food, agriculture and financial services related companies providing products and services to ensure sustainable agriculture and food security, has announced the appointment of Jacob de Villiers as the new CEO of its AFGRI Agri Services business, following former CEO Tinus Prinsloo’s retirement at the end of July 2019. De Villiers is no stranger to the business nor any of its stakeholders, most recently filling the position of CFO of AFGRI Agri Services.
De Villiers, a Chartered Accountant by training, has held various roles within the organisation since first joining in 2002. Most recently, he acted in a dual capacity as managing director of AFGRI Grain Management and CFO of AFGRI Agri Services.
He believes there will be no major changes in the business, a leading agricultural services company with core competencies to enhance, support and guide the growth of agricultural enterprises, under his leadership in the next 12 to 18 months. His focus will be on strategy implementation and exemplary customer service.
“We are privileged that Tinus is leaving behind such an excellent legacy. AFGRI Agri Services has gone through extensive restructuring during the past two years as part of the overall AGH reorganisation, which has successfully positioned us to take this business forward. We’ve also during this time dealt with legacy issues and have built a solid management team – now it’s really a matter of fine tuning,” said de Villiers.
“What we want to do is to implement our strategy, ensuring our processes are optimised and working for us, doing more with less, and executing swiftly with an even greater focus on our customers, ensuring they are always front of mind.”
De Villiers says that given a number of external forces affecting the agricultural sector, including drought, political intervention, and foreign exchange fluctuations, amongst others, that are simply beyond the business’ control, it’s critical to remain heedful of those things that can be managed to ensure that AFGRI Agri Services continues to flourish.
“We are responsible corporate citizen, contributing wholeheartedly to building South Africa’s economy, employing more people – all this to ensure our business thrives.”
With the newly-created AFGRI Silo Company now in place, de Villiers says leveraging this platform will be a major focus in the next 12 to 18 months, with the intention being to have more grain storage participants come on board, with the goal of building storage capacity from 4,7 million tonnes to six million tonnes, as well as branching out into the storage of other agricultural commodities beyond grain.
On the financial services side, de Villiers believes that apart from having a more robust financial services offering from UNIGRO following AGH’s acquisition of the South African Bank of Athens (now Grobank) last year, securing long-term funding is critical to ensuring that the farmer book continues to strengthen, all the while ensuring the relationship of origination for the Land Bank remains steadfast.
“We are working with like-minded funding partners that have the best interests of the sector at heart to support South Africa’s farmers across all nine provinces, with AFGRI Agri Services now having a solid presence across the country.”
From AFGRI Equipment perspective, de Villiers says that the next 12 to 18 months will be a period of consolidation for this division, which has gone through several mergers and acquisitions over the past three to four years. “Here the focus for the next year or so will be on further process improvement, bedding these down, and ensuring the business operates optimally.”
Lemang Agricultural Services, created last year to focus on assisting black commercial farmers, is now in the final stages of being accredited as a level 1 B-BBEE financial intermediary and will be supported by UNIGRO and other funders. “This is a very exciting initiative – it’s almost like starting a new business from scratch, and here certainly the long-term goal is to grow Lemang to the same size as AFGRI Agri Services.”
AFGRI Technology Services (ATS) will also play a key role in supporting the other divisions adapt to innovation and technology, as well as bringing AgTech to customers as part of AFGRI Agri Services’ overall suite of offerings. Furthermore, ATS has several joint partnerships and in terms of data extraction and mining with the aim of ensuring that AFGRI Agri Services has the right information at hand to ensure its sustainability going forward. “We’re very excited to see various other developments coming to fruition soon.”
Another clear focus will be on people – for de Villiers having an engaged workforce is imperative to achieving a truly customer-centric organisation that is set apart from others in the sector.
According to Venter, AFGRI Agri Services will remain in good hands. “I am confident Jacob has what it takes to further cement this business’ position as a leader in providing agricultural services and products and I look forward to working with him.”
Venter added that whilst Prinsloo may be retiring as CEO of AFGRI Agri Services, he will continue to serve as a non-executive director on the boards of a number of invested companies falling under the AGH umbrella, and further assist in the positioning of the AFGRI Silo Company.
“In this way his skills and expertise will remain available to AGH, which will ensure that his knowledge and deep experience of the agricultural sector are passed on to another generation of leaders within the Group.”