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MEET THE BOARD

Paul Willows 

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Paul Willows’ genuine love of agriculture and deep understanding of the challenges that come with life on the land, combined with his appreciation of old-fashioned service, uncanny ability to problem solve and aptitude for reading markets, have been central to his standing as an authority on price risk management in the global agricultural sector.

Paul’s international experience and exceptional ability to manage price risk and supply chains, even in the most volatile markets, led to senior positions at iconic global firms. Paul spent over a decade at Louis Dreyfus where he was instrumental in expanding the company’s interests in Asia, before joining Goldman Sachs in Singapore where he set up its agricultural trading division.

After a career that has taken him all over the world and seen him acknowledged as one of the most trusted and recognised operators in his field, Paul and his wife Kirsty called time on their life in Singapore to bring up their four children, Olivia, Daisy, George and Isla on their farm in Evandale, Tasmania.

“I was growing canola on my own farm and lamenting the fact that I couldn’t forward sell it,” says Paul. “That’s when XLD was born.”

Paul’s love of farming and lifelong dream to run his own farm was the inspiration for his career. As a young man with a degree in agricultural science, he knew he would have to make his own way in the world before he could buy his own farm…

“A friend of mine at uni was developing a mathematical model to trade,” says Paul. “He started with markets in the U.S and they were grain futures markets.”

“I was captivated,” he says. “This was raw commerce. People were deciding on the value of agricultural commodities in the future. There were so many variables; weather, sentiment, politics. This is what I wanted to do.”

As an agricultural commodities trader he soon earned a reputation for being a man of his word who delivered time and again.

“Initially, my focus was buying grains and oil seeds in parts of the world where there was a surplus, and taking it to parts of the world where it was most needed,” he says. “There was a human element to what we were doing.”

“We collected the raw grain from the farm in Australia, orchestrated the entire logistics chain, and I got to see the product on a shelf on the other side of the world. Being a part of that process, and being able to connect our farmers to consumers and managing that supply chain gave me great personal satisfaction.”

“An unreliable revenue stream and lack of financial certainty has always been one of the toughest aspects of rural life,” he says.

“To be able to give our farmers surety, and provide agricultural businesses with a known cost or revenue stream was very rewarding.”

Paul proved his ability to manage business margins by continually providing both customers and suppliers with a fixed future price for their commodity, and honouring that price agreement, come what may.

“What many people don’t understand about commodities trading, or what XLD does, is that we bear all the risk,” says Paul. “We agree to a future grain price and we honour it, no matter what happens in the future. If the market plummets, we wear the loss.”

“In a complex world with lots of moving parts, my job is to know what markets are doing and where they are going to go,” says Paul. “what I bring is an end to revenue volatility and business volatility.”

“If the prices of a farmer’s inputs, or the products they are selling are fluctuating by 50 percent, so is their bottom line. What I do is remove the price risks by guaranteeing the prices of the commodities they deal in.”

“Knowing we’ve helped Tasmanian businesses manage their input and output price risk means a lot to me,” says Paul. “As does the opportunity to give our children the lifestyle they never could have had in Singapore.”

“But, I love that I can still be connected with the world from our office in Evandale through price risk management and trading. It’s taken me a long time, but I think I’ve got the best of both worlds.”

Lachie Stevens

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Lachie Stevens grew up on the land. Agriculture is in his blood. He was raised as one of four boys on the family farm near Wagga Wagga in New South Wales’ Riverina. But, when he chose to do Agricultural Science at university, he wasn’t expecting to be talked out of becoming a farmer.

“There were so many tough years on the back of a wool market collapse. There were a lot of despondent farmers out there,” says Lachie. “Everyone said to me, ‘you don’t want to be a farmer. There’s just no money in agriculture.’’’

“That was the catalyst for my career. Agribusiness, the idea of futures and risk management intrigued and interested me. Perhaps there was a better way to do things. I had to get in there, learn and find out if there was a way to protect margins and reduce vulnerability.”

Lachie did study agricultural science. But, he also pursued every avenue possible to learn as much about futures risk management as he could. He worked for esteemed global commodities trading company Louis Dreyfus for seven years, where he met Paul Willows.

“Paul and I found ourselves saying to Tasmanian growers, ‘what do you mean you don’t have a price for your grain?’” he says.

“Grain markets in particular are highly volatile, they fluctuate regularly, sometimes up to 50 percent in a 12-month period. For agricultural consumers and producers, this is a huge exposure.”

“If a grower’s strategy is to sell their wheat when it’s harvested, then their risk management strategy is simply to take the price on offer that day. To pick one day in a volatile 12-month period is a gamble, that is higher risk than managing it through the year.”

“There was a clear hole and we both saw the need to provide a service. We could help agribusinesses create business models that would outperform their budgets and manage margins.”  

Lachie and Paul both married Tasmanians and soon discovered the lack of market opportunities available to the agricultural sector. XLD was created to give Tasmanian agri-business a choice through transparency and price discovery.

“While other companies in Tasmania provide part of the service we do, such as buying grain at harvest, or some before, we buy and sell up to 3 years prior to when the commodity will be delivered,” says Lachie. “This is a service never before offered in Tasmania.”

Lachie and his family are now based in the United States where he also runs Lachstock Consulting, the grain advisory business he founded. 

“My job involves being abreast of everything there is to know about grain and dairy markets worldwide,” says Lachie.

“I need to understand production levels in different markets all over the world, current prices in relation to each other, and how that will affect commodity prices in the future. Based on my research, I provide guidance to my clients on how they can use volatility to their benefit.”

“At XLD, we are not offering advice,” he says. “We are there to provide a price and a market so our clients can act. 

“We facilitate that market transaction and then we provide the logistics. But, we’re not advising our customers when they should buy or sell. The current and forward pricing we put out daily provides transparency and enables them to make informed decisions on their own.”

Before XLD, Tasmanian agricultural businesses were without agency. They were unable to choose when to sell in the future. XLD provides a clear choice; whether to sell or buy based on the numbers. 

“Traditionally, farmers have had no choice but to hope for the best at harvest. It’s one of the reasons why people advised me not to become a farmer 20 years ago. Rather than being passive, our clients can be absolute price takers at a very important time of the year.”

“All the best farmers I’ve met are planned and organised in the way they run their businesses. They have systems in place. It should be no different when they buy or sell commodities.”

“I’m glad I chose this path,” he says. “Whether I’ve given advice to farmers through Lachstock, or provided price discovery through XLD, I feel I have made a contribution to agriculture, which is what I set out to do, and there is unfinished business out there”

Randall Trethewie

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Like so many farmers that take over from the previous generation, Randall Trethewie inherited a huge debt. It used to be the norm. If the stars aligned on harvest day, Tasmanian farmers could only hope the market price was good on that day. Borrowing against the farm in bad years, and paying down debt in the good ones had become an all too familiar cycle in agriculture… 

“When I took over the family enterprise, I realised I was one hundred percent geared,” says Randall. “I knew very quickly that if I was going to be successful, I would have to adapt my way of thinking and move away from the traditional way of doing things.” 

“And so, I went out in an aggressive way. I leased and bought more land. It paid off and I began to turn things around,” he says. “But, it was after spending time in America, and seeing the way they did things over there, that I realised I had to get rid of my debt.” 

Randall sold half of the farm, cleared his debts and had enough money left over to start a business in Launceston. 

“I still had half the farm and played an active role in running it,” says Randall. “But I put a manager on and started commodities trading. I divided my time between the farm in Blessington and my new office in Launceston.” 

It was through this process that Randall formed the philosophy he would apply to everything he did in business.

“I realised the value in stepping away from the hands-on side of my businesses and using my time to come up with ideas,” he says. “I learned to delegate, so whenever a problem arose I was there to fix it.”

“I learned more about my business by staying on the periphery and taking everything in. Moving out of the front line created vision and allowed me to focus on being innovative.”

In 1985, Randall opened the rural merchandising business T.P. Jones in Launceston. The brand became an agricultural institution with more stores opened in Campbelltown, Longford and Latrobe. He sold the business some 32 years after building it from the ground up.

“When Paul and Lachie described their vision for XLD and invited me to come on board as a Director, I jumped at the chance,” says Randall.

“Those two are absolutely at the top of their game when it comes to commodities trading, and I mean globally. We’re very lucky to have access to traders with their level of experience. It’s unique. It’s quite amazing really.”

“XLD has provided Tasmanian agribusiness with options that have never been available before,” he says. “It’s now possible to buy and sell agricultural commodities in the future as opposed to taking the price on the day. We can offer farmers a price before they even put a crop in.” 

“We can provide agribusinesses such as fish farms, feedlots, flour mills and poultry producers a steady supply and a price well into the future. We remove the price risk for buyers and sellers.”

“Growers and consumers should know their production costs. They need to know they can make a profit too. By guaranteeing prices for the commodities they buy or sell, we can offer them secure margins.”

“The biggest challenge has been getting people to understand what we do at XLD,” says Randall. “Even the most successful farmers take a while to get their heads around it.”

“Until they’ve bought or sold commodities through us, I think some farmers are still a bit wary of the concept. We’re simply giving a daily price into the future. People can opt in on any day.”

“I’ve always been interested in the cutting edge of modern business,” he says. “Ideas and innovation really appeal to me. To be part of a pioneering business like XLD that offers farmers the kind of security that is unprecedented in Tasmania is very exciting for me.” 

Tasmanian farmers now have the opportunity to secure their margins. Borrowing against the farm in bad years and paying off debt in the good ones, like Randall’s father and so many others had to do, doesn’t need to be the norm for this generation.

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