Widely respected S.Kidman & Co chief executive Greg Campbell has announced his intention to retire, ending a 24-year year tenure with the historic Adelaide-based pastoral company some time later this year.
His decision follows the recent transition of ownership from the original Kidman descendant shareholder base to the new Australian Outback beef consortium, led by Gina Rinehart’s Hancock Prospecting and Chinese venture partner, Shanghai CRED.
Mr Campbell started with Kidman as Landcare Manager in 1993, before becoming chief executive in 2001.
“I just thought it was a suitable time to move aside, and let someone else come in and take charge of some new directions for the company,” he told Beef Central yesterday.
The vision of not only the new owners, but also a number of other potential buyers of the business during the Kidman sale process was to capture the company’s history and provenance in a vertically-integrated branded beef program, taking the product down the supply chain in both domestic and export markets, Mr Campbell said.
“To be honest, my interests are more in production – landscapes and cattle management – and the idea of managing supply chains, cold storage and logistics, and consumer marketing is not something that I am close to. It perhaps needs a different skill-set,” he said.
Mr Campbell arrived at Kidman in 1993, having worked for 11 years previously for the WA Department of Agriculture and the NT Department of Primary Industry, both in land management roles.
He was one of the first wave of rangeland/pasture management specialists to join established Australian pastoral companies, along with people like Mark Ritchie at NAPCo, Scott Braithwaite at Stanbroke, and a little later, Noel Haug, who moved into a similar role at AA Co.
“It was a fairly adventurous move for corporate beef producers at the time,” he recalled.
“The corporate players could see at the time that there were benefits in lifting landcare issues from the fringes, to the mainstream”
“The corporate players could see at the time that there were benefits in lifting landcare issues from the fringes, to mainstream. In that era we dealt with issues like soil conservation, pest and weed control and property planning. But societal demands have largely left that behind, and replaced it with the broader ‘sustainability’ buzz-word.
“But when you see surveys of where the public interests lie with agriculture these days, things like salinity and big issues from decades gone by just don’t get much attention anymore.”
He said it was too early to tell what might occupy his time in future, but he plans to depart from the ‘60-hour week’ routine of pastoral company management. His family still owns and operates cattle properties around Mt Isa in far northwestern Queensland, and he plans to ‘come and go a little’ in those operations, helping his brother. Properties like Rifle Creek, a rough hills block west of Mt Isa, have been in the Campbell family for 110 years.
Mr Campbell was responsible for leading Kidman through the two‐year sales process and the transition of the business to new ownership.
He also guided the business through major changes over the past two decades, including the move into composite breeding, and major portfolio readjustments including the purchase of Helen Springs, which delivered a step-change for Kidman on the production side.
“But the most satisfaction I’ve had from the job is through the people,” he said. “I’ve loved working with the managers and the staff at the operations level.”
“I love reading managers’ quarterly reports, where their descriptions of seasonal responses, pastures, feed availability and estimates of future carrying capacity are just so much more refined, compared with what they were like years ago. The understanding of winter and summer rainfall and the type of pasture responses likely, and the endurance of different pastures on different soil types is much more informed than what it was earlier in my career.”
“That’s partly due to the absorption of the general landcare ethic right through the industry, but also a result of untold hours in a Toyota, getting around and observing, and passing on that understanding and observations to others.”
“Those observations might have been made in a more casual way in the past, but not formed into a structure that management could take advantage of. It’s progress like that where I take a great sense of achievement, in how the focus on the land itself has evolved over the past 20 years.”
“That’s not just as a result of what I and others in similar roles have done, but the whole landcare ethic has been much more absorbed across the cattle industry. And for that reason, the broader community has kind of moved on, assuming it is a ‘job done’. But in reality, dealing with pests and weeds, soil conservation and tree management in places like Queensland is something which never really finishes. Landholders continued to deal with them every week, even though society largely thinks it is job-over.”
Mr Campbell said technology had now ‘swept into’ the cattle yards, much as it had across other parts of industry.
“It’s a new world, with live data capture through the yards, monitoring of watering points and satellite information on pasture quality having changed the nature of the industry. It wasn’t around 20 years ago, and if it was (as in satellite imagery) it was in a form that did not help management.”
“We’re doing so much more with the data at our disposal. Look at developments like Spacial Hub, a government initiative to bring various databases together on vegetation, soil, cadastral mapping and property boundaries together in a single resource, so producers ca log into it and use it as a planning tool.
“That’s just a massive improvement over this information being available only to those specialists who knew where to look, and how to use it. Similarly, pasture information coming out of Aussie Grass and those type of packages allowing producers to estimate pasture yields from rainfall driven models is available much more widely across all states.”
“All of that has come an enormous way in the past ten years or so.”
Mr Campbell will remain as CEO until an executive search process is completed in coming months.
Big capital development plans
In a statement issued earlier today marking the pending retirement of Greg Campbell, the new Kidman shareholders re-committed to a multi-million dollar capital development plan to re‐position the company.
“This will be achieved through a number of measures, including rebuilding the herd (after a number of poor rainfall years), increasing sustainable carrying capacity, introducing new technologies for efficiency and productivity, evaluating the introduction of a branded Kidman beef product and implementing industry leading safety and animal welfare standards,” the board said.
“These plans are being actively implemented and underway.”