“Unlike most Primac Gurus, in the thirteen years that I worked for Primac I only had one job and worked from one location. As a result, my bio not only covers my time at Primac, but pre and post Primac. However, like most Gurus, I have moved around a fair bit“.
Written and contributed by Wayne Fischer.
My early days on Brisbane’s northside!
I was born on the 27thJuly 1947 and lived for the first five years of my life at Kallangur, where my parents had a general store and produce business. Dad sold the business and we moved to Bald Hills. My father took over a pineapple farm. Probably not the best decision he made, as the mid 1950’s saw a pineapple glut, and like many farmers he produced quality produce, but got a return below the cost of production. That was the end of pineapple farming, and he started a rural merchandise business focused on the flourishing dairy industry, stretching from Moggill/Brookfield to Samford, Dayboro, Mt Mee, Caboolture and Woodford. There were around 170 dairy farms in the area. It is hard to believe that in the Moggill/Brookfield area alone there were around 20 large dairy farms.
Rural Merchandising was part of my DNA.
After leaving school at St Pauls Bald Hills, I joined my father in his business. This was my first introduction to rural merchandise. My job, when I learned the trade, was to call on all of our customers in an eight week cycle. I had a station wagon full of product, and we enjoyed good support from customers with our on farm service. As a matter of interest, the largest dairy farm in Queensland at the time was at Nudgee just near the Brisbane airport. It ran 500 plus milkers. Milking was done in three shifts and milk went to both home delivery and the Paul’s factory. It was a semi feedlot environment, and the cows were fed on pineapple and beetroot skins, as well as brewery grain supplemented with grain and hay. My job was to call on them every four weeks. We were able to purchase most products on a direct basis, but some animal health products we couldn’t. Generally, we bought them from either Primaries or Mactaggarts, and I recall doing business with Peter Mee and Bob Nicholson. At that time Hugh Kelly worked for another wholesaler in Fortitude Valley. Little did I know that many years later I would be doing their role at Primac.
After a few years I decided to leave the family business and look to broaden my experience and start a career. My parents eventually sold the business, and it closed at a later date due to residential development taking up a lot of the farming area.
I am not sure of the dates of the various positions I held so I won’t attempt to put dates to the positions.
Sales Representative: Brisbane to Cunnamulla.
This was my first position away from the family business, and I guess it is fair to say that it was a steep learning curve. My territory started with calling on veterinary surgeons in the Brisbane and surrounding areas, promoting veterinary ethical products, and going west, selling sheep and cattle drench, feed supplements and over the counter antibiotics. All of the pastoral houses were my customers including Primaries and Mactaggarts.
Sales Representative: Soil Fumigation Services Queensland and Nth Rivers NSW.
My role was to promote and apply soil fumigation products for use, mainly in horticulture, to control soil borne disease in crops such as tomatoes, strawberries and commercial flowers. As well as sales, it was a very “hands on” role working the fumigation rigs behind a tractor and I wasn’t particularly popular when I returned home each night covered in usually red dust and smelling of soil fumigant.
Sales Representative: Cotton Narrabri NSW
Schering launched a new insecticide into the cotton market in the mid 70’s. I moved to Narrabri to introduce the product into the cotton market. My area of responsibility included the Macquarie Valley to the south and the cotton areas in Queensland. This was my first insight into large scale agricultural production and it was quite an eye opener for me.
Product Manager: Sydney
We moved to Sydney and as Product Manager I had national responsibility for a range of Schering products, and worked with the sales and marketing team to grow market share in targeted crops across Australia.
Queensland Manager: Brisbane
We moved back to Brisbane and I took over the role as Queensland and Nth NSW Manager for Schering, with the responsibility of managing the sales force and distribution network. This didn’t last very long and after only being back in Brisbane for a few months, Schering offered me my next position and we were on the move again.
Cotton Growers Services
General Manager: Wee Waa
Ciba Geigy and Schering made a decision to enter the cotton market on a direct basis through setting up a 50/50 joint venture company called Cotton Growers Services. Conveniently CGS also stands for Ciba Geigy Schering. We moved to Wee Waa on a two year contract, and as the first employee and General Manager of CGS, I started the business from the boot of my car in Wee Waa. This was quite an experience as we set the business up across the cotton growing areas in NSW and Queensland. The end result is that CGS remains one of the major players in the cotton marketplace today.
Queensland and Nth NSW Manager: Brisbane
After my two year contract finished, we left Wee Waa and I was fortunate to secure a position back in Brisbane with Monsanto. This was in the times when Roundup was still on patent and life was pretty good, with large market growth with Roundup, while enjoying the spoils of a high margin product. During this time, Primac was a major customer, and I made a number of friendships which helped when I joined Primac at a later date.
Distribution Marketing Manager: Melbourne
Monsanto made the decision to enter the market with Roundup on a direct basis rather than through the existing channel of Ciba Geigy. This was a big decision for them and I was given the role of developing and implementing the national strategy for direct distribution, which once again bought me in contact with Primac.
General Manager Customer Services Monsanto Group: Melbourne
When the direct distribution of Roundup exercise was complete, I moved to the role of General Manager Customer Services for the total Monsanto group which included both industrial chemicals and agriculture. I must say that this was somewhat less enjoyable than other roles, as I just couldn’t get my head around the industrial chemical business.
Training Manager Monsanto Asia Pacific: Melbourne
I was offered the position as training manager, and my responsibility was for sales and management training across Asia Pacific including Philippines, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Australia and New Zealand. It was certainly an insight into various cultures and teaching an American sales and management course, by an Australian to Asians is a challenge!! I had many instances when I wondered if I was getting through to the Asian participants.
Primac – “some of the best in my career, and in particular the friendships made, of which some continue today”
General Manager Merchandise: Brisbane
After spending time in the training role with Monsanto, I was made aware of the merchandise role at Primac by a friend of mine. I contacted Don Swan and was fortunate to get an interview and secure the job. I hoped that my experience and understanding of the rural marketplace would assist me in being successful in the position.
My first week in the role I must say was “interesting”. Obsolete stock including board shorts, jeans, other clothing items, enough growth promotants to last for five years (I am told we bought them at a good price) and a distribution centre, that was slow in getting product out. Also, in my first week Don Swan took me on a branch visit. We arrived at one of the branches that will remain nameless to find the branch manager talking to a client. When he left, the manager proudly told Don that he was a new client and he had just secured a couple of decks of cattle. Don said great work and the manager replied, “well I had to agree to give him his next lot of merchandise at cost”.
For all the challenges, over time we turned the business around, and with the support of the branch network, and my head office team the contribution from merchandise grew significantly to in some years to be the most profitable division in the company with a high return on capital invested.
The thirteen years at Primac was certainly some of the best in my career and in particular, the friendships made of which some continue today.
The main thing I learned at Primac was that with a successful diversified and well-run branch network backed up by efficient head office staff with good supplier contacts and CEO support then success comes relatively easily.
General Manager IAMA North East Division: Brisbane
Like a number of Primac employees, the eminent takeover of Primac provided opportunities to join other organisations. IAMA offered me a position and I accepted. The role was similar to what I had done in Primac. The division wasn’t performing, and I engaged a similar strategy to what I used in Primac with a successful outcome.
General Manager IAMA Members: Brisbane
Along with the divisional role I also took over managing IAMA’s national member business which was basically a wholesale operation and member relationships business.
General Manager Wesfarmers Landmark Agencies and Franchises: Brisbane
My role in IAMA was short lived as the competition was circling, and IAMA was acquired by Wesfarmers to form Wesfarmers Landmark. I was given the role with the national responsibility for managing the IAMA member business and the Wesfarmers Dalgety franchises. This was quite an interesting role and I got to see a how a number of independent agency and merchandise business owners ran their business and once again it was a learning experience.
General Manager Landmark Northern Region: Brisbane
After AWB acquired the business from Wesfarmers, I was given the responsibility for the Northern Australian business. Once again, a role that I was quite used to and we went along quite well until a major restructure in the business and I found myself without a position.
Sales Manager Rangeland Products: Kingsthorpe
I joined Performance Feeds for a period of around twelve months. It was good to be working in a business that I was involved in its startup, quite a few years before and while it was for a short period of time, it was interesting learning more about livestock supplementation and the liquid feed business.
LW Fischer Services
In 2007 I decided to work for myself, and offer consultancy and project work in the agricultural sector. While I have slowed down a bit now, I still have a number of clients that I do work for.
I was lucky to get a big job first up which set me up in business. This was to restructure Queensland Cottons merchandise business, and prepare it for and complete the sale of the business. This ended in the sale of QC’s five outlets to AGnVet. An introduction to BGA AgriServices led to my longest client relationship. After restructuring the business, we grew the branch network to cover the Queensland coastal and Northern Rivers area and taking BGA to a business with sales in excess of $150m.
This also led to a relationship with Ruralco, and I was asked to complete business plans for all of the Ruralco owned and joint venture businesses. This included Territory Rural (which Chris Hamilton was GM), Rawlinson & Brown, GDL, South Australian Livestock, Suncoast Rural (which Tom Hockings was GM), Davidson & Cameron, WMG Agriservices, Agriwest, as well as all the BGA AgriServices branches to name a few.
Outside merchandise and the agency businesses, I have completed plans for Bean Growers Australia and just recently Suncoast Gold Macadamias and was the agricultural consultant for a German company Nordzucker in their recent $120m investment in Mackay Sugar. Managing the sale and due diligence of businesses has also been a big part of my activities. Some of the sales include Mackay Rural Services, Baileys at Dorrigo, Better Blends Stockfeeds and the big one the sale of BGA AgriServices to Ruralco.
Since 2008 I have worked with a number of family farming groups in the Childers area and still do, who grow sugar cane, peanuts and macadamias, doing their farm planning and budgeting.
I have also formed an alliance with Peter Watkins ex Dalgety and Landmark, and together we have worked on a couple of unusual jobs. Looking at the potential options for controlling water buffalo in Arnhem Land for an indigenous group, and the potential acquisition of the Kurumba Live Export facility were both a bit different. Peter and I also look after any agricultural business listings that Lloyds Business Brokers secure.
Well, that’s my story. I hope it is of interest even though Primac was only a part of my career. Incidentally I am married with four children and three grandchildren!!