Connor FitzGerald works in an office in the middle of Sydney, but with his rural childhood, career in agriculture and passion for the land, this is a guy who straddles the country/city divide with ease.
“I always knew I’d work in agriculture, but it took me a while to figure out how that would look,” says Connor.
Fast forward twenty years, many of them spent in senior roles across the meat trading business, and lets just say that things are looking pretty good!
Connor currently holds the role of the General Manager of the Australasian division of Fulton Market Group (FMG), a large red meat supply chain company, tasked with procuring beef from Australia, New Zealand, USA, Canada and for the McDonald’s system across 12 countries.
He and his company are a major player in the movement of Australian beef around the world and he’s the first to admit he’s made it this far by taking a few risks along the way.
But first, let’s take a few steps back and hear the whole story.
Connor grew up on his family’s sheep property in the NSW New England region (between Glen Innes and Tenterfield). After finishing school as a boarder in Brisbane he went straight up to the Barkly Tableland in the Northern Territory to do some time as a jackaroo for the Australian Agricultural Company. “That was one of the best things I’ve ever done,” he says.
If anyone ever asks me for advice about how to get a start in agriculture, I’ll chew their ear off encouraging them to do a stint as a jackaroo, too!
One of the many benefits Connor believes this experience gives young people is an ability to adjust to new surroundings and demands; “I think that at least once in your life, whatever you do with it, you should make a conscious decision to put yourself in a position where you are totally unfamiliar with your surroundings, to get out of your bubble. It’s a really great way to learn about yourself, work hard, learn new skills etc. Once you do something like that, anything else is possible!”
After his time on the Barkly, Connor turned south and went next to University, undertaking a four year Rural Science degree at Armidale’s University of New England.
“It wasn’t an easy degree,” he admits, “but it gave me options and it opened doors so was definitely worth it!”.
Even at this point, with two years working in agriculture and four years studying it under his belt, Connor wasn’t a hundred percent sure what would come next.
I’d always had a career in agriculture in mind, was always drawn to it. But there wasn’t much strategy going on in terms of a life plan! I was willing to work hard and try new things and I think those two things have really driven me forward.
Eventually Connor found himself working in meat trading, and over the years has worked his way up to one of the top jobs in that game. And when asked what it takes to do just that, he has a simple answer – be a good communicator.
“If I’m in discussions with two people we’re thinking of bringing on to the team here and one of them is super responsive, gets right back to you, emails back after the interview to say ‘thanks, good to catch up,’ and checks in with me asking if I need more info or anything. Then there’s the other one who sits back on their heels, waiting for us to get back to them. Well that first, more proactive person is probably going to get the job.”
Connor is a big believer that you need to put time into developing your relationships, “because in this industry they are your biggest asset. You might not know one end of a cow from the other at the beginning, but if you’re a good networker then you’ll thrive.”
So communication is key. But one other attribute Connor believes to be important in this job is an appetite for risk.
“It was because I took a risk that I have this job,” he says, going on to explain how just a few years ago he left a good post as a trader to go out on his own and attempt to launch a feeder cattle futures business. Essentially this means he was trying to develop a ‘price risk management product’ for the cattle industry.
It was a highly specialised area and a gutsy move and as Connor says, “I spent twelve months and a lot of my own resources to understand that the market just wasn’t ready. My big idea wasn’t going to take off.”
But what did come out of this experience was a whole load of new contacts, experience and the deep learning that can only come from trying something new, regardless of its success or otherwise.
As educator, education advisor and author Sir Ken Robinson famously said, “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”
Connor’s decision to try something new and original didn’t work out as planned but did put him on the radar of the owner of Fulton MarketGroup, who was impressed by his gumption and track record.
A conversation over coffee led to a job offer and the rest is history!
Looking forward to the future, Connor is excited about the role agriculture will play in feeding our growing population, in becoming ever more sustainable and employing ever more young people to help do just that.
Honestly, if you want to make a difference, work with good people and really understand the idea of job satisfaction, then it’s a no-brainer! Agriculture is the way to go!
Connor’s Fast Five
1. What’s one app you could never live without on your phone? Spotify
2. The website you visit most in one day? Our company’s cloud-based system and The Australian newspaper
3. Where do you get your industry news from (websites/news sites?) Phone calls, conversations, emails, various agricultural news sites, some subscription data & stats sites
4. Favourite playlist for long car trips to visit clients/home? Anything country!
5. You work in the meat game, how are you on a barbecue? Best beef cooking tip?! I’m actually really good on a BBQ. Cooking tip: leave the hood down!
AgVenture Career Expo
Connor is one of 11 young ag professionals sharing their career stories in the AgVenture Careers Expo webinar series. You can watch a recording of Connor’s webinar, here. Don’t forget to register for Thursday’s upcoming webinar with first generation farmers Adam and Jacyinta Coffey, here.