Obituary: Chris Oberst
Meat Management is sad to record the recent death of Chris Oberst, who will probably best be remembered for heading up the Meat & Livestock Commission (MLC) over a 13-year period from 1979 through to 1992.
After leaving Cambridge, he worked in a variety of roles at Sainsbury’s, following which he set up the cooked meat buying department at BHS; he then became a director at Scott Bowyers, the meat processing company. This meant that by the time he was appointed director general of MLC he had an excellent knowledge of the commercial and practical side of the meat industry as well as some useful networks.
Chris took on his new role with alacrity and combined his industry experience with a clear vision of what was needed to be done to make the MLC a more ‘industry-serving’ organisation.
His appointment came a time when there was significant criticism of the MLC organisation coming from the meat industry and the farming sectors. A disastrous ‘Wot No Meat’ advertising campaign was widely criticised during the early 1980s. It was also a time when the new Thatcher government was very focused on reducing the number of public bodies or quangos.
Over 13 years heading up the organisation MLC changed and became much more respected (albeit still grudgingly by some), for the job it was doing. Although many others in the organisation played their part in this transformation, the contribution of Chris was crucial.
His vision was evident in various ways, not least in getting all central staff under one roof in Winterhill House, Milton Keynes. He was also very willing to empower his senior colleagues to manage different areas of MLC activity as soon as they had gained his confidence.
It was typical of Chris that after leaving MLC he continued to take an interest in what was happening to his ex-colleagues. Nowhere was this more apparent than in his role as trustee for the MLC pension scheme, where his rigorous challenges to various investment advisers and defence of scheme members’ interests (continuing right up to mid-2017) played an important part in the healthy scheme now operating.
Chris’s influence on meat industry matters extended beyond domestic UK concerns. He became treasurer of the International Meat Secretariat (IMS) in the late 1980s and was elected IMS President after the successful World Meat Congress, which he hosted in London in 1991. He was widely seen as a highly effective IMS President who played a major part in making the IMS a respected international body, whose views in international policy circles needed to be taken into account.
Chris had other interests outside the ‘meat world’. These included being an active member of the Conservative party and President of his local association; hunting for several years with the Whaddon Chase hunt; being a life member of the Henley Regatta and having a great devotion to opera and baroque music.
He also became secretary of the industry charity BDCI and its treasurer. Once again it is widely recognised that Chris made an invaluable contribution to the financial management of BDCI, and shrewd strategic investment and fiscal management are still producing benefits for the organisation today. He was also a sensible and intelligent voice when it came to overall decision making and widely respected by other trusties.
Commenting on the sad news, former colleague Bob Bansback said: “Most of us would acknowledge that Chris could be challenging at times – but to quote from Simon Oberst who spoke at his funeral: ‘Chris had the rare ability both to see the overall vision as well as concentrate on the detail’. MLC and the wider industry have much to thank him for.”