JOHN Kaus has been remembered as a great family man, livestock export industry trailblazer and a market pioneer as friends and family gathered to celebrate his life in Brisbane on December 20.
John, 64, passed away earlier this month after a long fought illness.
John’s family asked his good friend Dean Ryan to speak about his remarkable life achievements in the industry during the service.
Here is how Dean fondly remembered his mate:
“I am deeply honoured to be asked by John’s family to speak about his life achievements in the industry, some in the crowd will already know most of his achievements and others will be astonished to learn what he managed to achieve from humble beginnings as a Ships Stockman, to today an being and industry legend and leaving behind a legacy few will match in the future.”
Dean quoted a recent tribute to John.
“John Kaus, a man who helped build Australia’s Northern cattle trade into South East Asia for the past 40 years, will be remembered as a pioneer of the Australia – Philippines and Vietnam cattle trade, an approachable and generous leader, a tireless marketing man, a fighter against insurmountable odds and someone to whom personal relationships and trust were everything.”
Dean said that pretty much summed up “Kausy”, but beyond that he was a devoted family man, a mentor to many, a cherished friend and confident, who loved a drink and a good time.
“Many a late night has been had at bars all over Australia and various countries in the world, and we all will relish in our minds the echo of his cheeky voice “one more for the road hey fellas”!!”
Dean told of how he first met “Kausy” or JK, in the Philippines in 1994 when Dean was working as a boat stockman for Austrex during his university industry placement.
“We would then catch up regularly at various industry meeting in SE Asia, trade fairs, Beef Congresses, Beef Week in Rocky etc initially as competitors and later as business partners forming a friendship that has spanned 25 years.
“Others have known John a lot longer than me from his school days at Churchie, Ag College at Emerald, stock agent and property manager.
“However, I have spent most of my past 12 years talking to JK at least twice per day, often for several hours, as you all know he loved a chat. We discussed everything from daily business operations, to farming, family life and personal matters, we confided in each other a great deal and travelled Australia wide and most of SE Asia together.”
Dean told of how John got his real break, and met his future wife in the Philippines.
“John got his real break by accident really, whilst he was managing the regional office for Carabao Exports in the Philippines. Coincidently, John chose the location of the regional office as he was given a choice between Brunei or the major market of the Philippines. He obviously chose the latter as he reckoned the choice was obvious, the beer and the birds, he got both and met Violy whilst living in the Philippines and started the young Kaus family there.
Carabao, then owned by the Sultan of Brunei, decided to downsize and made staff redundant during Beef 94, a shock to all, especially John. He quickly gathered his thoughts and teamed up with John Montague from Quality Livestock Australia over a few dozen beers / rums and marketed over 40,000 cattle per year for years as South East Asian Livestock Services, or SEALS.
In 1996, John teamed up with long time mentor Sid Parker who had also previously worked for Carabao Exports, to gain their own export licence for SEALS. The arrangement was “you buy them and I’ll sell them” and what a team it was. Steve “Spoofie” Grose joined soon after and did the on the ground buying and Sid managed the finances and operations, while John stayed in the Philippines initially doing all the marketing throughout SE Asia.
They initially started doing one voyage a month on the Chris Skonis owned Kalmnian Express and soon SEALS became a success story of the north and in 1997 won its first NT Export Agribusiness Export Award. SEALS later, through the relationship of Sid Parker and fellow industry legend Sid Faithful, formed an understanding for SEALS exclusive use of its two small ships the MV Molunat and MV Norvantes, which became the backbone of SEALS operations for the past two decades, a relationship continued by John, myself and now SEALS current management with the SEASWIFT Faithfull Group, with current vessel the MV Nine Eagle who started its maiden voyage for SEALS on September 17, 2011 ex Karumba, and has completed over 100 voyages since. Unfortunately, both Sid’s have now passed, but that relationship was and still is special, based on old fashioned business principals of give and take and mutual respect.
Sid and John first tried to persuade me to join SEALS in 2000 and I later joined them in 2006 after an eventful bus trip during Beef 2006. John was patient and persuasive. John’s business model attracted me, we all worked for ourselves, effectively running our own business under the SEALS umbrella, responsible for our own costs, with no corporate head office overheads, creating maximum efficiency. We all worked aggressively as we only made money when we were exporting. Much has been said about the initial formidable team of SEALS but later after the 2011 Indonesian trade suspension, even with John fighting for his life, we ramped the business up from 48,000 cattle in 2010 to a peak of over 130,000 in 2015 and increased the turnover by four times. In the same year SEALS won the NT Export Agribusiness Award for the second time. By the time I departed the business in July of last year, SEALS attracted international attention from investors and due to John’s ailing health, he and the family decided to sell shares in SEALS to YarraCorp in Singapore. The future looks bright in a tough current trading environment with corporate horsepower now in place, to see through the tough times and capitalise on opportunities that lie ahead with the emergence of China as a major market, and long-term SEALS staff investing in the business to ensure continuity of Johns legacy.
John never once thought the cancer would beat him, he was constantly on the lookout for expansion opportunities. In 2010 Sid, John, Spoofie and myself purchased Karumba Livestock, a quarantine yard and ship loading wharf in the Gulf of Queensland on the Norman River. It’s is a unique facility only able to be serviced by smaller vessels due to the tidal influence, however it suited the SEALS operation. Shareholdings have changed over time and currently John and Violy own Karumba in its entirety, managed by Dean Bradford and his partner Clare, whom cherish the opportunity given to them by John and look after the place like their own. John also continued to expand Bonadea Cattle Co over the past two decades. Additional property purchases and leasehold country have given some scale to the Tenterfield Angus cattle grazing operation, under the brand 3JV, ably managed by Phil Alridge and his family. John loved his visits to Bonadea for the fresh air and serenity of dirt under his fingernails and the smell of cow manure on his boots.
Most others in ill health would retire, not JK he went full steam ahead. John was a tireless marketer: he would quote seven days a week, with constant and regular contact by phone and email with clients. We often did deals on weekends as JK saw opportunity whilst our competition had the weekend off, to get under their guard. He would request quotes on any random opportunity that came along, no matter how big or small. He would constantly bombard Sid or myself and later Kevin with phone calls / emails / text and more recently WhatsApp messages chasing quotes at any time of the day or night and got cranky if the budget was not to him in a timely manner, in case he might miss an opportunity to close a deal. I must have prepared thousands of budgets and proformas (often six or seven drafts for the same contract), over the years, always wanting to get a deal “away from the mainstream” commodity trading into niche markets where SEALS could service clients with the smaller ships. We later chartered additional small ships from Corral Line re-establishing a long-term relationship between Sid Parker / John / myself and Bjorn Clausen and more recently over the past few years with GLOCAL Japan, who have also become like family to SEALS. John in turn, kept their smaller cattle ships with regular work, servicing various SE Asian markets.
JK developed a wonderful relationship with all his clients, many developing lifelong friendships, from countries including: Philippines, Indonesia, Sabah and Sarawak, Malaysia, Brunei, Vietnam, Mauritius, China, Thailand, Cambodia, PNG and Vanautu.
Slogans and branding
JK loved his corporate slogans, SEALS – “Australian Livestock Marketing and Exporter”, that pretty much summed up John and that is what he was recognised for and he carried out what his motto said “Consistent in Quality and Service with Competitive Price.” It was displayed in the front cover of every notebook he distributed to both friends and business contacts.
As one of the early adopters of corporate branding, no one did it like Kausy. The SEALS logo was everywhere with a distinct connection to Asia: with the Asian man in rice paddy with a stick herding his cows, the Asian Red and Yellow colour always had purpose and meaning. He had notebooks, leather covered diaries, shirts, ties, cufflinks, belt buckles, pens, wallets, billfolds, eat more Australia Beef car stickers, hats, t-shirts, tie pins, suit pins and even a torch. John got a great kick out of a picture sent to him at Beef 20015 of a large group of Asian customers in the Wellard’s tent with their SEALS yellow caps and t-shirts on. He belly laughed and exclaimed “that must annoy them as much as their big boats annoy me!”
As much as John was a great marketer, he was also a good businessman, surrounding himself with knowledgeable people who had skills outside his own strengths. He had a long-term relationship with his old school mate Russel Postle from accountancy and advisory firm BDO, who acted as a significant auditor and financial advisor for John’s various businesses.
John personally watched all the inwards payments from overseas clients, even collecting cash personally in various foreign currencies. He had an unusual and old fashioned method of using various coloured pen entries in his day book for each shipment and client and their daily payment position. He would regularly follow up with them by personal call or jump on a plane at the drop of the hat if payments were late, in order to minimise any debt exposure to SEALS business prior to loading the vessels. This sound business management allowed SEALS to develop a reputation with Australian suppliers as the timeliest payers in the game, which in turn helped source stock when supply was tight, and SEALS had to fight off stiff competition from the larger corporate players.
JK had a lot of sayings from his stockman days.
“We don’t make a lot of money, but we have a lot of fun”.
John would often joke when he saw modern day stockman stressing out after a long drawn out discharge drinking energy drinks etc. He would quip “we kept going on VB”.
JK had amazing people skills, he was always warm, polite, witty and genuinely honest with all people he dealt with in both business and private life. John taught me the value of people, the art of patience, perseverance and persistence in negotiating deals for the best possible outcome. One example of his people skills was when we were in negotiation with a client for a “claim” post discharge after a rough sea voyage in the South China Sea. The claim started at a massive amount and John patiently negotiated and changed tack for nine hours. Finally, in our hotel room about 2am, after JK had filled them with a few rums, they cracked and had to go for a smoke. JK said when they were out of the room, “we have them on the ropes now, they will want to settle for half, we will go for 25 per cent” and he got it. He saved over USD$200,000 that night and said “that wasn’t the worst night work we have done, see you in the morning at 6 for breakfast!”
John’s contribution to the Industry was recognised with an Induction into the Australian Livestock Export industry’s Hall of Fame in November 2013 and Life membership of Northern Territory Live Export Association that same year.
Tough and tenacious
JK fought multiple myeloma since 2007, had multiple set backs, but he kept fighting. He would always say whenever he had a medical setback, the doctors will find a new “Redbull” (referring to his blood condition) treatment for me, don’t worry. He suffered a broken leg in a bathroom fall in Cairns in July 2015, he battled through, had a significant operation with a huge steel rod to be inserted through his femur, only for the rod to break a few years later and he endured the operation all over again. Violy told me last week when we spoke of John’s passing that when he got the pain in his leg he thought it was the pin again and said with a smile, “looks like I might have to get it fixed for a third time.”
John would often contact friends or family who were ill, often nowhere near as sick as him, to give them moral and emotional support.
John was an unofficial mentor to many younger people wanting to get into the industry or already in the trade, including myself. He offered many younger up and coming stockmen, compliance officers, buyers, marketers, truck drivers, new importers, ESCAS consultants, export administrators, feedlot workers, slaughtermen etc support and advice.
John was extremely generous, not just to the SEALS team but to many others and he did it quietly and humbly. If there were opportunities to bring others into a deal he would, for no financial reward. He introduced many overseas contacts and investors to others to seek consultancy advice, provide merchandise, sell property or cattle. John would say, “it will come back to me in other ways”. He rewarded loyal staff and partners with healthy bonuses. All that have worked with John in any of his businesses, SEALS, KLE or Bonadea have been financially rewarded in the good times without prompting. No one was ever left out, from stockmen to the management and all in between, something we are all forever grateful to John and Violy for is their generosity.
John was loyal, both in supply in Australia and clients overseas. He was also immensely protective of his clients, often confronting other exporters for putting in Phantom quotes to “his” clients.
A personal tribute
In 2008, JK gave out gifts at a staff Christmas party held in Darwin, mine was a pen engraved the “Confident Cowboy.” I still have it today in my pocket, along with the first SEALS leather covered notebook from John’s good mate The Tenterfield Sadler, with which countless multimillion-dollar deals were first penned, or budgets scratched out as Kausy would say ‘beer coaster style”.
We travelled worldwide together, Indonesia, Brunei, Sabah, Sarawak, Malaysia, Philippines, Japan, Thailand, Mauritius, Cambodia, China. JK loved to travel in style at the pointy end of the plane, staying in good hotels. I loved to travel with him, but my pocket hated it. He used to say you “only live once may as well enjoy the travel, it is tax deductable and the Government are not doing a very good job spending it.”
Kausy and I shared a mutual love for the bush, bush people, a drink, farming, cattle and sport. We would talk for hours about our mutual goals to acquire, develop and pay down debt on our rural properties, so we had a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Bonadea Cattle Co was John’s pot of gold and he dearly loved visiting the farms in Tenterfield to check the property progress with his manager Phil Alridge and check his beloved Angus cattle with brand 3JV.
I have received countless calls from those who could not be here to honour John, from around Australia and overseas, wishing their condolences to John’s family and friends, a true testament to how widely renowned he was and the empathy he had with people.
John was immensely proud of his family and always carried a photo of Violy, Scott, Michelle and April in his notebook or wallet to show clients overseas or livestock agents/producers/stevedores or anyone that inquired about his family. Ultimately, the decision to move back from the Philippines where John had established himself as the premier marketer of Australian cattle, was to educate the children in Brisbane. He had a close connection to Churchie being an old boy and wanted to ensure the kids had the opportunity to attend a reputable private school to give them the best go in life he thought he could provide.
The irony of JK passing is “he beat the cancer”, as it was ultimately a blood clot that caused his massive heart to fail in the end, the same heart that kept him fighting for over a decade. I got a terrible shock last Monday to learn of John’s passing. I guess we all knew it would come one day, but when it did I certainly was not prepared, as I always thought his willpower and heart would keep him ticking along and he would be at the end of the phone as a sounding board for years to come.
I wear the SEALS tie and suit pin with pride one last time, to honour a special man and bid you a final farewell as we have “one for the road” this final time.
“Kausy” - RIP – JK – you will be in all our heart’s forever and not forgotten.