WAMMCO boss steps down

Bob GarnantThe West Australian

In an emotional address, WAMMCO's Dawson Bradford delivered his final chairman's report at the specialised lamb supplier's annual general meeting held in Kojonup last week.

"It is the right time to retire," he said to a small gathering of board directors and co-operative members.

The long-serving chairman, who's been in the role for 15 years, makes way for newly appointed Kojonup producer Craig Heggaton, who has been the second-longest-serving board director.

"I am thrilled with the current financial position of the business," Mr Bradford said.

"We have no debt and now have two financial businesses and a good, balanced board."

Mr Bradford was one of nine producers and professional directors appointed by the Court government in 1999 to manage the merger of the former statutory Meat Marketing Corporation with the newly purchased WA meat processing operations of Metro Meat International.

This formed the grower-owned meat processing and marketing co-operative WAMMCO.

Mr Bradford reflected back to the early beginnings.

"When we started it was dark days and we nearly went bankrupt," he said.

"To stay afloat required a restructure and we sold off Linley Valley, the Wellington office and South Coogee properties."

Mr Bradford attributed much of the turnaround to former chief executive Des Griffith.

"He was a hard-nosed accountant," he said.

Mr Bradford said the ban on live exports in 2003 created a $7 million profit, resulting in a free pass out of debt.

The Federal Government's live export ban to Saudia Arabia came after the infamous MV Cormo Express incident in which 57,000 sheep were turned away from that country which resulted in an influx of WA sheep processed into the domestic market.

"WAMMCO turned the corner from the ban and started climbing, and, in 2007, we were the recipients of the national rural exporter of the year award - one of my proudest moments," Mr Bradford said.

"Since then, we have gone from strength to strength.

"When Des retired in 2008 we picked up Coll MacRury, who is has been very competent."

Mr MacRury was previously a New Zealand meat industry executive.

"Our takeover of the Goulburn meat processing facility, renamed Southern Meats, has put security into the business and spread the risk, and our annual profits are showing this regularly," Mr Bradford said.

"I am very confident in stepping down as chairman.

"I would like to thank all the shareholders who have supported WAMMCO over the years."

In closing, Mr Bradford said a soon-to-be-published history on WAMMCO would create some interesting reading.

Mr Heggaton paid tribute to Mr Bradford's years of service through a special toast among the other board members.

"It will be business as usual," Mr Heggaton said, as lamb chops were served during the social end of the evening.

"WAMMCO is in a very strong position, with major expansion at both works. The business is respected in the market worldwide," he said.

"Our aim is to continue being a premium processor which is paying dividends to its member producers.

"My strength as a director/producer will be to focus on producer returns through value-added products sold into premium markets.

"Demand for our sheepmeat products will continue to increase with a strengthened US economy,

"In 20 years, WAMMCO will be more diversified as we continue to keep an eye on potential investment opportunities."

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