Next generation offers a new perspective

Next generation offers a new perspective

Agribusiness
Swan Wool managing director Paul Foley with daughter Georgie and son Max who have joined the family company.

Swan Wool managing director Paul Foley with daughter Georgie and son Max who have joined the family company.

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WOOL might seem a traditional industry, but aspects of it are changing rapidly and when it is populated largely by older men, a young perspective can be useful.

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WOOL might seem a traditional industry, but aspects of it are changing rapidly and when it is populated largely by older men, a young perspective can be useful.

Swan Wool Processors' managing director Paul Foley - a second generation of his family in the wool trade - has realised the benefits by successfully encouraging a younger generation to join the family business.

As previously reported in Farm Weekly, daughter Georgie, 23, joined in 2017 and now deals with the company's overseas clients, looks after the complex logistics of shipping wool interstate and overseas and is finance and administration back up to Swan Wool office manager Marianne McGrath.

Georgie, who obtained a marketing and public relations degree at Curtin University while working and who is now studying for a master's degree in social and cultural enquiry, is also responsible for Swan's website and online presence.

Now her brother Max, 24, has also joined as a junior wool buyer.

"Like the rest of us, he's starting at the bottom on a broom, tipping wool out and learning about the fibre," Mr Foley said of his son.

"He did work experience with us when he was at school.

"In those days there were still early stage processing (wool scours) in Jandakot so he was able to earn a few dollars and get a bit of experience.

"Now it's time to get serious about it.

"At the moment he's learning about wool, going bush into the (shearing) sheds to learn about it.

"There's that much to learn it's a long apprenticeship in wool - you never stop learning.

"His job at the moment is to shadow the old man and learn."

Max studied communications and media at university and went to Melbourne to work for a legal firm before joining his father and sister at Swan.

The family's connection with wool was started by his grandfather Larry, 91, who was a shearer in the Kimberley and Pilbara in the 1950s and 60s, away from home for months at a time.

"There were eight of us kids - dad read (birth notices) about four of his kids in the newspapers while he was away shearing," Mr Foley said.

"My brothers and sisters and I all worked in wool after school, but I'm the only one who stuck with it."

In the 1960s Larry Foley joined West Wools where Bill Hughes, a doyen of the WA wool business, took him under his wing and when Mr Hughes bought Swan Scouring in North Fremantle he joined the scouring business.

For a time in the late 1960s and 70s he took his family to Melbourne to run Swan's wool scour operations there, returning to Perth in 1981 to run its operations here before retiring in 1990.

Mr Foley worked for Standard Wool, H Dawson Wool and other wool processors and traders before starting his own company as a commission-based wool trader, basically out of necessity as other options closed down.

He was gifted the Swan Wool name by Mr Hughes.

Apart from its East Fremantle base, Swan Wool has an office in Bradford - the UK centre of the textile industry - with two people there who look after its European trade and Swan Wool is registered as a UK wool trader.

The company specialises in the carding sector of the industry and most of its business is now done with clients in China.

Mr Foley said a resurgence in wool prices in recent years had seen renewed interest from young people in the possibility of a career in wool but that "has been a long time coming".

While wool remained a natural product and some of the processing was essentially the same as it has always been, only more efficient now, the rapid development of new wool products and a range of technical wools had opened up new areas of expertise for young people, he said.

"There might only be a handful of wool garments that make it to the moon with NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), but the technical benefits from that flow all the way back to the clothes everyone wears," Mr Foley said.

"That's why it's good to have youth involved.

"I'm not stuck in the past, but I'm brought up in a different era in wool, so it's good to have a younger perspective on it and they can really drive the adaption that's needed."

The younger generation has already had an influence on how Swan Wool does business.

Georgie and Max are behind its partnering with Carbon Neutral, an organisation that helps clients reduce and offset their emissions through sequestering carbon via native bush revegetation in the Yarra Yarra Biodiversity Corridor near Three Springs in the northern Wheatbelt.

Swan Wool now offsets its carbon emissions from the "fall off hammer" - when it officially takes ownership of wool - to delivery to clients, Mr Foley said, confirming the move was driven by his children.

He said most emissions the company was responsible for come from shipping freight and added to by the occasional airline flight.

"It's a signal to our clients we care about the environment we live in," Mr Foley said.

Being carbon neutral was a youth perspective gaining some traditional business support, Max pointed out.

"Big business is looking at that (youth perspective) seriously and moving towards a greener path," he said.

"When it's a case like all the bushfires that have just happened and 100,000 sheep died, it becomes a serious issue and it's hard to ignore and having a climate debate around that, then it is important to have something to show that we are doing our bit."

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