Millionaire 'steaks' reputation on the good life
Entrepreneur Mark McConnell with a spring calf on his property near Hall. He hopes to tap into the lucrative Chinese beef market. Photo: Melissa Adams
How do you make $28 million by the age of 40?
For Mark McConnell who has been on BRW's young rich list nine times, risk and tenacity are the key ingredients.
''If you look at opportunities where others have failed, the chances are, where there is smoke there's fire,'' Mr McConnell said.
''If you can go in there and pick up businesses or ideas cheaply and paddle furiously, you can turn those things around.''
After 20 years of hard paddling he and wife Bryony are developing a small farm near Hall to raise their daughters Hannah, 6, and Sophie, 4, - and fast-growing angus cattle.
It hasn't take long for the serial entrepreneur, who has sparked huge investments and new businesses, to see an opportunity. If he can enlist enough farmers in a co-operative he'll export prime beef to China.
As much as his knack for picking winners resembles billionaire Warren Buffett's, Mr McConnell's ideas don't resonate with everyone.
''You've got no understanding mate,'' a farmer warned him on hearing of his plans for breaking from traditional supply chains.
''Well actually I do,'' Mr McConnell said. ''I've been down there, getting a calf and pulling it out.''
It's true. He's up to his armpits at 4am helping his cows deliver their calves. No Pitt Street farmer, he has 160 head helping him understand the industry, from raising calves, drenching, castrating, marking and slaughtering them.
''The more I looked at the supply chain, the more I saw the amazing opportunity,'' he said. ''If Coles and Woolies are buying from you at $2 a kilo and selling at $35 a kilo there is obviously some money in the margin somewhere.''
His idea was not an overnight whim, and is aimed at China's rising middle class and its switch to the West's protein and dairy-based diet.
In a Shanghai restaurant about five years ago, where he paid $200 for a steak, Mr McConnell's mind turned to agriculture.
''I thought, hang on a minute, you are lucky to be selling cattle for $200 a head back in Australia. There is obviously money in the margin somewhere.''
He spent $100,000 on consultants last year analysing the supply chain, discovering about 15 ''snouts in the trough'' from the farm gate to restaurant plate between Australia and China, which he aims to reduce.
He's cross-breeding angus and wagyu cattle, whose highly marbled beef suits the Chinese palate.
Abattoirs at Young, Cowra, Harden and Goulburn have flourished and floundered on fluctuating commodity prices. Undaunted, Mr McConnell wants to sign up enough farmers to smooth out the volatility with consistent numbers and either buy, or joint venture with an abattoir operator.
He's talking to the heavy hitters in the industry who know the Australian side of the business but struggle in China.
''They go in with Austrade, they go in at the diplomatic level, they go in and see the agricultural ministers and then wonder why nothing happens,'' Mr McConnell said.
''And nothing will continue happening.''
Mr McConnell has spent years building relationships with high net worth Chinese investors, convincing them to put hundreds of millions of dollars into Australian mining and technology.
Now they will be a critical link to guiding his export beef into a country where many other primary producers can't penetrate.