Our Leadership

The Senior Leadership Team

Our Senior Leadership Team are highly skilled and committed to our vision of becoming the world’s most innovative and trusted dairy company. The team is led by our Acting CEO, John Penno, and consists of an Executive
Leadership Team (ELT) and senior executives.

Dr John Penno

Acting CEO

After completing an Agricultural Science degree, John commenced his career in the dairy industry as a consulting officer for the New Zealand Dairy Board before joining Dexcel as a research scientist where he completed a PhD in animal science. As a scientist and research program leader he worked to enable New Zealand dairy farmers to increase productivity and profit. John co-founded the Synlait Group in 2000 and was a full-time executive for the Synlait Group from 2006 to 2018. As CEO of Synlait, John was responsible for setting the strategic direction of the company and supporting management to perform against the strategy. As Managing Director, he contributed to the governance of Synlait. In November 2018 John was appointed as a Board Appointed Director of Synlait. John chairs the Pure Food Co. Limited and is a director of Okuora Holdings Limited, Thorndale Dairies Limited and Leaft Foods Limited. He is also Chair of the Fresh Water Leaders Group reporting to Ministers Parker and O’Connor. In 2009, John received an emerging leader’s award from the Sir Peter Blake Trust and the Excellence in Leadership award at the 2015 New Zealand International Business Awards.

Robert Stowell

Chief Financial Officer

Robert joined Synlait in 2007. He held several senior roles in the finance, business transformation and supply chain teams before being appointed General Manager, Supply Chain in 2017. He took on the role of CFO in May 2021. Prior to joining Synlait, Robert held senior finance positions in New Zealand and the UK at Duns Limited, Transport for London, PlaneStation Group, Royal Sun Alliance, and Liberty Syndicates. Robert was the recipient of a Prime Ministers scholarship in 2017 to study the Advanced Management Program at INSEAD in France and is a member of the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand, Robert also holds a Bachelor of Commerce in accounting and a Graduate Diploma in finance from the University of Otago.

Boyd Williams

Director, People, Culture and Performance

Boyd joined Synlait in 2016. He started his career with Unilever and worked in senior HR roles throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, and Australia. He then joined DHL Express, providing strategic human resources leadership across Asia Pacific, Eastern Europe, Middle East and Africa. Following this, he became Chief Human Resources Officer for Foster’s Group and prior to Synlait, he was Human Resources Director (Asia Pacific) for Bacardi Group. Boyd holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney.

Chris France

Director, Strategy and Business Transformation

Chris joined Synlait in 2015. He previously held senior management roles at Deloitte, IAG New Zealand, AMI Insurance, and KPMG. His background is in management consulting and industry, and includes leading significant programmes of work across a wide range of sectors including manufacturing, transport, travel, insurance, health and government. Chris holds a Bachelor of Commerce in accounting and a Bachelor of Science in computer science from the University of Canterbury.

Deborah Marris

Director Legal, Risk and Governance

Deborah joined Synlait in 2018. She has held senior executive roles with global organisations, including as Managing Director, Global Compliance Centre with Barclays Bank in India, and General Counsel (Asia, Pacific, Europe & America) and Chief of Staff (New Zealand) with ANZ Bank. Deborah established her career as a lawyer working in New Zealand, United Kingdom, Hong Kong and Australia. She was a partner with a major New Zealand law firm. Deborah holds a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and Bachelor of Commerce and Administration (Accountancy) from Victoria University of Wellington.

Hamish Reid

Director, Sustainability and Brand

Hamish joined Synlait in 2017 bringing with him a background in consumer food marketing from NZ Dairy Group in Auckland, Danone in Paris and Saatchi & Saatchi in London. Since the early 2000’s Hamish’s focus has been on driving the transformation of food industry to be better for people, planet and profit.

Martijn Jager

Director, Sales and Business Development

Martijn joined Synlait in September 2016 and provides leadership and direction for sales and business development. Martijn oversees strategy realisation across major new customer acquisitions, as well as product research and development, technical services, category planning and account management and sales. Business development is the central process where, by alignment between sales, category planning and research and development, significant value growth is realised for Synlait and its customers. Martijn’s 20 years of work experience in the international dairy industry includes various senior commercial roles with FrieslandCampina. His insights of value-added dairy in B2C and B2B market segments range from medical foods, infant formula and pharmaceutical excipients to traditional dairy products. Martijn has lived and worked in the Asia Pacific since 2002 and he holds a Bachelor of Business in International Marketing and Management.

Matthew Foster

Acting Director, Operations

Matthew originally joined Synlait in 2012 as General Manager, Supply Chain. During this time with Synlait he held several senior roles in manufacturing and quality before retiring as General Manager, Strategic Projects in 2020. He stepped back into the role of Acting Director, Operations in 2021 to support Synlait while a permanent replacement is appointed. Prior to Synlait, Matthew was CEO at NZL Group. He was also General Manager Commercial for Tasman Orient Line and has a 20-year career with the New Zealand Dairy Board and Fonterra, holding senior positions in the UK, Australia, Japan, the Americas, and New Zealand. He is a member of the Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand and holds a Bachelor of Management Studies from the University of Waikato.

Dr Suzan Horst

Director, Quality, Regulatory and Laboratory Services

Suzan joined Synlait in 2018. Prior to Synlait, she was Director Quality Affairs, Business Group Europe, the Middle East and Africa for FrieslandCampina. She held other senior roles after joining them in 2005, including Director Corporate QA, crisis and issue management and Corporate Quality Assurance Manager. Suzan has also worked for Nutreco B V and was a lecturer in agricultural economics and food safety earlier in her career. Suzan holds a Ph.D. in Agricultural Economics and a Bachelor of Science in Animal Husbandry from the Wageningen University and Research Centre in the Netherlands.

Callam Weetman

General Manager, Sales

Callam joined Synlait in April 2017 after an extensive period offshore managing international dairy markets and partners. He has more than 25 years of international B2B dairy experience across sales, business development, supply chain and product category management. Callam brings strong commercial leadership with a focus on maximising customer development and growing Synlait’s global partnerships. He began his dairy career at the NZ Dairy Board in 1993 and progressed through a range of senior leadership roles. This allowed him to build up a depth of global experience in a range of key management areas which let him lead and perform at the highest levels of both regional and corporate businesses.

Ruth Leary

General Manager, Business Development and Growth

Ruth joined Synlait in 2021. She started her career with roles within the technical teams of Lion and then Invita NZ Ltd, followed by a move to commercial positions. Prior to joining Synlait Ruth held the positions of Sales Director for Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) NZ specialty ingredients business; and Regional sales manager for Fermentis by Lesaffre. Ruth holds a Bachelor of Science (Food Science major), and a Masters of Business Administration from the University of Otago, as well as a Diploma in Brewing from the IBD.

Tracey Gibson

Acting General Manager, Supply Chain

Tracey joined Synlait as a member of the finance team in 2017. After supporting the Supply Chain team in a commercial finance role, she was appointed Supply Chain Development Manager in 2018. In 2021 she was appointed Acting General Manager Supply Chain. Tracey started her career at KPMG and EY. Prior to Synlait she worked in New Zealand and the UK for Bacardi Global Brands, Griffins Foods, Villa Maria and DB Breweries in commercial roles. Tracey is a member of the Chartered Accountants of Australia and New Zealand and holds a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons) in accounting from the University of Otago.

Our Board

Our Board of Directors are committed to building a world-class nutritional business and the enhancement of shareholder value. Find out more about them and their proven track record of dairy industry and governance experience.

Graeme Milne ONZM

Chair

Graeme joined the Synlait Group as a director in 2006.

With extensive experience, his career in the dairy industry has seen him working in New Zealand, Australia and Europe. He is the Chairman of Synlait Milk Limited and Synlait Milk Finance Limited. Graeme was appointed CEO of Bay Milk Products in 1992, and has held several leadership roles since then, including as CEO of the New Zealand Dairy Group, prior to the formation of Fonterra, and interim CEO of Richmond Limited and Bonlac Limited in Australia. Graeme holds several other governance roles with a range of organisations. He is the Chair of Terracare Fertilisers Ltd, PF Olsen Limited, Braemar Hospital Limited and of the Advisory Board for Rimanui Farms Ltd. He is also a Director of Alliance Group. Ltd.

Simon Robertson

Simon was appointed to the Synlait Board in November 2020.

He is a professional director with extensive commercial experience, including 10 years with Auckland International Airport (AIAL) during a period of significant investment and strategic growth. As CFO for AIAL, he led the finance, accounting, business technology and procurement functions along with investor relations and regulatory affairs. Simon has a proven track-record in strategy and capital-intensive infrastructure investment. He is a director of Ballance, ITM, Apata Group, and previously served on the boards of Flick Energy and North Queensland Airports.

Simon chairs Synlait’s Audit & Risk Committee.

Dr John Penno

After completing an Agricultural Science degree, John commenced his career in the dairy industry as a consulting officer for the New Zealand Dairy Board before joining Dexcel as a research scientist where he completed a PhD in animal science. As a scientist and research program leader he worked to enable New Zealand dairy farmers to increase productivity and profit.

John co-founded the Synlait Group in 2000 and was a full-time executive for the Synlait Group from 2006 to 2018. As CEO of Synlait, John was responsible for setting the strategic direction of the company and supporting management to perform against the strategy. As Managing Director, he contributed to the governance of Synlait. In November 2018 John was appointed as a Board Appointed Director of Synlait. In May 2021 he was appointed Acting CEO.

John chairs the Pure Food Co. Limited and is a director of Okuora Holdings Limited, Thorndale Dairies Limited and Leaft Foods Limited. He is also Chair of the Fresh Water Leaders Group reporting to Ministers Parker and O’Connor.
In 2009, John received an emerging leader’s award from the Sir Peter Blake Trust and the Excellence in Leadership award at the 2015 New Zealand International Business Awards.

Min Ben

Min was appointed a director of Synlait Milk in November 2016.

Min joined Bright Dairy and Food Co. in 2001 and holds a Masters degree of Business Administration. She was formerly the assistant to the Bright Dairy and Food Co. CEO and was a regional HR director. Ms Ben is currently the PR director of Bright Dairy.

Qikai Lu

Bright Dairy and Food Co. appointed Qikai to represent them on the Synlait Board in December 2015.

Qikai joined Bright in 2011 and has advised Bright Dairy and Food Co. on business and governance matters regarding Synlait since. He is the Deputy Director of International Business Development for Bright and is responsible for all overseas project management and communications.

He holds a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and is a member of the Chinese Institute of Certified Public Accountants.

Hon. Ruth Richardson

A professional company director, Ruth specialises in agribusiness, commercialising innovation and finance. Ruth joined the Synlait Group as the first independent Director in 2004.

Ruth was the Member of Parliament for Selwyn (Synlait’s local electorate) from 1981 – 1984 and later New Zealand’s Minister of Finance from 1990 to 1993.

Following her political career, Ruth established herself as a public policy consultant and accepted a range of corporate governance roles. Ruth is currently Chair of The New Zealand Merino Company and the Kula Fund Advisory Committee.

She is a Director of Synlait Milk Limited, Synlait Milk Finance Limited and the Bank of China (NZ).

Previous governance roles include Dairy Brands, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, SYFT Technologies Limited, Kiwinet and Wrightson Limited.

Ruth holds a Bachelor of Laws (with honours) from the University of Canterbury.

Sam Knowles

Sam joined Synlait as a Director in 2013.

He has held senior executive positions in major banks in both Australia and New Zealand and played a key role in establishing Kiwibank and leading it from being a start up to a large and successful business.

Sam has held independent directorships of NZX listed companies since 2007. In addition to his roles as a director of Synlait Milk Limited and Synlait Milk Finance Limited, he is currently Chair of On Brand Limited and Adminis Limited, and on the board of Trustpower, Rangatira, and Magritek Limited, as well as holding a range of other governance roles.

Sihang Yang

Sihang was appointed a Director of Synlait Milk in August 2010.

With over 20 years of industry experience, he is Bright Dairy and Food Co.’s director of strategy and research and a director of several Bright Dairy subsidiaries.

Sihang previously worked for Heilongjiang Dairy Group as the Director of technology and subsequently as the director of quality assurance. He was later appointed the secretary-general of Heilongjiang Dairy Industry Association and a Director of China Dairy Industry Association.

Sihang is currently a Director of Synlait Milk Limited and Synlait Milk Finance Limited.

Sihang holds a Masters Degree in food science and engineering.

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