Then & Now: Arkansan finds his way to C-suite in Australia

by Paul Gatling ([email protected]) 653 views 

Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Oct. 11 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.

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The idea initially did not appeal to Tim Singleton.

In early 2019, a recruiter contacted him to discuss a job opportunity in Australia working for Ingham’s. Just a few months earlier, the company hired an American — Jim Leighton— as its CEO.

Singleton, an Arkansas native, was an experienced poultry executive working for Case Farms, a fully integrated poultry farming and processing group based in Troutman, N.C.

“I had never met Jim before and didn’t know where he got my name,” Singleton said during a recent interview. “I told the [recruiter] I was pretty content with Case and wasn’t really interested.”

But after a bit more discussion, Singleton warmed to the idea and eventually agreed to an interview.

“Next thing I know, I was sitting in Australia for a few days and going through their system and looking at everything,” he recalled. “They made me a pretty good offer, and I figured I’d take it. One thing led to another, and here I am.”

In May 2019, Singleton moved from North Carolina to Australia to begin work as the chief operating officer at Ingham’s, Australia’s largest chicken producer. Three months later, his wife, also a native Arkansan, and two daughters, now 15 and 12, joined him. They live in New South Wales, near the company’s headquarters in the Sydney suburbs.

The Singletons also have two adult children — a son and daughter — in their twenties living and working in Arkansas.

“We do love it here, but we expect we will be home [in the U.S.] at some point,” said Singleton, with just a hint of an Australian accent. “I’ve been very open with the board and my boss about that. An emergency or life-changing event is what I keep telling them. If we start having grandbabies, I know my wife is going [home]. Once she goes, I will have to start working on an exit strategy here. But we really enjoy living here.”

Approximately 8,000 people work for Ingham’s, which processes 4.4 million birds per week and operates in Australia and New Zealand.

“We also dabble a little in turkey, but that’s not a big market over here,” Singleton said. “It’s a very small part of our business; maybe less than 2%.”

The poultry business has several customers, including major retailers, quick service (fast food) restaurants, foodservice distributors and wholesalers. Singleton is responsible for all aspects of the company’s Australian operations.

Singleton, 47, has more than 20 years of experience in the poultry industry. A 1998 Arkansas Tech graduate, Singleton started work as a production supervisor at Tyson Foods’ Clarksville plant in April 2001. Next came successful stints in Green Forrest, Berryville — even Mexico.

In 2008, he went to work for Simmons Prepared Foods, a division of Siloam Springs-based Simmons Foods. He lived in Bentonville and was working in Van Buren as plant manager of the company’s fully cooked poultry facility. In 2010, the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal honored him as a member of its annual Forty Under 40 class.

Singleton became an operations manager for the company in Siloam Springs before leaving the state in 2013. He took a job as complex manager for Pilgrim’s Pride in North Carolina. He remained there until Case Farms recruited him in 2017 to oversee the company’s Goldsboro, N.C., division as vice president and general manager.

In a country where chicken is a staple, Ingham’s is the big player, with revenues of AU$2.7 billion ($1.93 billion) last year.

Singleton expects more market opportunities when the Australian government loosens COVID-19 restrictions. With authorities pivoting from trying to suppress COVID to dealing with it, Australia plans to open its borders in November, ending one of the world’s strictest travel bans.

“That will make a big difference,” Singleton said. “We’ll get a lot more tourism back into the country, which is a significant part of the [chicken] consumption that we see.”

According to the most recent data available from the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES), the consumption of chicken meat by Australians is forecast to reach 102 pounds per person in 2020-21, making Australian consumers among the highest consumers of chicken meat in the world.

“There are only about 25 million people here, but it’s one of the highest chicken consumption per capita countries in the world,” Singleton said.