Tribute to a pioneer

Friends and colleagues paid their respects at the conference welcome cocktail party to one of the industry’s inspirational leaders Graeme Lowe CNZM QSM, 77, who had passed away earlier that day in Havelock North after a long illness.

Marking the sad news just as Graeme would have wanted it, “with the minimum of fuss and to get back to business”, MIA chairman Bill Falconer asked delegates to raise their glasses to the legendary meat industry leader and his family.

B+LNZ chairman Mike Petersen spoke of him as “one of our pioneers”, a sentiment echoed by the Minister for Primary Industries David Carter who also paid tribute to the “hugely respected” businessman.

“Graeme led Lowe Corporation from its inception in 1964 to become a major animal by-product processor and exporter,” the Minister said.

“As an entrepreneur, Graeme was not afraid of taking risks and his innovative ideas brought a new level of business thinking and technology to the modern meat industry.”

Meat Acts, the history of the meat industry from 1972 to 1997 written by Janet Tyson and Mick Calder, talks of Graeme’s “formidable lobbying skills”, the fact that he was an innovator, a “persistent agitator for deregulation of the industry” and a “trend setter”.

The founder president and managing director of Lowe Corporation – which now employs about 400 nationwide at the peak of the season and has three tanneries, two fellmongeries and two rendering plants around the country and a turnover of $300 million – started his professional life in a tannery before joining the Royal Navy. After rising to the rank of sub-lieutenant, the British-born 21 year old returned to the tannery before taking on a new adventure on the high seas as crew on a yacht heading for New Zealand, where his mother and new step-father had recently immigrated.

On his arrival on this side of the world, he worked for Unilever subsidiary Birds Eye Foods, before branching out into his own butcher’s shop in Hastings. From there, over the next forty years and via the acquisition of Dawn Foods, he built the Lowe Corporation to where it is today.

On the way, Graeme introduced a number of technological innovations into the meat industry that have saved millions of dollars and improved efficiency. One of these is the ‘Jarvis electric stun box’ for halal stunning, which he and his engineers developed and patented. Another is ‘hot boning technology’ which enables a carcase to be broken down and into boxes within half an hour, side-stepping chillers and shaving two to three days off the process.

Graeme remained committed to Lowe Corporation to the end of his life, although suffering from Parkinson’s disease which affected his speech and mobility. Graeme’s son, Andy, who is also Lowe Corporation’s general manager will now steer the Hastings-based ship.

Also a generous supporter of Hawke’s Bay charities and organisations, Graeme had recently been inducted into the NZ Business Hall of Fame (see Food NZ, June/July 2012). In making their decision, the judges looked beyond business attributes to how the nominated individual has assisted their communities in various ways. For Lowe Corporation, it was sponsorship of the Hawke’s Bay Helicopter Rescue Trust for over two decades, along with support for many charities, including the Kids at Risk Charitable Trust. The family also devotes a lot of resources to conservation. Graeme joined two other  meat industry laureates already in the Hall: Amy Maria Hellaby, founder of R&W Hellaby; and ‘Mad Butcher’ Sir Peter Leitch KNZM QSM.

Our condolences go out to his widow Jenny, son Andy, daughters Sarah and Kate and their families, including seven grandchildren.

This article appeared in Food NZ magazine (August/September 2012).

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