Mary Malone – a history of a working life

Mary Malone
The epitome of quiet efficiency, Mary Malone.

A milestone was reached recently when one of the red meat sector’s longest serving and most respected administrators retired. Mary Malone’s 42-year career allows reflection on the changes industry has seen during her tenure.

Quietly, efficiently and steadily going about her business in the background as quota administrator from a desk in Wellington, Malone’s reach has extended into every one of New Zealand’s beef and sheepmeat quota markets, through her work with the New Zealand Meat Board.

Christchurch born and raised, Malone has worked under eight chairmen, nine chief executives and at least 12 managers. More recently, these have included Allan Frazer, Andrew Burtt, Ben O’Brien, Anne Berryman, Cros Spooner, Dave Harrison, Mark Dunlop and, lastly, Dave Harrison.

As the organisation’s longest-serving female staff member, she has played an important role at the heart of the organisation and industry, which has changed considerably over the years. This has included both legal and technological change, including the massive change in communications technology vital to keeping New Zealand sheepmeat and beef’s global trading networks running smoothly.

Her move to Wellington came in 1976 when she accepted a job at the New Zealand Meat Producers Board (NZMPB) as personal assistant to then marketing services manager Darcy Freeman.

Starting on 26 July that year, she began communicating with importers and exporters via phones, electric typewriters and telex, under the moniker ‘MAM’ (her initials). Later, there was the relative technological blip through faxes before arriving at today’s email and E-certification.

In 1980, the NZMPB faced huge challenges. Stimulated by the Muldoon Government’s introduction of the Supplementary Minimum Prices scheme, farmers were boosting livestock numbers. Sheep numbers increased from 55 million in the mid-1970s to 63 million in 1980 and would peak at 70 million in 1984. Yet New Zealand’s market access to the all important UK market, along with Continental Europe, was to be curtailed by the introduction of a ‘Voluntary Restraint Agreement’ (VRA). The new sheepmeat regime brought new responsibilities. Signed in July 1980, the Board was charged with the licensing of New Zealand exporters and quota allocations through the issue of VRA certificates.

At this time, Mary was working with Graeme Harrison (now Sir Graeme) who had returned from London to undertake the Board’s ‘marketing’ activities, as Darcy Freeman had become the Board’s chief executive.

The busiest time came for her in the 1980s, she says, when the Board took over the ownership of sheepmeat in 1984. Malone became UK co-ordinator, arranging consignments of lamb for UK importers and working closely with Paul Phillips and later Mark Smith. At that point, Harrison was deputy chief executive of the organisation.

“We worked long hours often going home at 7 or 8pm and often working Saturday as well. I don’t recall ever receiving days in lieu or overtime for all the extra hours worked during that period,” she says. “It’s what we did to get the work done.”

At the end of board ownership, she was involved with helping to clear remaining stock from the ledgers of processing companies and continued in marketing until the end of the 1980s. In 1987 following a restructure, the Board moved to relatively spacious premises in Seabridge House on Wellington’s Featherston Street. Six years later there was a move to Wool House (six years), the Terrace (for six years), Brandon Street and finally back to Featherston Street where the team have been located for the past eight years.

As trade liaison officer, reporting to shipping manager Gary Donaghy between 1989 and 1996, they were responsible for New Zealand’s beef shipments to the US and sheepmeat shipments to Europe to be as close as possible – but never over – the VRA limits.  They also worked with the Meat Industry Association (MIA) and groups of processing companies on production planning for Meat Planning Council.  Processors’ participants in each group were required to share/forecast production against which provisional EU access allocations were made by the MIA.

One of her career highlights during this period was when David Wright the Board’s Continental European director, (now interim chief executive of the Red Meat Profit Partnership) asked Mary to hire a small plane to fly a group of Swiss Migros supermarket representatives from Auckland to Hawke’s Bay to meet their suppliers.

After a very turbulent “adventure” in the air after hitting an air pocket, the group, thankfully, landed safely to go on to Richmond head office for a “warm welcome, as always,” she says.

Another highlight was a two-week tour of New Zealand meat processing plants accompanying some French technical experts from Cetevic. Meticulous plans were almost scuppered by a strike at Charles de Gaulles airport in Paris on the day of departure for the Cetevic team, which meant some frantic re-organising, but another successful outcome for industry.

In 1994 – the same year the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) Uruguay Round was forged with the World Trade Organisation that set up the current tariff rate quotas – she visited UK and Continental European importers.

Her London guide was the Board’s London staff member Martyn Saines.

“We spent some time with Weddel Swift, one of the big importers of New Zealand lamb at the time. It was a trip from Kent with a 6am start and an 11pm finish, as we also went across Manchester to see another importer, Primestock,” says Malone.

During the visit to London’s Smithfield Market, importers were eager and delighted to make her acquaintance in person, having communicated for years solely in writing. These included NZ Holdings, New Zealand Lamb Company and Richmond Lonsdale.

On the Continent she visited eight supermarkets in the Frankfurt/Cologne area and also the Licensing Authority Productschaft in The Netherlands and the German Licensing authority in one day, driven by staff member Mark Niederer and also accompanying Board director Bruce Jans and another staff member Tracy Dillimore. This was the first time Board staff had made contact with the Dutch and German authorities.

“Again, it was a memorable day racing along the autobahns at 150km/hour with me holding on tight in the back seat,” she says, adding the huge SIAL trade fair was also on the itinerary for that trip.

Then came another role change for Malone in 1996 to quota administration officer when the new Meat Board Act 1997 replaced the Meat Export Control Act 1921-1922 and moved quota allocation obligations from the MIA to Meat New Zealand to manage alongside quota certification. Working alongside manager Andrew Burtt (now chief economist for the B+LNZ Economic Service) Malone worked with industry to help develop the production history allocation mechanism that is still in use today.

From 1998, as quota administration manager, Malone and the team dealt with the imposition by the US of a tariff-rate quota for beef and veal exports and European sensitivity over chilled product entering that region, which meant competent administration was essential.

She also managed to find time that year to marry John McHaffie, with whom she shared a love of golf.

There was more change for her in 2004 when, in accordance with the Meat Board Act 2004, the New Zealand Meat Board’s industry good functions were separated out to the (then) Meat & Wool New Zealand (now Beef + Lamb New Zealand Limited) and its functions reduced to quota administration and reserves management. As such the NZMB continued managing allocation systems for three country-specific Tariff Rate Quotas (TRQs): with the US for beef and veal; the EU sheepmeat and goatmeat quota; and EU high quality beef quota. The Board also continued to register meat companies to export to markets all over the world in accordance with the 2004 Act.

The busiest times, says Malone, were the days of ‘new entrants’ which saw her working with over 30 exporters and processing up to 20 new quota applications at one time so they were ready for the New Entrants Allowances committee meeting chaired by Sir Gordon Bisson in 2004.

“At this time, we were also developing the new Ecert system and it ran alongside the issuing of manual certificates for quite a considerable time before we went live.”

She remembers the time as stressful, “Because we had been restructured and had to apply for new quota officer roles at the same time.”

Malone was appointed to the EU sheepmeat and goatmeat and EU high quality beef quotas role, while close workmate and colleague Enrique Gonzales Macuer, now sadly deceased, was appointed to US beef and veal quota. The Ecert system – now called the Quota Manager system (QMS) – was also introduced at this time and Malone says she enjoyed working with Canary Data Solutions over a period of two decades on the project’s development.

Since 2004, Malone has been working as quota adviser for the New Zealand Meat Board, where she has overseen more significant administration changes, including the development of new quota administration database with E-cert functionality.

Characteristically, Malone is modest about her accomplishments over the past four decades. Testament to the regard she was held in by colleagues past and present, her retirement lunch in Wellington was well attended.

Signing off after 42 years, Malone said that she’s “had a good innings,” and had immensely enjoyed her time with the New Zealand Meat Board and its predecessor organisations. She thanked her colleagues for their support over the years and wished them well, “for a smooth transition into the Brexit era and beyond.”

That team is now led by quota manager Dave Harrison, team leader Megan Gibson and colleagues Susanne Pottinger, Meg Davis and Bridget Lepage.

Retirement now means time for the former golfer and keen gardener to share new adventures with John, who shares her love of tramping and the outdoors. They will be travelling widely, kicking off with walking part of the Camino de Santiago Pilgrims’ trail in France and Spain in May, catching up with some of her close family in Paris, followed by a Baltic cruise.

“Some of the ports we are visiting will seem very familiar as many of the quota certificates I have issued for New Zealand Lamb have been to these countries,” says Malone.

Malone has been well known, admired and respected by her many friends in the sector. No doubt she will also take time to catch up with meat industry friends from around the world.

Bon voyage and thank you for a job well done. We wish you well with your new adventures.

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