1 May 1992 Bledisloe Medal to Fortex Chief
Fortex chief Graeme Thompson of Christchurch is the 1992 recipient of Lincoln University's premier award for contributions to New Zealand agriculture, the Bledisloe Medal. He accepted the honour at the University's Graduation Ceremony on 1 May.
In 1930 the Governor-General Viscount Bledisloe, recognising the importance of a progressive pastoral industry, presented a medal to be awarded to a Lincoln alumnus who has made a significant contribution to New Zealand agriculture or advanced the country's interests. Mr Thompson, Managing Director of Fortex Group Limited, becomes the 59th recipient of that medal.
He follows in the footsteps of distinguished medallists such as E.R. Hudson (1942), Lance McCaskill (1944), Albert Flay (1963), R.H. Bevan (1960), Sir James Stewart (1976), Sir Peter Elworthy (1987), and Sir Ronald Trotter (1988).
Born in 1944 and raised on the family farm near Middlemarch, Graeme Thompson received his secondary education at John McGlashan College, Dunedin.
In 1964 he began studies for a Diploma in Agriculture at Lincoln College and graduated in 1966.
He returned to farming at Middlemarch but in 1971 moved to Canterbury where within a few months he established Cattle Services Limited with financial backing from his father and brother and with the co-operation and support of three Methven farmers.
Thus began his business association with the livestock industry.
Mr Thompson has retained ownership and contact with the Middlemarch property which carries 4,500 stock units.
Cattle Services Limited farmed and marketed prime beef using Canterbury Frozen Meat Co. as a processing company.
Leasing the Coringa Park property for wintering cattle the Company later diversified into deer farming.
In 1978 Mr Thompson, realising the limitations of the domestic meat market, looked abroad and saw an opportunity for the formation of a sheep meat export company. That same year Fort Export Limited was born. Established as a separate company and registered as a co-operative, Fort Export Limited was managed and administered by Cattle Services Limited. The accounts clerk was Graeme Thompson, the shipping manager was Graeme Thompson and the marketing manager was Graeme Thompson.
In the meantime deer numbers were increasing, highlighting the need for a deer slaughter and processing plant in Canterbury. Seeing this opening, Mr Thompson convened a meeting of 17 hand-picked Canterbury deer farmers and put to them a proposal to form such a company, again managed and administered by Cattle Services Limited.
Having thoroughly done his homework Mr Thompson saw Canterbury Venison Limited formed that day.
The shareholding was extended and a plant opened at Seafield in 1982. This deer processing plant included facilities for lamb cutting thus allowing Fort Export Limited to engage in the further processing of its lamb crop.
In 1985 the three companies – Cattle Services Limited, Canterbury Venison Limited and Fort Export Limited – merged to form Fortex Group Limited by which time the three companies had accumulated years of experience in commercial meat production, processing and international marketing.
The following year Fortex built a single chain lamb, venison and goat processing plant at Seafield – a plant that was by far the most productive slaughter operation in New Zealand, if not the world.
With confidence and considerable expertise in the deer industry, Fortex took a 20% holding in Summit Deer Products, a venison processing and packing company based in Tauranga; the holding increasing to 60% then 100% in 1991. This venture gave Fortex access to the North Island deer resource and is now a sound and profitable business.
In 1990, following listing on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, Fortex Group expanded still further with the commissioning of a new $45 million plant at Silverstream near Dunedin.
The ability to add value, to supply lambs, cut to the specifications of individual customers and to market well have been important components in the Fortex formula for success thus maximising returns to farmer clients.
A long term single-minded objective to do the job better than it had been done before looms large in Mr Thompson's philosophy.
Strong demand for lambs in 1991 resulted in intense competition between the three South Island companies. In this head-on procurement battle for South Island lambs Fortex achieved its processing targets, and returns to farmer clients increased thus demonstrating the Company's competitive advantage.
But perhaps the key factor in the formula for success, and by far the most innovative, was the pioneer shift work agreement with the New Zealand Meat Workers Union – an agreement that is now being quoted as an example for the rest of the country to follow.
That landmark agreement was always a prerequisite to success at Seafield – without it Seafield would have been uneconomic.
The two plants have created employment for 1800 people and they inject more than $40 million each year into the Ashburton and Dunedin economies, operating 22 hours a day, 6 days a week without penal rates, processing on 2 chains over 3.3 million lambs – 20% of the South Island lamb kill. (The remaining 80% are processed on another 40 chains.)
The success of Fortex not only embodies monetary considerations but also healthy and harmonious industrial relations. The lines drawn long ago between capital and labour have been breached and redrawn – with 80% of Fortex staff now holding shares in the company.
Supported by a forward thinking board and a team of energetic and able young men and women, Mr Thompson and Fortex are market driven, with a marketing company based in Brussels and an office at Newport, south of Los Angeles.
The meat industry is New Zealand's largest rural industry earning 22 percent of export dollars. That industry is at the end of a long management and investment chain – a chain that begins at mating and ends at marketing.
If that huge on-farm investment is to return a worthwhile dividend, it is vital for the meat industry to do its work efficiently and well, providing quality goods in the market place, backed by after-sale service and guaranteed, consistent supply.
Fortex, under Mr Thompson's guiding hand, has done just that. In 1990 Fortex won the Deloitte Management Top 200 Company of the Year competition.
Its Managing Director, Graeme Thompson, was runner-up with Hugh Fletcher of Fletcher Challenge to the Top 200 Executive of the Year, Douglas Myers of Lion Nathan.
In the 1991 New Year Honours, Graeme Thompson became an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, for services to export.
Lincoln University's citation for the Bledisloe Medal says there is no doubt that Graeme Thompson's vision, management skills and entrepreneurship have advanced this country's interests and contributed significantly to its agricultural industry.
Ian Collins, Journalist, Lincoln University, Canterbury, New ZealandRelated CollectionBledisloe Medal Recipients