Starting a new job during a global pandemic is not the best timing, but Fonterra's new chief operating officer Fraser Whineray has taken it in his stride.

Whineray, the former chief executive of Mercury Energy, was appointed to Fonterra's newly created role of chief operating officer in October 2019, to start early this year.

Although Whineray was "delighted" to be back in the dairy sector after a 17-year hiatus, the timing was problematic due to Covid-19 he told Rowena Duncum on The Country Early Edition.

Whineray joined Fonterra the week after New Zealand went into lockdown and "there were only a handful of people around".


It was "very impressive" to watch how the co-op continued to operate under such strict conditions he said.

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"We had to have 6000 essential workers covering everything - labs and collection and processing and distribution [while] maintaining their bubbles in the workplace".

In fact, the work that Fonterra put in looked so difficult, Whineray admitted he was pleased to arrive after level 4 restrictions had started.

"I was quite happy I arrived a week after we went to level 4 because that week of going to level 4 would have been very, very challenging - the team did an amazing job".

Even though his induction to the co-op was a "bit piecemeal" due to Covid-19 restrictions, Whineray said he used Skype to keep in touch with people all over the world, who brought him up to speed "to understand where Fonterra's at now".

Now with New Zealand going to level, Whineray was able to "get out and about" around the country, and reckoned he would have visited almost every Fonterra site before the end of August.

"As for the international part of the induction, when I can get overseas - I wouldn't be brave enough to put a timeframe on that, but I've got plenty to work on here".

Also in today's interview: Whineray discussed his remit at Fonterra, sustainability and his plans for the next six months.