Incoming GM of the Tasmania Forestry Hub, Simon Talbot discusses his long-held vow to one day return to Tassie, his passion to make a difference in the state’s forest industry, his unpaid work as an unofficial Uber driver and his ‘COVID Canoe’ project.
How long and in what capacity have you been involved in the forest industry?
I have always been connected to the land and involved in agriculture, forestry and food supply for over 25 years. My two large stints in forestry-related areas have been for Australian Paper (Paperlinx) for seven years and Kraft Cadbury (Mondelez), also for seven years.
I worked at Australia Paper both at its Burnie and Devonport operations and then in head office in Melbourne where I led strategic corporate sales and supported sustainable new product development (e.g. Reflex Recycled). This included forest certification systems, market education and new products (passport and security papers).
Paperlink was also a leading global seller of forest products, and I became involved in both the promotion of the sector but also best practice supply chain analysis. The latter enabled me to review SCA’s European operations as a part of a best practice exchange and I have admired Sweden’s forest and timber sector performance ever since.
I had the privilege of leading Kraft/Cadbury Tree Crop partnerships in Asia Pacific too. It was a reeeaaallly tough gig working for the world’s largest chocolate and coffee company! This role involved the identification of farmer cooperatives and associated country partnerships, development of supply chain and productivity programs, investment models and ‘in country’ brand development (social licence). I worked extensively in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.
What opportunities has working in the industry provided you?
It’s always about the people you meet and their stories. Our industry is rich in both history and opportunity, and for me I was able to travel the world and see the best and sometimes, the worst operations. I was able to continuously learn, challenge peoples’ perceptions of forestry and also drive change within organisations and government for better support and recognition.
What drew you to apply for the Hub GM role?
When I left Tassie I vowed to come back and work in the area I feel most passionate about; for me it was always going to be food or forestry related. And to be blunt when I left the sector the reputation [of the industry in Tasmania] wasn’t the best, the good stories were not being told, the market was confused, and investment wasn’t coming.
Now I believe we are on the cusp of a golden age, for the industry—and Tasmania in general, and I want to help to showcase what is being achieved, to support innovation and new developments, a revitalised supply chain, help create a pipeline of talent and achieve the right patient investment models.
What do you hope to achieve in your new role?
The Hub’s Vision and Roadmap is an excellent blueprint, developed by the industry for the industry. Therese [Taylor— Netowork Convenor] sent it to me and talked me through it—and I was in.
I want to help identify the practical ‘must-haves’ and drive hard to land them. I’m very passionate to talk at a grass roots level and understand individual company challenges and opportunities. I have a very clear business principle: every action should either make the production more profitable/sustainable and/or produce a better product for the consumer (build loyalty/brand and ability to attract a price premium).
You currently reside interstate. What appeals to you about living in Tasmania?
I was born, bred, and educated in Tasmania and always thought I would return. It was travelling through Asia away from family that made me realise how special a place Tasmania is.
In 2012 we purchased a farm near Sheffield and every opportunity we had we would bring the kids over and reconnect. We have lots of family and friends in Tassie and I look forward to reconnecting and giving back.
On a weekend we’d find you…
Well, with four children I often feel like an unpaid Uber driver! But I do like to keep fit, cycle, hike and MTB, I get my energy on the farm spending time with cattle and vines.
I actually dabble in wood craft, and—thanks to Britton Timbers—during last year’s long Melbourne lockdown I made a ‘COVID Canoe’ out of Tas Oak and Celery Top and it actually floats, to the relief and surprise of Natalie, my wife.
Simon Talbot will commence his role as Hub General Manager in mid-September.