Neil Mathieson: 2001 Milling Operative of the Year

by Emily Wilson
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Neil Mathieson, director of grain processing for Robin Hood Multifoods Inc., Canada, was named the 2001 Milling Operative of the Year at the 105th technical conference of the Association of Operative Millers, held May 19-22 in Louisville.

The award, which recognizes an active milling operative who has made significant contributions to the progress of his plant, his company and the milling industry, has been presented annually by Milling and Baking News, sister publication to World Grain, for the past 16 years. Sosland Publishing Company also establishes a U.S.$1,500 scholarship in the winner’s name at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, U.S.

At the AOM’s conference-concluding banquet, Mathieson said he was "all ears" as Charles S. Sosland, president and chief executive officer of Sosland Publishing Co., Kansas City, Missouri, U.S., began to describe the Miller of the Year recipient, whose name is not announced in advance.

"I’ve been in the industry a long time and know a lot of people, so I always try to figure out the person who’ll be getting an award," he said. "I was listening, but I didn’t think it was going to be me."

It wasn’t until details were mentioned of the recipient’s work in the Caribbean and Haiti that Mathieson realized Sosland might be describing him.

"I was completely surprised — just amazed," Mathieson recalled. "Well, if you spend your life in the grain processing industry, this award is quite an honor," he explained.

Mathieson began his career in 1963 at age 15, when his father, who worked at J&R Snodgrass Ltd., at a Glasgow, Scotland, flour mill, took him to the mill for an apprenticeship. Although the apprenticeship was not glamorous, usually filled with all the jobs no one wants to do, Mathieson developed a love of milling.

"I guess [milling] is in my blood," he said. "It’s just a feeling of the manufacturing and the challenges of turning grain into a food product year after year."

Five years later, Mathieson immigrated to Canada and began working as a manager at the Montreal plant of Maple Leaf Mills.

Giving his father a tour of this facility was one his proudest moments, he said.

"My father brought me into the business," Mathieson said. "When he came to Canada, I had just gotten the job of plant manager. I took him through my plant and he was so proud."

After also working at Maple Leaf Mills’ Almonte, Ontario, facility, he held assignments in the 1970s with Maple Leaf in Haiti and Trinidad, where he trained many local personnel in the art of milling and mill management.

For the past 18 years, Robin Hood Multifoods, headquartered in Markham, Ontario, has had the benefit of Mathieson’s milling expertise.

"Under his superior tutelage, both millers and plant production management of our grain processing facilities have been operating at optimum efficiency and productivity," said Michel Lizotte, manager of milling operations at Robin Hood, who also nominated Mathieson for the award.

"Our cereal processing systems are right on target, largely owing to the technological applications that he has investigated, implemented, and/or developed on his own," Lizotte added.

As director of grain processing for Robin Hood, Mathieson is responsible for operations at three flour mills, with a combined processing capacity of 600,000 tonnes of cereal grains. In addition, he is the in-house consultant for all warehouse operations, bakery mix plants and other manufacturing operations.

One of Mathieson’s many accomplishments includes the recent, proficient downsizing of a flour mill and its transition into a bulk flour mill, where he personally re-trained the entire milling team. And most recently, he added capacity to two of the company’s older facilities.

His commitment to upgrade milling standards and to develop high-quality facilities demanded that almost U.S.$3 million be invested to bring about the required changes.

Mathieson admitted that the most challenging and exciting parts of his job include designing and implementing new processes within an existing facility. He also enjoys working on new and added-value products, working with his staffs to ensure quality, and managing milling operations.

Even though he has been encouraged on several occasions to advance to higher positions within Robin Hood, Mathieson has chosen to continue to apply his skills directly to milling.

He also has devoted time to the AOM, serving on the Technical Committee for the last 13 years.

After being a member of the AOM for 25 years, Mathieson is confident that this year’s conference will always shine a little brighter in his memory.

"A lot of things have changed over the past 38 years," he said. "The technology and efficiency of the mills is greatly improved. The disappearance of the small, independent mills is kind of sad. But the fellowship through the AOM is one of the best things about being a miller."

— Emily Wilson