Richard Rains is a man familiar to many in the Queensland beef industry.
He’s often headlined industry field days and forums, sharing his 40 years of experience in marketing Australian red meat around the world.
But few know the remarkable story of how Richard went from a penniless cadet agent to the owner of a global meat marketing business, turning over $500 million annually.
This week, Richard shared his story with delegates at the Steak Your Place forum in Charters Towers.
Growing up on a property in central west New South Wales, Richard attended boarding school in Sydney for his secondary education.
The youngest in his family, Richard was passionate about returning home to the farm but was told from an early age that it wasn’t to be.
“There wasn’t enough (money) as it was, so my father suggested to stay in Sydney and try my hand and see if I could make a career.
“The most important thing that my father told me back in 1972, was try your hand in the big smoke and if it works it will be better for all of us, but if it fails you can always come back home.”
Richard said it was this safety net that gave him the confidence and strength to try new things.
Being a boy from the bush he was determined to stay in agriculture and he received a cadetship with the agency then known as Dalgety.
“I landed on the meat desk and had some success when I sold the first beef to Korea that they ever imported. It was 500 tonne of frozen quarter beef and that started the relationship between Australia and Korea and it quickly became Australia’s third largest export market, which it remains today.
“I was very proud of this achievement but sadly Dalgety was a large corporate where you bundy on and bundy off. I was the sort of kid that needed a pat on the back and a kick up the backside and they didn’t have that ability.
“So I was headhunted by a small company that was purely meat trading focused, by the name of Sanger.”
It was a publicly listed company with a head office on London and 13 offices around the world and at the age of 24, Richard moved to London.
“The plan was for me to spend time in all the different offices around the world – sadly after 12 months the company fell on hard times and I had to move back home.”
In 1980 the business went into liquidation, and the man running the Australian office, John Cooper, gave Richard an opportunity to buy into the business.
Richard bought into Sanger with a fellow colleague at the age of 26 and together they helped reshape the company.
He established an operation in Brazil after wanting to take the business model elsewhere.
“Brazil was a country that I identified might have some potential, but the beef industry was already quite mature and there wasn’t much room for me. So we found an opportunity in the chicken industry.
“They were just starting to export and didn’t know much about it so, a number of plants appointed us to market their production.
“From Australia we expanded to live eels, lamb, ‘roo meat, pork, buffalo - if it had a dollar sign in its ear we were involved.”
One of Richard’s biggest successes was being one of the first to sell beef to McDonalds in north America.
“Every animal has a lot of trimmings and meat that are only good for a hamburger. In America their cattle are grain fed so the hind quarter is great steak for a plate but the fore quarter is far too fatty to do anything with on its own.
“So they import well over 300,000 tonne of lean meat from Australia that they blend with their fat meat to get the right mix for a hamburger.”
Richard said the success of Sanger would not have been possible without the people he worked with.
“I handpicked university graduates and I somehow picked the hay from the chaff and I got a great team.
“I did have a policy for a long time that I wouldn’t employ the sons of farmers because they would use me for a couple of years then go back to the farm. But I was soon convinced because if I was to lose them back to the farm it was because I was not recompensing them properly, so I never lost one.”
“We represented a number of abattoirs and sold their entire production. I had a definite belief that I did not want to have signed supply agreements with any of my suppliers, if a handshake was not good enough I’d prefer not to do the business.”
In 2000, Richard bought out John Cooper and later left the company in a management buy out in 2014.
He spent 37 years working and running Sanger.
When he joined the business it had an annual turn over of $50 million and by the time he left it was $500 million.
Richard is now retired and sits on the board of Paraway Pastoral, the Sustainability in the Beef Industry committee, the board of Certified Australian Angus Beef, the board of the Country Education Foundation and is the chair of The Zanda McDonald Award.