WHEN it comes to the grains industry Imre Mencshelyi knows a thing or two.
He retired as the chief executive of CBH in 2009 after 42 years of distinguished service that saw him work in many country locations and ultimately be at the helm of the company’s West Perth bunker for 15 years.
Mr Mencshelyi now runs Whirlwind Olives on a 40 hectare property near Margaret River with his wife Sue, producing olive oil products, but he is still involved in grain, being the independent chairman of the Interflour Group (IFG), a joint venture between the CBH Group and the Salim Group, run by Indonesian magnate Anthony Salim.
Interflour has nine flour mills and a milling capacity of about two million tonnes a year, making it one of the biggest flour millers in Asia.
Since 2005 IFG has grown its wheat consumption from 866,000 tonnes a year to 1.4mt and over the same time has increased its Australian wheat purchases from 390,000t to 809,000t – with 729,000t from WA.
IFG is ranked seventh in emerging markets (excluding China) and this year plans to increase capacity to 7230t per day for 2.4mt tonnes a year.
A subsidiary of Interflour is Intermalt, with the malting facility opening in front of 350 guests in Vietnam last week, including CBH officials and more than 40 WA grain growers.
Interflour is expanding its flour milling operation with a new mill due to open in the Philippines in August.
At 100 million people, the Philippines population is one of the biggest in South East Asia and imports more than 2.5mt of wheat annually.
IFG, through its freight program, will be the first international miller in the Philippines that will competitively import bulk WA wheat for gristing.
Naturally Mr Mencshelyi was proud of IFG’s achievements at the official malt house opening last week.
“It’s great to see that the business we bought back in 2004-05 has grown to such a large organisation in Asia, featuring the flour mills,” Mr Mencshelyi said.
“It’s all good news for the grain industry in WA and good news for the CBH directors.
“I love the grain industry and its challenges and whilst I was not experienced in the flour milling industry, it was something I learnt quickly.
“When we first came up here the Salim Group was very experienced in flour milling, CBH was not.
“They brought us along with them, developed us and helped us understand flour milling and business in Asia in general.”
Mr Mencshelyi said combining the co-operative with the Salim Group could have been a difficult partnership because of the different structures but said the two groups complemented each other.
“I am an independent chairman and it means I have to talk to shareholders and facilitate discussions, but since we have had this investment, both shareholders have worked together.
“Anthoni Salim said to me early in the piece, ‘when you come to Asia I drive the locomotive and you are in the first wagon behind – when I come to Australia you drive the locomotive and I am in the first wagon behind’.”
Mr Menschelyi said malting was a slight deviation for Interflour and was not the obvious choice.
“We looked at different projects there and felt the malt house fitted the site – for WA barley production, the logistics and the supply chain of bringing the product up to Vietnam.
“And of course the other thing is you have the ability to construct and provide labour here, in close proximity to the brewing companies where their market is.”
Despite living in the State’s South West Mr Mencshelyi said distance was not a problem for his chairman duties.
“The technology that is available today means you are contactable 24/7 and I have the ability to contact board members with emails, Skype etc and I am available to come up (to Vietnam) at any time – generally it is about once every two months.”
Mr Mencshelyi started with CBH, working part-time for the company as a 13-year-old, in 1966 in school holidays before starting permanently in 1971.
“So I did my stint and it’s been a great company to work for,” he said.