AMIC learnt, with much sorrow the passing of meat processing and industry stalwart John Keir last Thursday. John was someone I personally admired and in my formative years, spent a great deal of time with, in the ever-changing area of livestock procurement and management issues, as well as so much more. He was dedicated to his company and industry, he was forthright, determined and left no one in any doubt on his views. John was a committed and focused individual at everything he did in the meat industry.
Post his initial years in the livestock agency industry, his early years was a livestock buyer for Tancred Brothers in Queensland, then a major multi-plant meat processor in Australia. He knew his livestock and he knew how well they should be performing. Maximising return was important to John and that included the whole supply chain.
In 1986 the courageous experiment in plant rationalisation in Australia saw the formation of the Australia Meat Holdings (AMH) consortium involving Tancred Brothers, Thomas Borthwicks, Smorgans, Metro Meat and FJ Walker (Elders). John quickly became a senior member of the new AMH management team reflecting his practicality and work ethic in a tough working environment and eventually rose to the position of General Manager Livestock.
In 1998 Peter White and Don Ferguson were made joint CEOs of AMH. John as Director of Livestock championed a number of key, industry changing livestock industry changes including implementation of NVDs, NLIS implementation for cattle, the first agent/buyer agreement that included a great deal of travel with a young Patrick Hutchison, and a lot of frank and firm meetings with industry for the purchase of cattle at auction, CattleCare payments, the infancy of development of LPA and other areas.
When Don became Non-Executive Chairman in 2001, John Keir became joint CEO of AMH, the largest meat processing company in Australia. John travelled to the US in 2002 with Don Ferguson and Peter White and gave a presentation of the AMH business to a number of possible investors in the company. From this and subsequent discussions a deal for its refinancing was put together with new US investors that saw AMH become known as Swift Australia.
In March 2007 John travelled again to the US and presented AMH/Swift Australia’s story as part of a wider Swift & Co presentation to a diverse group of interested investors. These meetings included Wesley and Joesley Batista from Brazil. On July 12, 2007, the Batista family of Brazil through JBS Friboi settled its acquisition of Swift & Co and as a result, the acquisition of Swift assets in Australia created JBS Australia. After the takeover was complete John retired from the company having completed 21 years of service which had included 9 changes in major shareholders.
John was a mentor to me and I and so many others learned a great deal from him. The industry has changed for the better under his leadership, and we are better for having him within our industry. I personally will miss him and his counsel, his directness, and his clear-eyed vision for our industry.