Dairy farmer Michael Perich steps in to run Freedom Foods

Freedom Foods recruits Michael Perich as temporary $750,000 CEO

Agribusiness
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Alternative Freedom board director, turned CEO, Michael Perich replaces Rory Macleod who resigned last month after big inventory irregularities were discovered.

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Dairy farmer Michael Perich has stepped in to take on the chief executive's job at troubled food and beverage business Freedom Foods.

Mr Perich, already an alternative director on Freedom's board, replaces Rory Macleod who resigned early last month after inventory audits of the business discovered outdated and obsolete UHT milk and cereal products in warehouses dating back to 2017.

Freedom has suspended its shares from trading until October 30 while it undertakes a detailed review of its finances and business operations.

Chairman Perry Gunner flagged in late June the company was likely to declare $60 million-plus in stock write-downs.

The company is now also planning a capital raising and has flagged longer term plans to "rejuvenate" its board of directors.

Dairy background

Mr Perich, whose family holds a 54 per cent cornerstone stake in Freedom Foods, heads Leppington Pastoral Company's big dairy farming operations based at Bringelly south west of Sydney.

He is also the joint managing director of Australian Fresh Milk Holdings partnership.

AFMH is jointly owned by the Perich and Moxey families, in partnership with Freedom Foods and Chinese agribusiness giant New Hope Group.

It has dairy farms in northern Victoria and Central West NSW.

Mr Perich's appointment, on a $750,000 a year salary package, will continue until a permanent CEO is recruited to run the NSW-Victorian snacks, cereals, dairy and alternative protein business.

Freedom's product range spans the Freedom and Heritage Mill cereal products, Messy Monkeys snacks, and Australia's Own long life milk, cream and milk alternative products.

Mr Gunner, who kept the boss' chair warm as executive chairman for the past month, has stepped back to the chairman's job.

He said Mr Perich already had a deep understanding of the business and would provide the stability focus and leadership required as the company manages the issues it now faced.

He had already taken a lead role in reviewing Freedom's accounts, business processes and planning.

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The board had decided although the business review was still ongoing and a permanent CEO would be eventually appointed, the company's operational turnaround and successful recapitalisation required some "executive ownership and accountability" now.

As part of its review and forward planning it has commissioned advisors to help the company, including financial services firms Moelis Australia and PricewaterhouseCoopers and law firm Ashurst.

The search continues for a chief financial officer to replace Campbell Nicholas who also resigned in June prior to Mr Macleod taking a week's leave and later departing permanently.

Stephanie Graham was appointed to that role in an acting capacity in June.

Mr Perich's alternate director status on the board, where he has periodically represented his father Ron, has been taken up by another alternate director, Tim Bryan, who also stands in as required for director Tony Perich.

Family connection

The family has been a major shareholder in the Freedom business since 2005.

The two senior Perich brothers largely built Leppington Pastoral from a modest 25-cow dairy farm established by their Croatian migrant parents Kolombo and Julia in 1951 near Liverpool.

It rapidly grew to about 200 cows a decade later, and has since become one of Australia's biggest dairy farming ventures with two herds at Bringelly, totalling about 2000 cows.

Leppington Pastoral also owns the 10,000 hectare West Wyalong district property, Billabong Station, which is cropped for grain and hay to feed its dairy herds and runs heifers before they begin milking.

Third generation Michael Perich, a Western Sydney University (Hawkesbury) agricultural science graduate, has been working in the dairy sector for about 25 years.

Among other industry roles, he is president of the University of Sydney's influential Dairy Research Foundation and a member of the Australian Dairy Conference board.

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The story Dairy farmer Michael Perich steps in to run Freedom Foods first appeared on Farm Online.

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