Food magazine recently launched its Industry Map, where we ask food manufacturing professionals to shed light on the trials and tribulations of their work. Here, Nathan Cater, managing director at Masterol Foods, which manufactures and distributes vegetable oils, processing aids and ingredients, takes our Q&A.
What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? Give us a day in your working life.
I’ve done most of the jobs here at one time or another, from working in the warehouse and in production through to sales, marketing and product development. My role now is mostly of a managerial nature. I contribute to the overall direction of the company, particularly in terms of product development for the different market segments we engage with.
I also help to ensure that Masterol's R&D function interacts well with sales and marketing.
Because I have a broad understanding of the systems and the way information flows through Masterol, I also have the role of ‘problem solver’ – a hat which directors at many small and medium sized companies have to wear! These problems often revolve around our manufacturing operations, such as identifying the best way to transition to larger batch sizes when sales of a product increase.
Other things I do on a daily basis include discussing what we need from suppliers and how we can work more closely with them, addressing our customers’ needs and providing them with technical support and advice on our products and how they are best used.
What training/education did you need for your job?
I’ve been in the food industry my whole working life, so it’s all I know. With regards to education – I have formal training in chemistry, management and information technology, but have developed a strong understanding of the technology behind anti-sticking, glazing and release agent products by simply spending years working hands-on in the industry.
How did you get to where you are today? Give us a bullet point career path.
- Graduated university in 1999
- Worked in the food industry throughout my years at university
- Established Masterol Foods in 2009 to capitalise on the knowledge I gained throughout my studying years.
What tools and/or software do you use on a daily basis?
Spreadsheets, spreadsheets and more spreadsheets. We have a database management system which handles most of our day-to-day activities with regards to logistics and manufacturing. It implements full traceability of all raw materials from receipt at our facilities to their use in finished products through to when the finished product is delivered to our customers.
What is the one thing that you are most proud of in your professional life?
The people I work with. Without their support and commitment to our company and our products, we’d be fighting a losing battle. I believe many companies don’t have the right people in key positions. This causes a myriad problems, the sources of which may appear difficult to spot even from the inside. In my opinion, the source is often right at the beginning – they failed to recruit the right people. I’m very proud of the people I work with and what we achieve together.
Biggest daily challenge?
Time management. It’s very easy for me to get immersed in the details of one particular project and forget about other things I’d planned to do on a given day. Without a high level of attention to detail, some of the products we’ve developed might never have come to be – it’s a matter of finding a balance between what you want to do and what you have to do.
Biggest career challenge?
Getting new products off the ground – it’s unbelievably difficult. No matter what you want to do, there is almost always someone out there who has a head start. That moment when everything aligns and things start to snowball – I think most people fall before they make it that far. This is a constant challenge – it’s not one you conquer and then move on from. With new products comes new knowledge, new experiences, new customers and suppliers, and so on. Managing all of these while trying to get a new product off the ground is pretty intense.
What is your biggest frustration in your job?
I believe doing business in Australia is very difficult. This is due to a range of factors – things like our relatively small market size and low population density through to industry dynamics including the concentration of power in the hands of a small number of large and powerful competitors in many industries. This means achieving the economies of scale necessary to take on the ‘big boys’ is always going to be difficult. There are plenty of other factors too, such as the way business is treated by both sides of government at all levels. Our business environment is highly regulated.
What is the biggest challenge facing your business?
Innovation. High exchange rates mean Australian manufacturers are having difficulty competing with imports and for the same reason it’s tough to get export business too. Exchange rates used to make local manufacturing more attractive because they helped to offset the high cost of production and the high cost of doing business in Australia, but that’s not the case today. This is why innovation is so important for Australian manufacturers. I don’t believe it’s possible to build a strong manufacturing business in Australia without a constant focus on innovation. Build a better mousetrap, as the saying goes.
Is there anything else about your job you want Australia to know about?
Being in business is more daunting than it looks. It isn’t for the faint-hearted. Despite that, I’m passionate about Australian manufacturing and in particular, the food industry and our contribution to it.
If you would like to take part in Food mag's Industry Map, click here.