"Kathleen Tynan was chairperson at the time and she rang me and asked if I would take on the job of secretary, although I was not a member of the board at that time, which was probably a good thing, rather than having a board member in the position," he says.
He attributes a lot of the success that breeders are currently enjoying to the scheme.
"When I started, the company had requirements for less than nine or 10 cattle per week, and they were being exclusively sent to one butcher. At that time the Irish market had not been properly broken into at all. It was shortly afterwards that it was started through Pallas Foods in Newcastle West distributing to the Irish market, and it rocketed from that."
The growing demand for Hereford beef has been one of the industry's success stories in recent years. Irish Hereford Prime is now supplying 33,000 cattle per year from a pool of more than 2,500 members - all of which qualify for a premium.
In addition, Slaney Foods and ABP also pay a premium to producers for cross-bred Herefords.
"The Hereford Prime schemes have been absolutely essential to the success of the Hereford because there is so much demand for the cross-bred, and the quality of the Hereford steak is now recognised," says Willie.
"The value of the Hereford calf is driving the demand in recent years, because he is making a premium at the marts - and all that has benefited the breeders. If there were no commercial market for the animals, it would be very hard for the breeders to keep going," he added.
He points out that the trials conducted by Teagasc at Johnstown Castle showed the capability of the breed for early maturing beef when cross-bred with the dairy herd.
"Some of the dairymen are our best customers for the bulls, because they need a good calf that will return them a bit extra, and they need an easy calving bull that produces a good calf for sale. They are getting that from the Hereford - a good dead calf is not much use to any farmer," said Willie.
He has no doubt that the launch of Hereford Prime by the society in 1997 has been key to the breed's current success.
"Absolutely. We were convinced that we had a superior product and, naturally enough, the meat was of a higher quality than what was on offer in the standard steak in the supermarkets at that time. The taste of the Irish was for a traditional-type steak and that was why it was started. We were not getting the message to the consumer," he said.
Willie believes that there is still a lot of scope for further expansion of the market. The product is being exported to markets in Europe, "and they tell us that they could sell a lot more of it if they could get it".
He is now chairman of the Irish Hereford Breed Society. While he says he enjoyed the Irish Hereford Prime job, at times juggling it with his own farming commitments was demanding.
At the society AGM, Irish Hereford Prime chairperson Niall O'Mahony paid tribute to Willie on his retirement and acknowledged his efforts and central role in driving the company forward to its current market-leading position.
"William was instrumental in several key initiatives undertaken by Irish Hereford Prime over the years, most notably presiding over the introduction of the highly successful 'Calf to Beef' competition that ran in 2014, as well as bringing the work of Irish Hereford Prime to a wider audience through mart promotions, farm tours and school competitions," he said.