For a person who spent most of his working life in the sheepskin trade, Michael Pointer has made a major contribution to the successes enjoyed by Angus beef during the past two decades.
First, he was the driving force behind the launch of the Certified Australian Angus Beef (CAAB) brand in 1996 and then helped drive the two-year negotiations for a landmark deal with fast-food giant, McDonald’s, to sell certified Angus beef burgers in 2009.
Mr Pointer, now 83 and living a busy life in Melbourne, became an Angus breeder purely by chance.
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After selling his sheepskin business in 1988 he and his wife Fran bought a farm at Alexandra, about 130 kilometres north-east of Melbourne.
After a “disaster” with a herd of crossbred cows Mr Pointer decided to make a fresh start by concentrating on one breed of cattle.
At the time a top-quality Angus herd was being dispersed at Narbethong in central Victoria and Mr Pointer picked up a draft of young cows.
When the time came to start selling their offspring Mr Pointer quickly became frustrated with the way cattle were sold with vendors filling the role of commodity price takers.
In his previous life as a sheepskin trader Mr Pointer had helped pioneer new export links with China in the 1970s and 1980s, which are now a major plank in the wellbeing of the Australian economy.
He decide to start looking for a better method of marketing his calves where he was rewarded for quality. About the same time he joined the Angus Society of Australia.
His light bulb moment came in 1994 while listening to “Mick” Colvin, the founder of the American Certified Angus Beef brand which had been launched in 1978.
Mr Colvin had been invited to Australia to tell the story of CAB in America.
“He absolutely blew me away,” Mr Pointer said.
He started thinking about how the US Angus brand program could be duplicated in Australia.
Mr Pointer was a member of the Victorian committee of the Angus Society which received a letter from Trevor Bilney, executive chef at Melbourne’s Rockman's Regency Hotel, asking how he could source some high-quality Angus beef.
“This gave me the clue on how to get (CAAB) started,” Mr Pointer said.
Using contacts from his sheepskin days he approached the operators of an abattoir at Foster, Victoria, who agreed to process a select number of cattle.
Angus breeder and future Angus Society president Dennis Ginn supplied 12 steers to be processed for the Rockman's Regency Hotel.
"That’s how we started, that’s how cattle started to be processed for the brand,” he said.
“By the time I retired from the business in 2011 we were getting close to 100,000 head processed (for the brand),” he said.
CAAB brand beef was a hit with consumers both locally and in quality-conscious overseas markets like Japan.
Mr Pointer said the managers of the CAAB pounced on the launch of the MSA grading system in 1998 as a means of further underpinning the consistency and premium quality of their product.
“MSA was very important and in fact CAAB was the first brand to take on MSA grading,” he said.
Two years of talks preceded the addition of the Grand Angus and Mighty Angus burgers onto the menu of McDonald’s 800 Australian fast-food restaurants in August, 2009.
The burgers were a major success and a financial and publicity triumph for the Angus breed in Australia.
Mr Pointer had suggested to McDonald’s executives early in the negotiations they would name the new burger the McAngus.
“No, they said, if we call it a McAngus burger they (customers) will think it’s another McDonald’s gimmick.”
The beef used in the new burgers were verified as Angus by CAAB based on national vendor declaration forms and backed by independent audits and DNA sampling.
Mr Pointer conceded not everybody in the Angus industry was happy at the time with the McDonald’s deal.
“The point is we are in the beef industry and we have got an entire beef carcase to dispose of. McDonald’s were paying a premium for the product (Angus mince) and selling it a premium.”
That was in keeping with Mr Pointer’s objective of getting a premium price for Angus beef.