It was a couple of meetings in the ring of the Glen Innes Showground which set Roger Fletcher on his route from droving to immense riches as one of the big players in the Australian meat industry.
On Saturday, as he sat on a bench by the main ring, he reminisced. He mused wistfully on how, at that very spot some five decades ago, he had walked out of that very same arena and set out on his own career, a career that would lead him to the company that bears his name and a monetary worth of roughly $100 million, give or take a few million.
He said that on that night he was doing a bit of hard work, putting up the jumps one evening for a horse event the next day.
He got into an argument with another worker over football. This other man wanted him to play in a particular position. As Roger Fletcher tells it now: “I said, ‘The way you're pushing me around I might not play at all’.”
“And he turned to me and he said ‘If you don’t want to play, don't play. Get into something you like doing and in that job you'll be successful and you'll be a millionaire.”
So much was true.
From that argument, the young Roger Fletcher concluded that he had to make his own way and his own decisions.
As he describes it now, he walked straight out of the ring, just where we were sitting on Saturday night.
And then came a second fateful meeting. On his way out, he bumped into an acquaintance who offered to take him for a drink. They got talking and this second man suggested that Roger Fletcher would just take over his own father’s property – inheritance would provide his livelihood.
“I said, ‘No. I'll make my own way’. And I left home the next day.”
The conclusion Mr Fletcher draws today is that he was a very determined man who knew his own mind. He had the confidence to make his own decisions and steer his own course whatever others were saying.
From there, he started as a drover in Glen Innes, using all the money he had to buy a ute and 2,000 sheep. It became the pattern of his life and business, buying sheep where prices were low and selling where prices were higher – the good businessman’s obvious rule that’s harder to follow than to state.
According to a history of the industry (“World on a Plate”): “In 1969, he walked a mob of 5,000 sheep, 1,000 head of cattle and 28 brumbies 1,300 kilometres from Blackall in Queensland to Glen Innes in New South Wales.”
Today, his company, Fletcher International, sells in 90 countries. He has built two processing plants, one in Dubbo and the other in Albany in Western Australia. Between them, they can process more than 90,000 sheep and lambs per week, adding up to 4.5 million head per year.
The family company has its own freight train and line to get the Dubbo product to the freight depot at Port Albany port and so to the world.
He was born just after the war to a farming family at Glen Innes.
His mother instilled good business values: “I was lucky in that even when I was very very young my mother taught me my taught me to be a seller. I used to pick up the lemonade bottles and sell them, pick up the dead wool from the paddocks and sell it, and I caught rabbits.
“So by the time I was ten I was really doing what I'm doing now.”
Family remains important. His company is a family firm, with his three children involved in its running.
He said on Saturday: “One of my dreams was always to stay a private, family company so we have no share-holders and that makes a lot of difference because you don't have to go back to boards.
“I'm lucky. I've got three kids who've come along and work with us. I have a great wife.”
His advice to anyone starting out today is to follow your passion – do what you want to do – but don’t let that passion cloud judgement: “You can have a passion for something but don't let the passion over-rule the facts. Do your sums simple.”
Was it luck, or drive, or talent? Probably all three. He said he took one step at a time and then realised a bigger step was possible.
“I had ambition but I never ever thought I'd be where I am today – never in my wildest dreams.”
And he added: “I think everyone has opportunities where the door opens but a lot of people don't walk through the door. They're not game to do it.
“And probably if you lined up everyone here, they've had opportunities but if you never take it you never know.”