It’s a good thing for the livestock industry that Noel Grant went for the money way back in 1967.
Otherwise the country boy at heart may have become a bureaucrat or a banker, and not pursued the career in the stock and station agency game that has not only defined him, but that he also has helped to define in Southern Queensland in a career spanning more than four decades.
The co-founder and managing director of the Grant Daniel and Long (GDL) agency network, and inaugural director of the Australian Livestock and Property Agents Association, has announced his retirement this week after 45 years in the livestock agency business.
With GDL celebrating its 15th anniversary last month, Noel says he has achieved what he set out to achieve in the business, and is now looking forward to pursuing new opportunities ahead – as soon as he spends some valuable time-out with his family first.
He concedes he isn’t quite sure what that next challenge will be, or even if it will involve the livestock sector, but he is staying true to the sentiments he expressed during a memorable keynote address to a Rural Press Club of Queensland breakfast at AgShow three years ago.
“I don’t care how old you are, if you believe in yourself, the best is yet to come,” he said at the time.
His story is one of self-made success, of the office boy who rose to be owner and general manager, and of a reputation built on integrity, hard work and honesty.
The son of a Rockhampton railway bridge carpenter, Noel applied for three jobs when he left school.
One was with the public service paying $13 a week, the second was with the Commonwealth Bank paying $17 a week, and the third was with Australian Estates in Rockhampton under leading auctioneer David Watkins, paying $21 a week.
He was offered all three, and in an early display of astute judgement, he said the decision was easy: “I took the money”.
An adage Noel has always adhered to, and has encouraged young agents to follow, is that if you do more than you are paid to do, eventually you will be paid more than what you do.
His own career now stands as testament to that statement.
“I took the job that paid the most, but it turns out that it has paid me rewardingly in many other ways, through the industry and the lifelong friends I have made,” he said.
“You grow to love the people, you become friends and conduct their business for them on a friendly but professional basis, and you just grow to love the industry.”
After starting in 1967 as a dispatch clerk with Australian Estates, which was ultimately taken over by AML&F and then Elders, Noel joined Eric Caton in Toowoomba in 1983. Twelve months later that firm was taken over by Primac, which in turn later merged with Elders.
Noel had long thought of starting his own business, and, in reference to the one-time Seekers hit song, said he “always kept a dream in my pocket” that he would one day take the plunge.
That day arrived in 1997, when with fellow agents Jamie Long and Peter Daniel, Noel “jumped out of an ocean liner and into a dinghy” by leaving Elders to establish a new private agency called Grant Daniel and Long.
There were plenty of knockers and jibes that they wouldn’t make ringer’s wages, but with second-hand cars and mobile phones bought from Cash Converters, Noel, Jamie and Peter set about building a new agency network from the ground up, based on a culture of hard work, honesty and professional service.
“Big enough to count, small enough to care” was the mantra, and slowly but surely the business grew and expanded. Ten years later the “dinghy” had grown to 12 branches handling more than 200,000 cattle.
In 2007 a majority interest in GDL was purchased by national livestock agency business RuralCo.
From a career that has seen many changes and numerous highlights, Noel looks back on the formation of GDL with no small amount of pride.
“Everyone said the timing was wrong, you won’t be able to do it,” he said.
“I think our success was built on having that same honesty and professional service, and whatever you do, do it to the best of your ability.
“It was an enormous gamble but I always felt confident that we could do it because of the background that we had in the industry, because I knew that we could believe in ourselves.”
Noel has always believed strongly in encouraging and training the next generation, and, as an inaugural ALPA director, was one of the early drivers of the young auctioneers' training schools and competition that has become a popular fixture on the industry’s annual calendar today.
His advice to young agents is simple: work hard, work on you, and work to find success, because it won’t find you.
“One of the things you have to have is honesty and integrity and work hard for the success of your client. If you do it with gusto and with enthusiasm, you will find it is a very rewarding career.
“It is not an easy job, it is a hard job and very time-consuming if you’re going to be good at it, but it is very rewarding, and you will make friends for life.”
After spending time with his family, Noel said he is looking forward to the next opportunities that lie ahead – whatever they may be.
“I always had a song – keep a dream in your pocket – now I’ve got to go and dig deeper in my pocket to find another dream!”