Why Melissa sent Kerry packing

Melissa Fletcher shunned Kerry Packer to keep it in the family

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Melissa Fletcher, 43, has taken charge of her family's sheepmeat processing empire based at Dubbo. Picture by RACHAEL WEBB.

Melissa Fletcher, 43, has taken charge of her family's sheepmeat processing empire based at Dubbo. Picture by RACHAEL WEBB.

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Sheepmeat processing baron, Roger Fletcher, put his foot down when billionaire Kerry Packer offered his daughter a job as an abattoir manager.

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A job offer from billionaire businessman, the late Kerry Packer, set Melissa Fletcher on a path to manage her family's large diversified sheep processing, farming and rural export company.

In 1994 Packer sent his private jet to Dubbo to pick up Melissa's legendary father, Roger Fletcher.

She flew with him to Scone where Packer joined them for a flight to Rockhampton and a visit to his struggling beef abattoir there.

The business tycoon wanted Fletcher's advice on how to fix the plant's problems.

At the end of the trip Packer invited Roger Fletcher to become his business partner.

"But dad said 'no, I have only one business partner and that's my wife (Gail)'," Melissa Fletcher said.

So Packer decided if he couldn't have Roger Fletcher he would get the next best thing - his daughter.

"I was flabbergasted that after asking my father to go into business with him and dad turning him down, that he offered me a job as the Rockhampton plant manager," she said.

"But dad said, 'no no, you can't have her, she is going to run WA (a planned new sheep processing plant near Albany) for me'," Ms Fletcher said.

She ended up running the Albany plant for 10 years and with her young team quickly introduced a new workforce structure and culture based heavily on training and multi-skilling.

Multi-skilling allowed more sharing of the workload and more opportunities for people to advance. At the time a small minority (mainly slaughtermen) were paid big money while the rest, including labourers and women, were on low pay.

"We preferred to take people who knew nothing and train them our way. It was flatline leadership.

"It's a leadership model that is shoulder to shoulder with the workers. Don't ask someone to do something you aren't willing to do yourself."

After a decade at the helm she stepped away to concentrate more on her three young children (Lachlan, Sopheena and William who are now at boarding schools in Brisbane).

She ended up in Queensland where she pursued her own business interests.

Ms Fletcher was selected for the Australian Rural Leadership Program (ARLP) in 2011-12.

"It was brilliant, probably without that I wouldn't have come back to the (meat) industry."

She has been back in Dubbo for three years as the CEO of Fletcher International Exports.

Her father is managing director and still heavily involved in the business but she is in charge of day-to-day operations and a workforce of around 1250.

Fletcher International Exports has grown remarkably since the Dubbo abattoir was commissioned in 1988 followed by the Albany plant in 1998.

The Dubbo site now includes a rail terminal with the company operating its own trains to transport grain and other rural commodities for export including some of its own from farms at Condobolin and Lightning Ridge.

Ms Fletcher spent a lot of time when she was growing up with her father, a big, straight-talking former drover.

"He is very much a sink or swim sort of bloke, he'll throw you in the deep end," she said.

"I absolutely love working with my father, we are big growers of people and teams.

Roger Fletcher told billionaire Kerry Packer his daughter, Melissa, was destined to manage his new abattoir at Albany, WA.

Roger Fletcher told billionaire Kerry Packer his daughter, Melissa, was destined to manage his new abattoir at Albany, WA.

"I guess he identified something in me, he was a believer in my ability. I was very lucky because I never knew the word 'can't'. I got lucky right at the beginning because of the parents I had. A mum who gives you roots and a dad who gives you wings. There are a lot of kids out there who don't get that."

As a proud indigenous woman, Ms Fletcher is acutely aware she got educational and career opportunities a lot of children don't.

She was educated at PLC at Armidale and is a now a great supporter of the Yalari Foundation which offers scholarships for indigenous children to attend some of Australia's best boarding schools.

Fletcher International Exports employs 165 aborigines. Ms Fletcher said good education and full-time employment were key ingredients for indigenous people to live better, more fulfilling lives.

She wanted to study psychology but met resistance from her father so instead did a Diploma of Meat Management at the Victorian University's Werribee campus.

"The meat industry gives me all the psychology I need!" she said.

Ms Fletcher has implemented her training and multi-skilling regime at the Dubo plant to open avenues for people to advance and provide a modern workforce capable of handling the complex demands of preparing, packing and exporting a vast array of different lamb and mutton cuts and products to more than 90 countries.

She said more women were wanting to get into the meat industry.

"I love having women around because women soften it (the workplace) in terms of communications and opening up to people's whole wellbeing, not just as a worker but as a team member and part of our community at work and the wider community."

Her two siblings - brother Farron and sister Pamela - are also involved in the business.

Ms Fletcher is on the committee organising the inaugural Meat Business Women event in Australia in Melbourne on April 3.

Meat Business Women is a networking organisation for professional women in the meat industry.

"The forum will highlight the need for women in the industry. To be a well rounded industry, you need women."

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