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 CEO, Grant Watson, and consists of an Executive Leadership Team (ELT) and senior executives.

Grant Watson

Chief Executive Officer

Grant joined Synlait as CEO in January 2022. He was previously CEO of dairy company, Miraka. Prior to Miraka, Grant spent 10 years at Fonterra where he held several senior roles including Director of Global Foodservice, Managing Director of Tip Top, and Director of Route and Foodservice Fonterra Brands New Zealand. Prior to Fonterra, Grant built his executive career at McDonalds New Zealand to become Chief Operating Officer. He has also held several governance and directorship roles for private and publicly listed companies.

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.

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.

Nigel Macdonald

Director, Operations

Nigel joined Synlait in November 2021. He has led operations, manufacturing, and supply chain teams in the areas of infant nutrition, fast moving consumer goods, and ingredients in New Zealand, the Middle East, and Latin America. Previously he was the General Manager, Manufacturing at Baladna Food Industries, Qatar’s leading dairy company, and prior to this, Nigel was Head of Supply Chain – Infant Nutrition, and Head of Manufacturing – Dairy and Juice at Almarai, the world’s largest vertically integrated dairy company. Nigel has a Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical and Process Engineering from the University of Canterbury and holds a Certificate in Leadership Development from IMD in Switzerland.

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.

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.

John Penno, Chair

Dr John Penno


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. In November 2018 John was appointed as a Board Appointed Director of Synlait. As Managing Director, he contributed to the governance of Synlait. In May 2021 he was appointed Acting CEO and held that position until January 2022 when stepped into the role of Chair.

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.

Dr Gui Min

Dr Gui Min (Gracie) is currently the Director of Marketing of Nutrition Section at Bright Dairy.

Gracie has a Ph.D. in pharmacology from Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and National Public Dietitian Level-I.

She has more than 10 years of experience in research and product development and marketing in nutrition, functional food, and related fields.


Min Chen

Min was appointed a director of Synlait Milk in December 2021.

Min joined Bright Dairy in 2007 as senior Finance Manager, responsible for budget planning, data analysis and business evaluation.

Since 2016, she has been Chief Internal Auditor of Bright Dairy, reporting to the company’s Audit Committee Chair and Board of Directors.

Paul McGilvary

Paul McGilvary

Paul joined the Synlait Board in January 2022.  He has extensive dairy sector experience and is currently Deputy Chair of AsureQuality, Chair of BVAQ Australia, and a Non-Executive Director of Waikato Milking Systems.

Paul previously held several executive roles including, CEO of Tatua Co-operative Dairy Company Limited, CEO of HortResearch, and Managing Director, Fonterra (Europe).

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.

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.

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