DUSTY Northern Territory station stock camps don't normally share much in common with university qualifications in molecular science, but they've blended to ignite a stellar career path for Anna Speer.
The new 32-year-old chief executive officer of the electronic livestock marketing outfit AuctionsPlus is also a school teacher, a graduate of the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) and is mid-way through a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA).
Much of her drive and empathy with the farm sector was harnessed and moulded on remote Top End cattle stations when she fled Melbourne to go bush for "a change of air" after leaving university.
She spent five years as a jillaroo on several Territory properties and working alongside influential Consolidated Pastoral Company (CPC) boss Ken Warriner as the stud registrar at Newcastle Waters Station.
Fast-forward another five years, and just a fortnight into her latest career move, Ms Speer is now on the lookout for new business opportunities in online livestock selling, including international markets.
The pioneering AuctionsPlus business handles more two million Australian sheep and 216,000 cattle annually and a modest electronic trade in wool which she suspects may also be ripe for growth.
Niche sales for breed groups or the stud sector, industry event auctions and large-scale one-off or annual stock marketing feature events are among the expansion prospects on the AuctionsPlus radar.
Also on her agenda are plans for the company to delve deeper into the genetic and production backgrounds of stock being assessed for sale on the internet service.
She is also on a quest to seek more feedback from producers about what new services or changes they want to see.
A background in livestock
Ms Speer was previously general manager of what is now a major business rival, Livestock Exchange, the company responsible for supplying and running saleyard software and livestock traceability systems at 93 per cent of Australia's regional selling centres, plus the software used by 350 Landmark and Elders agencies and some pastoral companies.
During her four years at Livestock Exchange, initially as its customer relations manager, the company introduced automated selling management systems to new super-sized regional saleyards built by its sister company Regional Infrastructure at Ballarat and Tamworth, with Albury-Wodonga soon to follow.
Ms Speer credits Regional Infrastructure director and Livestock Exchange managing director Garry Edwards with taming some of her "Northern Territorian opinions and brashness" as well as guiding her energy and livestock industry experience towards management and strategy development roles in the company.
"I'd worked with Garry when I was at CPC where we did a lot of data work with Livestock Exchange - he was very helpful in giving me opportunities that pushed me into new areas," she said.
The move to AuctionsPlus follows the departure of 27-year employee and CEO Gary Dick who joined soon after the company began as Computer Aided Livestock Marketing (CALM).
Mr Dick is credited with guiding the real-time electronic auction venture through a host of new technology-era and farm industry challenges to become a profitable stand-alone business.
Now owned jointly by the 'big three' farm services and supplier companies, Elders, Landmark and Ruralco, the ground-breaking service emerged before the internet age in 1986 after trials at Armidale's University of New England.
Originally a dial-up intranet selling link to stock agents' offices, it was first managed by the Australian Meat and Livestock Corporation (AMLC), becoming independent in the late 1990s, and adopting its current name 2000.
Ms Speer believed today's widespread daily use of internet trading, banking and shopping and improving access speeds meant there was now plenty of scope to promote AuctionsPlus to more vendors as a option to saleyard selling.
"AuctionsPlus has not really had a big marketing strategy to push itself forward to a lot of vendors who aren't really aware of the system," she said.
"At the same time a lot of agents probably think it's not really a selling option for many of their clients because everybody's fairly familiar with the saleyard system."
She said internet marketing gave producers real alternatives to deal with potential concerns such as animal welfare and health/biosecurity risks.
And unlike a saleyard auction, a vendor did not have to weigh up the cost of freighting their stock to a selling venue and then face the prospect of not receiving an appropriate price on sale day.
"It's my intention to get out and find out what farmers want and expand and improve our broad trading platform to suit their particular sale exposure needs," she said.
"It might be that new options exist for niche segments or we can expand our profile locally and overseas with special sales like the five-day open Helmsman auction we've just run at the Australian Wagyu Conference."
Ms Speer believed New Zealand's livestock markets may also be an opportunity for much more growth.
Ms Speer admits she has thrown herself into plenty of steep learning situations in her life, but the most rewarding and life-changing was the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP).
She can't recommend the 18-month course highly enough to anybody involved in agriculture looking at a career in the sector and taking on leadership roles as a farmer or community representative or in agribusiness management.
The ARLP, run by the not-for-profit Australian Rural Leadership foundation, has been training networks of informed and ethical leaders to work collaboratively to advance rural Australia's interests since 1992.
Ms Speer graduated this year describing the part-time course as "one of the most life changing things I've ever done".
"It's made me a better people person - and it took the ego out of me," she said.
"It helped me realise the need to turn my fairly enthusiastic energies to helping people around me achieve and work to get the best out of others I'm working with.
"I also realised one thing I really do like doing is teaching others to help them succeed."
Although originally trained in forensic science and molecular biology, Ms Speer added school teaching qualifications to her resume when she completed an education degree while jillarooing in the Northern Territory.
Much of her practical training and course work in the Top End involved working with indigenous children and adults, which has since prompted her to become a mentor for the Yalari Foundation, which funds aboriginal students to attend university and helps them integrate into university life.
Ms Speer's position in the 20th ARLP course was sponsored by Fairfax Agricultural Media, one of many rural industry and education organisations contributing to the foundation.