Retiring Fletcher International Exports boss Greg Cross has reflected on the challenges and successes of a 40-year career that started after a life-changing accident. When he was 21, a serious car crash left Mr Cross a paraplegic. Unable to continue his work in the family earthmoving business in NSW, he left the business and looked for a fresh start. “It was very, very hard, I think it was nearly two years I was looking for work,” he said. “All people were interested in me for was getting me into wheelchair sports and the Commonwealth Games and that type of stuff. “I was into it, I did wheelchair basketball, tennis, I did all of that, but I just wanted to get a job.” One day he met a manager of a meat processing plant who asked him if he would be interested in working for him. “I said ‘mate, I’ll be at the front gate waiting for you to come and see me every day’,” Mr Cross said. This job, as a tally clerk, was the beginning of a 40-year journey in the industry. Mr Cross soon realised he was in a plum position because when livestock numbers were down, and some of the production staff were sent home, he was able to keep working. “I thought ‘well I’m going to learn everything I can about this job so that I can be one of those guys that never gets sent home’,” he said. “So that’s what I did, I went from a tally clerk and I learnt all about shipping, transport and cold storage, because I was hungry to learn.” Mr Cross worked his way up the chain, from cold storage and transport to human resources and business development. He was then appointed assistant manager of a meat processing plant in Gunnedah. It was there that he got a call from Roger Fletcher who invited him to work at Fletcher International Exports in Dubbo. After seven months in Dubbo, Mr Fletcher asked him to go to WA to help his daughter, Melissa, set up a new plant in Narrikup, near Albany. “I said ‘yeah, I can whip over there for three weeks and give her a hand’,” Mr Cross said. “And that was it, I never went back — the three weeks ended up being 24 years.” He worked with Melissa until 2006 when she left the business to focus on raising her family, handing him the reins. As the general manager of the abattoir, Mr Cross guided the plant through many industry changes. Not long after Mr Cross first started in the industry, it was plunged into controversy with the 1981 meat substitution scandal. Sometimes referred to as the ‘roo in the stew’ debacle, beef exported to the US was found to be horse meat and kangaroo. The controversy resulted in a royal commission and tighter regulations and inspections across the Australian meat processing industry, something that Mr Cross has seen vast improvements in during his career. He saw the industry become self-regulated and led the introduction of mandatory training for Fletcher employees. Mr Cross said his proudest achievement was building “a very healthy workplace” environment. “I would challenge anybody, not only in the meat industry but any company in Australia, that they would have a more co-operative, harmonious workplace,” he said. “I have the philosophy up there that you’ve got to treat everybody with respect, you’ve got to have transparency with how you run a plant. “There’s no ‘them and us’.” Another success story from his time at the helm was giving the company’s electrical and maintenance managers the freedom to build customised automated systems, which Mr Cross said were “world class”. “You give people some responsibilities, they do take full ownership and treat it like it is their own little business,” he said. “And they all get on with each other, that was just the key to all that success.” Mr Cross said he viewed his colleagues as “one big happy family” and the decision to retire had not been easy. “When I announced it to the employees that I was retiring, it was very humbling and put a lump in my throat when a lot of the staff were actually upset,” he said. Although Mr Cross had received interest about other jobs and mentoring positions in the industry, he wanted to focus on his family and five young grandchildren. “All my career in the industry, I was always at work and never with my daughters, so I thought I’m not going to go through that with my grandkids,” he said.