Man of integrity ahead of his time

Man of integrity ahead of his time


Farm Online News
Former Stanbroke Pastoral Company managing director John Cox passed away on September 27 aged 72.

Former Stanbroke Pastoral Company managing director John Cox passed away on September 27 aged 72.

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WHEN family, friends and colleagues gather in Brisbane today for the funeral of John Cox they would all agree it will be to farewell a man with a vision who was years before his time.

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OBITUARY: John Cox, 1941-2013

WHEN family, friends and colleagues gather in Brisbane today for the funeral of John Cox they would all agree it will be to farewell a man with a vision who was years before his time.

The beef industry giant, best known as the managing director of Stanbroke Pastoral Company from 1989 to 2003, died late last week after a battle with cancer.

He has been described as calm and effective, and above all, a man of integrity.

One of his managers, Bill Scott, who now lives at Thylungra Station near Quilpie, remembers Mr Cox's words to his managers to "get up in your helicopter and look down at the big picture", in a metaphorical sense as well as a physical one.

"Being there in the yards sweating is one thing, but you've got to know what it is you want to achieve - John was a big one for that," Mr Scott said.

"I think the industry today is just catching up to where Stanbroke was years ago.

"He was way ahead of the industry with his ideas for processing and marketing."

The vertical integration of Stanbroke's operations - lotfeeding, meat processing, retailing and live export as well as its extensive property holdings - could be described as Mr Cox's crowning industry achievement.

According to lifetime friend and fellow beef industry heavyweight David Crombie, he transformed Stanbroke from a cattle producer to a meals producer, and led the charge in the cattle industry towards the then new concept.

"He really hit his straps at Stanbroke - it was where he pulled all his expertise together and turned the properties into a stratified group," Mr Crombie said.

Historian Peter Forrest spent time with Mr Cox just before his death and said it was as a youngster in Longreach spending time buying sheep and inspecting properties with his stock and station agent father Reg Cox that gave him the grounding and insight to his lifelong passion.

He was born in 1941 and lived in the west at a time when the wool industry was doing a roaring trade, growing up in a world of stock commerce.

When his family moved to Brisbane he attended school at Brisbane Boys College, graduating in 1958.

His subsequent career had several phases, beginning as a Scottish Australian Company jackaroo at Coonamble, NSW.

He worked with the company for 12 years before heading to North Queensland and a job as assistant manager at The Orient, a Brahman stud at Ingham.

After meeting and marrying Sue Hassall, the couple joined Gunn Rural Management (GRM) and went to Goodparla, now a part of Kakadu National Park, running buffalo and feral cattle.

He was then sent to Ghana in West Africa to oversee a project to establish that country's first commercial beef cattle ranch.

Mr Cox pioneered the importation of indigenous breeding stock - by sea - from Senegal to Ghana, and spent six years in the country, where two of his three sons, Richard and Andrew were born.

Upon returning to Brisbane he had the oversight of GRM International's 11 Northern Territory and Kimberley region properties, while the brucellosis-tuberculosis eradication campaign was in full swing.

It was at this time that his youngest son, Anthony was born.

The significant pastoral enterprise of Colinta Holdings, a subsidiary of Mt Isa Mines was Mr Cox's next step, where he managed 40,000 cattle and 80,000 sheep.

In 1989 AMP's Jim Balderstone employed John Cox to grow its subsidiary company Stanbroke, thus beginning his role of managing the company described as the world's largest beef producer.

Stanbroke's 1997 acquisition of the Queensland and Northern Territory Pastoral Company's aggregation of 25,060sq km and 118,000 head of cattle for a price of about $100m, masterminded by Mr Cox, saw it become the largest individual cattle producer on the planet.

In 2001 the total size of the herd on 27 properties was listed as 551,000 head and in 2002 Queensland Country Life reported that the company had recorded "a spectacular 67 percent increase in operating profit before tax of $131 million".

The company was able to pay a $31.5m dividend to its parent company, AMP Life.

Mr Cox was among the first to perfect live export of cattle from Australia to countries in South-East Asia.

He also led Stanbroke to become the industry leader in using composite cattle to improve carcase quality while maintaining environmental adaptability.

The implementation of the fully integrated supply chain incorporated traceability using RFID tags and DNA fingerprinting, and he paid attention to certified animal care and handling education programs.

The company's through-chain "conception to consumption" journey was said by John to be partly driven by increased public awareness of, and demand for, the company's Diamantina beef brand.

"With food safety becoming an increasingly important issue, sales of Diamantina beef to domestic wholesalers and overseas have increased as a result of the company's ability to deliver a consistent quality product backed by through-chain traceability," he said in 2002.

Peter Forrest said that as well as making Stanbroke so effective, instigating the Diamantina beef brand and a meat processing subsidiary, Valley Beef, along with the Bottletree feedlot at Chinchilla, Mr Cox introduced several workplace reforms.

"He created much bigger and better roles for women, recognising the value of their calm demeanour around animals, and he did a lot to reinforce the place of horses on the properties," Mr Forrest said.

David Crombie agreed, saying that he gave back a lot in helping others to achieve.

"Throughout his time he was one of those blokes who could talk to people at any level, be they a grader driver or boardroom executive."

It was the rarified air of the boardroom that brought him his biggest disappointment though, according to Mr Forrest, when AMP ignored his advice on the best way to sell the Stanbroke property portfolio.

"He saw the break-up as unnecessary and wasteful, and not good for the companies, the stations or Australia, and his point of view has been vindicated," Mr Forrest said.

The insurance giant wanted to get out of agriculture in 2003 and sold Stanbroke to the Nebo Group consortium headed up by Peter Hughes and Peter Menegazzo.

Mr Cox undertook several roles over the next decade, mostly as an industry consultant.

In 2002 he was honoured by the federal government with the awarding of the Centenary Medal for Services to the pastoral industry, and was named in the International Stockmen's Education Foundation Hall of Fame in 2006, recipients of which are described as representing the very best among the world's livestock leaders.

Ken Warriner knew Mr Cox since his school days and said he was one of the more astute people he knew.

"He had acquired a lot of knowledge and that meant his views were always sought-after in Canberra," he said.

"He was politically quite active and well respected."

This was evidenced by his seat on the Cattle Council of Australia, his place on the board of Flinders Group project management firm, and his chairmanship of the North Australia Beef Research Council for five years, a role David Crombie described as invaluable.

"Prioritising research is hard work and it was good to have that steady, commercial practical hand on the tiller," he said.

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The story Man of integrity ahead of his time first appeared on Queensland Country Life.

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