The Australian red meat sector is mourning the loss of respected industry identity Pat Dempsey, who passed away in Brisbane on Saturday following an extended illness brought on after he was diagnosed with a brain tumour in April last year.
He was 56.
Over a diverse and productive 40-year career, Pat worked across a wide cross-section of the red meat supply chain, from cattle procurement to boning room and distribution operations, supermarket retailing and international branded beef marketing.
He was both a gentleman and a gentle man, and his easy-going, yet confident nature attracted good people around him. His broad meat and livestock industry knowledge was without equal, in Beef Central’s estimation.
Pat emigrated with his family from Ireland as a child, settling first in Brisbane’s rough and tumble western suburbs, where he and his brothers, Mick, and Jack (now police minister in Queensland’s Newman Government) quickly assimilated into local Australian culture, driven hard by their passion for Soccer.
His career in the meat industry he loved so much was a classic bottom-to-the-top story, starting out as an apprentice butcher with Woolworths in 1973.
He was to spend the next 25 years with the company, rising through the ranks as his obvious talents, application and determination were recognised.
As a young man he was quickly promoted to meat department supervisory roles at Booval and Indooroopilly supermarket outlets. Before long he was posted to Townsville, where he became regional supervisor for meat for Woolworths stores in the North Queensland region, from Cairns to Rockhampton.
He then returned to Brisbane to work under Phil Morley, managing Woolworths’ major BrisMeats boning room, value-adding and distribution centre near Ipswich, which serviced the company’s supermarket network across Queensland and NSW. Part of his responsibility as BrisMeats manager was in cattle procurement, where he had oversight over Woolworths entire northern dedicated cattle supply chain.
Many of Woolworths’ current group of livestock contract-holders were recruited during his era as BrisMeats manager, and Pat enjoyed his occasional live cattle judging duties, whether it be picking ribbon winners among hundreds of led steers at Brisbane Show, or travelling north to officiate at Townsville’s major Prime Cattle Classic.
Pat later became state meat manager for Woolworths, taking over from Phil Morley who moved into a national company role, and promoting a young Brett Thompson, now the company’s national beef procurement manager, to fill the vacancy as BrisMeats manager. He also worked closely with Pat McEntee, then NSW state manager for Woolworths, and more recently general manager, national supermarket operations, who remained a close friend in later years.
It was while managing BrisMeat that Pat became heavily exposed to the emerging Meat Standards Australia grading program. BrisMeats was the project’s primary trial site for domestic carcase grading, and tens of thousands of cattle were analysed as part of the data capture process over a number of years.
In the late 1990s Pat became Woolworths’ representative on the industry’s MSA steering committee, and drove an MSA pilot across a number of Woolworths stores in Brisbane. His innovative spirit, passion for the industry and understanding of the importance of brand development meant he became a strong advocate from the supermarket sector for the MSA program.
Around 1999, Pat moved on to a new industry challenge, accepting a position as general manager of Australia Meat Holdings’ FoodPartners division, where he helped grow the business into one of the largest value-adding companies in Australia, with annual turnover of around $100 million. FoodPartners manufactured burger patties, ground beef pizza toppings and other value-added meat-based products for export and domestic customers in the quick service restaurant, food service and industrial markets.
During his time at AMH, he struck a close friendship with Brent Eastwood, then managing DR Johnston wholesale division who was later to become JBS Australia chief executive, with whom he remained close in recent years.
Pat was always seeking new challenges, and three years later, a new career opportunity came up that he could not refuse.
He left AMH in 2002 to take equity in a three-way joint venture with Nolan Meats and the recently-listed Australian Agricultural Co, in a new business called Chef’s Partner. Pat became the operation’s managing partner.
The business’s main focus was in converting raw material from the Nolan’s and AA Co branded beef programs into retail-ready and food-service-ready form.
What set it apart from others working in this space at the time was that it was a purpose-built facility, rather than just an afterthought in a conventional boning room operation.
Chef’s Partner was one of the pioneers of case-ready packaging operations in Australia, employing new Modified Atmosphere Packaging technology to develop longer-shelf-life products for Woolworths and other large retail customers. At one point the business served 200 large retail and food service customers across Australia each week.
The business also had a large portion-cutting operation, cutting AA Co’s 1824 and Wagyu, and Nolan’s Private Selection branded steaks for the booming steakhouse market across Eastern Australia. Chef’s Partner at one point cut all the portions for Woolworths-controlled hotels, including the Breakfast Creek Hotel in Brisbane, easily the largest steak food service outlet in Australia, serving in excess of 10,000 steaks a week.
As AA Co’s brand program operations grew, the company bought-out Pat’s and the Nolan family’s combined 55pc share in the Chef’s Partner business. Consequently Pat joined AA Co as a senior executive in April 2006, taking responsibility for its rapidly-expanding export and domestic branded beef program.
In his role as AA Co’s beef group general manager, he worked closely with former managing director, Don Mackay helping deliver on the company’s mission of moving from being simply the world’s largest cattle producer to a vertically-integrated beef supply chain.
It was an era of rapid expansion and diversification for AA Co's beef operations, which saw an increasingly large proportion of AA Co’s annual beef turnoff directed into the company’s own brand programs, under Pat’s control.
Along the way he pioneered new markets for the company’s exports, including building an alliance with golfer, Greg Norman, in pushing into the US high quality chilled beef cuts trade, and emerging markets like the Middle East and Russia.
AA Co’s branded beef sales increased by 150pc between 2005 and 2008, and in 2007, alone, sales revenue shot up 36 pc to $106 million, annual report records show.
Pat’s close-knit and loyal band of friends and colleagues across the industry kept close touch with him during his post-operative struggle, during which he always remained in good spirits and displayed a positive attitude, supported by his strong Christian faith. His deep satisfaction and pride in the imprint he had left on his loving family was clearly evident.
Pat Dempsey is survived by his wife, Marina, and children Nadia, Matthew, Caitlin and Sam.
Rest in Peace, Pat.
- A funeral service will be held this Wednesday, 12 February at 1pm in the Stuartholme Chapel, Stuartholme School, Birdwood Terrace, Toowong, Brisbane.