The end of the Allister era

26 July 2018

MLA will likely never have another employee like Allister Lugsdin.

When Allister retires on 31 July it will be with 41 years under his belt making him MLA's longest serving employee. He is the only current employee to work with the three Australian meat and livestock entities – the Australian Meat Board (AMB), Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation (AMLC) and Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA).

Allister started his career on 21 March, 1977, as a research clerk with the AMB. He progressed through various roles and portfolios that saw him working in Singapore for two years, and then Seoul, South Korea for four years. In 2007, Al moved to his current position of Manager Livestock Services - Asia Pacific, where he's served his longest stint of 11 years.

Friday Feedback sat down with Allister to reflect on his four decades of service.

1. What do you love about the red meat industry?

I loved growing up in rural NSW. I was born in Dunedoo and my parents ran sheep and cattle and were Shorthorn stud breeders. I studied agricultural economics at the University of New England and had a desire to work somewhere in the meat sector. I loved the challenging, dynamic nature of the industry.

When I left uni in 1976, Australia was in the midst of its biggest cattle crash due to over production combined with our major export markets, USA and Japan, closing their import quotas in response to the world oil price shock. This compounded an earlier setback involving a restriction to volume of exports to the UK market when it joined the European Union in 1973.

This was a time of great uncertainty for the industry and highlighted the need for increased effort to secure improved export market access. I've been lucky to be part of a team with AMB, AMLC and then MLA to help push for greater trade liberalisation of our export markets.

In addition to helping overcome the challenges, the other thing that kept me in the industry was the people - from Tassie to the Top End – I always try to find a connection. While my farming relatives and friends didn’t always know exactly what I was doing, I always felt that I had their support and that they knew that I was working on their behalf.

I've also enjoyed developing lasting relationships with a diverse range of characters in many of our key Asian markets. They are friends and, of course, important customers of quality Australian red meat.

2. Tell us your career highlights

I was posted to Singapore in 1982-1984 as a young regional marketing officer and learnt a great deal about South East Asia and the markets for red meat. I had just recently got married (to Sue) and it was great to live in Singapore and travel to meet key stakeholders from Indonesia to Taiwan.

Working overseas is a real ambassadorial role. I was promoting Australian red meat and reporting market information back to AMLC head office. When I returned to Sydney in 1985, I was the first Food Service Manager – as part the AMLC‘s new direction to build a strong domestic marketing program. This involved working in the non-retail food sector to encourage greater use of beef and lamb.

Another highlight was representing AMLC in Seoul, Republic of Korea between 1991 – 1995. The opening of AMLC’s office in Seoul was a pivotal moment and I managed the Australian red meat industry’s presence there for four years. Korea is an intriguing market with language barriers and a challenging climate with hot summers and freezing winters. At that time, Korea’s Livestock Products Marketing Organisation (LPMO) was Australia’s   largest individual beef importer – but it was a government controlled import regime.

As the Korean market began liberalising in 2001, I was able to contribute my market insights into a World Trade Organisation challenge to Korea’s restrictions imposed on beef sourced from Australia, the USA, New Zealand and Canada. The case was successful and led to the removal of a Korea’s internal barriers to trade.

Fast forward to today and South Korea is our third biggest beef export market – something I am personally very proud of.

In 2002-07 as National Account Manager I developed the MLA relationship with Woolworths – across livestock procurement, processing and promotion. I went from having many exporting contacts to having a few key contacts within the Woolworths' meat program, and building those relationships for the benefit of the red meat industry.

Over the last 11 years I have enjoyed working again in Asian markets with the livestock export team. It’s been a challenging and dynamic role, working with livestock exporters, importers and their supply chains delivering animal welfare training, capacity building and market access programs across the region. I've seen great progress by exporters and their partners in developing their supply chains.

3. In an era where people are considered long term if they stay with one employer for four years, what kept you turning up every Monday at MLA for 41 years?

I've been satisfied to have worked in many varied areas, 12 individual roles across a wide cross section of the AMB/AMLC/MLA. I've been fortunate to work with talented and committed colleagues in areas that have been topical to the industry and I’ve also been lucky to balance travel and international postings with a growing family. Why change when the challenges kept coming?

4. What do you look forward to doing in retirement?

Polish up my lawn bowls – I'm already in a pennant team but the club is keen for me to do more practice. I will continue ocean swimming races along Sydney's northern beaches. I plan to do more travel with Sue and I  hope to improve my Instagram photography skills!

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