AFFCO is establishing an encouraging trend among its management ranks with three women in senior roles as plant and technical managers, notes meat industry commentator Allan Barber. Ann Nuku and Rebecca Ogg are plant managers of AFFCO Manawatu and Horotiu respectively, while Emma Fitzgerald is the company’s technical manager.
Each of them has succeeded in combining a challenging job in the meat industry with children and this is a credit to their focus and capacity for hard work, as well as to AFFCO’s foresight as an employer.
Both Ogg and Fitzgerald worked in meat plants during school and university holidays and completed Bachelors degrees at Otago, BSc in Rebecca’s case and Consumer and Applied Sciences in Fitzgerald’s; she also did a post graduate diploma in food technology at Massey University. Ann Nuku did a science diploma in biology and microbiology and trained at Glaxo in the micro laboratory for five years.
All three women seem to have found their way into the meat industry more by design than by accident. Ann’s first meat job was with Borthwicks at Longburn after spending five years with Glaxo and following the plant’s closure moved to Waitara where she worked on a wastewater treatment project to combine the town and meat plant effluent systems. In her words: “It wasn’t very glamorous, as it involved going down manholes at midnight.” Her next stop was Feilding in the laboratory/QA department soon after Waitaki had bought the Borthwicks’ plants.
Rebecca Ogg was interested in the food sector, but didn’t want a job that was solely laboratory or office based, so on moving to Auckland she phoned Dennis McClenaghan at Auckland Meat Processors where she started three days later as a management cadet. Her three years there gave her experience of every department, but at 25 it was time to go on her Overseas Experience (OE) which she did with the company’s blessing and a job to come back to, if she wanted. However, on her return she actually ended up at Malvern on a three month contract before being appointed a management cadet at Horotiu.
Ogg came from a farming background and worked at the Meat Industry Research Institute of New Zealand (MIRINZ) for three years, but found it too insular. She took up the role of compliance manager with Universal Beef Packers in Te Kuiti for several years before moving back to the Waikato to work as Richmond’s compliance manager for the company’s three local plants.
By this point in their respective careers, all three were committed to the challenges and stimulation of the meat industry.
Nuku’s career path took her from lab work and quality assurance to technical manager during the rebuild of the Feilding plant in 1992, before being promoted to quality systems manager, a North Island wide role reporting to AFFCO’s head office and overseeing 14 plants during the implementation of ISO 9002. She left for three years to have kids in the mid-1990s before returning to the same role in 2000, but soon after that she was appointed to production manager at AFFCO Manawatu.
In 2005, she completed the traditional route through the technical ranks to take over as plant manager in 2005. Before Ann there had been 12 managers of the Manawatu plant since the rebuild in 1992, but she will complete 10 years in the job in June. She loves the challenge of the meat industry which she says is never boring, especially as she has plenty of scope for getting involved in other projects, both internal and external, in which she is well supported by the company.
Following the retirement of most of the supervisory team which had been very stable for several years, she has introduced a number of very promising trainee supervisors. Because of the pressure on young people to find employment, it is now quite possible to recruit new graduate trainees, as well as continuing to appoint those without tertiary qualifications. The most important thing is for them to demonstrate leadership potential.
After three years as a management cadet the production manager at Horotiu left and Rebecca applied for the job; less than a year later the plant manager left as well and she was appointed to the role before the age of 30. That was three years ago and in the meantime she has had a baby, taking three months maternity leave which is about as long as she felt she could take off because of the impact on the plant. However, she says the emotional challenge of parenthood is actually harder than juggling the time demands.
As a plant manager, she finds people management both the toughest and most enjoyable aspect of the job. Managing between 500 and 600 staff through the ever changing priorities of seasonality, product variants and market access is challenging and tremendously stimulating.
Although the meat industry is not usually seen as a bastion of enlightenment, women in Fitzgerald’s role as technical manager are not as rare as plant managers. She moved from her quality management job in the Waikato to Richmond head office in Hastings where she coordinated risk management plans (RMPs), HACCP and overseas standards, before spending five years as a compliance consultant to small and medium businesses. At that point, Rowan Ogg asked her to join AFFCO as technical manager responsible for ensuring the standardisation of regulatory and customer specifications across all plants.
All three women are evidence of the mental stimulus of the industry which they agree is always challenging, offering constant opportunities to learn. They also prove there is great potential for women to come through the ranks and achieve success as senior managers on the production side of the meat industry.
Allan Barber is a meat industry commentator. He has his own blog Barber’s Meaty Issues and can be contacted by emailing him at email@example.com.