A LIFETIME IN THE AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY
Bob Pattison started his career with OEMs but it was when he moved to the aftermarket that he began to realise just how dynamic and leading edge the industry could be – now five decades later, he says his love for the industry is yet to wane
Former AAAA President Bob Pattison has spent the majority of his working life in the automotive industry after beginning his career with Ford Australia soon after graduating from high school.
Bob was born in Melbourne and grew up in the northern suburb of Thornbury. He attended Thornbury State School and then Northcote High School, which in those days was an all-boys school.
“In those days it was a simple decision,” Bob explains.
“If you wanted to be a tradie you went to a Tech school and if you wanted a white-collar job you went to a High School. I chose to go to Northcote High.
“During my final year of High school (year 12) I applied for a couple of jobs, one with the public service and one with Ford Australia as part of their Junior Trainee Program. I was offered both but I jumped at the opportunity to join Ford. They had over 500 applications for 20 positions and I was fortunate enough to be offered a position.”
Bob wasn’t much of a petrol head at the time, but he soon learnt to love the industry.
“I was not really (into cars) but in many ways the 1970s were the golden years of the Australian Automotive Industry,” he says.
“The Australian automotive manufacturing industry was in fact much bigger than the Japanese auto industry in those days, which is hard to believe.
“Holden was exporting to many countries and the component industry was booming under the then Government’s car plan. The car industry was an exciting industry to be a part of and from the moment I joined Ford I knew the automotive industry was the career for me.
“My first job at Ford was in the Supply Department and I was the vendor-tooling analyst. In 1971 the XY Falcon was the current model and Ford were preparing to launch the XA Falcon, which was an all-new model in 1972, so it was a hectic time to source the thousands of new parts that needed to be tooled.”
While he loved his job with the Blue Oval, like many Australians at the time, Bob decided to check out what the world had to offer.
“I really enjoyed my time at Ford and was promoted to Original Equipment Buyer but after three years I got the travel bug and went to Europe and the USA for 12 months, which was popular in those days for Australians to do,” Bob says.
Once the travel bug was tamed, Bob quickly headed back to the automotive sector, this time to his first foray into the aftermarket side of the industry.
“Upon my return I joined Flexdrive Industries, which was an automotive component manufacturer of instrument clusters and cable products and I switched from purchasing to sales which I really enjoyed,” he says.
“I then joined International Harvester which in the 1978 was a juggernaut of a business manufacturing trucks, tractors and construction equipment.
“In 1987 I joined Nissan Motor Company during what was a very transformative time for the Australian industry with the introduction of the Button plan (Senator John Button, Minister for Industry) which started to strip away the industry protection in order to improve quality and value for money for the consumer. I headed up the Nissan Service Parts Division and then was given the opportunity to head up vehicle marketing after the closure of the assembly plant in Clayton.
“In 1996 an opportunity to join Calsonic Australia (a Nissan Keiretsu company) as General Manager presented itself. Calsonic was a manufacturer of aluminum heat exchangers such as radiators and condensers.
“The opportunity to run a manufacturing business was indeed character building especially at the time when the major customer Holden expanded production of the VZ Commodore model up to 800 cars per day which necessitated running the plant three shifts per day and deliver just-in-time to the Elizabeth plant some 500 kilometers away.”
By the early 2000s, Bob had gained incredible experience and knowledge of the automotive parts industry and he didn’t hesitate when he was offered the chance to join GUD, makers of Ryco automotive filters. However, he would soon face a tough decision.
“In 2004 the opportunity to join GUD Manufacturing as CEO came my way. It was a challenging time as it was obvious that with no import protection there was no longer sufficient scale to manufacture filters competitively in Australia,” he says.
“This wasn’t an easy decision as Ryco had been manufacturing filters in Australia since the 1940s. The decision to continue to design and develop filters in Australia to meet Australian conditions but to outsource manufacturing off-shore proved to be the right decision as Ryco has continued to be the leading filter brand in the Australian and New Zealand markets.”
The automotive group continued to go from strength to strength under Bob’s leadership.
“In 2015 the opportunity for GUD to acquire Brown & Watson International presented itself and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to become CEO of BWI, which was a great honour to step into the shoes of the legendary Steve Waterham, who had built this great company,” Bob explains.
Once at the helm of BWI, Bob was not prepared to rest on his laurels and continued to strive to make BWI an even bigger and stronger player in the automotive aftermarket.
“GUD’s strategy was to grow its Automotive Division from a combination of organic growth and further acquisitions,” Bob says.
“In 2017 I was appointed CEO of the GUD Automotive Group and the Group expanded by acquiring Griffiths Equipment in New Zealand, Innovative Mechatronics Group, AA Gaskets and more recently Disc Brakes Australia.
“After 48 years in the automotive industry I was looking to enhance my work-life balance to enable me to spend more time with our grandchildren.
Fortunately, my boss Graeme Whickman, Managing Director of GUD Holdings, agreed for me to move to a new part time role and in April 2019 I was appointed as General Manager Automotive Acquisition and Strategy. This is an exciting new challenge and provides a heightened focus on acquisitions and growth opportunities for the GUD Automotive Division.” Bob explains.
So what advice would he give to someone starting out in the industry today?
“As the industry is constantly changing make sure you embrace the changes and disruption that is increasing exponentially. If you put in the hard yards and treat people the way you would like to be treated then opportunities for career advancement will come your way,” Bob says.
He believes the best decision he made in life was marrying his wife Margaret.
“This has given me a great stable base to build my career on,” he says.
“I am fortunate to have three fantastic grown up children in Andrew, Jessica and Adam who I am very proud of and now four special grandchildren in Henry, Gemma, Oliver and Chloe. Family is what you live and work for and to see them develop and reach their potential as good people is what it is all about.
“As for my best business decision, the move from working for global multi-national original equipment companies to GUD being an Australian-owned aftermarket focused business was a very good choice due to the attractive industry dynamics and the caliber of the people who make this a great industry to work in.”
His only career regret is, “not joining the aftermarket industry earlier”.
“The beauty of the aftermarket is that unlike the OEM parts business you have total control of the four ‘P’s (Product, Price, Place and Promotion) allowing you to develop market winning strategies if you are good enough,” he explains.
“I think that having the right attitude is more important than skill or natural ability because with the right attitude you can always improve and overcome roadblocks that invariably present themselves.”
Bob lists his hobbies as keeping fit by going to the gym and walking his dog, Archie, while he also loves Aussie rules as a long-suffering Saints supporter and the travel bug has reared its head again.
WHAT IS GUD AND HOW DID IT START?
From a trio of entrepreneurs to an Australian icon
The origins of GUD can be traced back to three entrepreneurial men – Harry Sharples, Arthur Harford and Bill Ryan – who knew each other through the Melbourne based automotive industry.
Bill Ryan set up his own company, W L Ryan, importing filters in 1936 and Harry and Arthur established GUD Manufacturing in 1940 and their first products were chemicals, one of which was Dri-Lube which is still sold today. As a result of the second world war it became impractical to import filters so GUD commenced manufacturing filters in 1940.
The GUD Group has been a real success story and now generates sales revenue of more than $400 million. It was listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1958 and is included in the S&P ASX 200 index. Today it has two divisions, being automotive and water (Davey Water Products), and of recent times has returned to its roots by re-focusing on automotive.
The GUD Automotive group has a very strong brand portfolio comprising of Ryco, Wesfil and Cooper in filtration, Narva in lighting and electrical accessories, Projecta in battery power and maintenance, Wildcat in auto accessories, Injectronics in electronic remanufacturing and repair parts, Goss fuel pumps and engine management parts, Permaseal gaskets and DBA brake rotors and pads. GUD says it continues to actively look to add to its portfolio of market leading automotive brands.
With the breadth of GUD’s automotive portfolio, the company plays in many channels including OEM, trade, retail, RV, industrial and export and that it has many customers spanning both large and small, generalists and specialists.
By focusing on its customers and its own employees, encouraging innovation, speed to market and building strong brands, GUD says it has been able to differentiate itself from its competitors. The acquisition of Brown & Watson International was a definite game changer for GUD as it doubled its revenue and diversified its product portfolio.
In the past, the removal of tariffs forced GUD to outsource its filter manufacturing, but the company successfully navigated its way by creating a new business model for its filter business. It has also faced the push of home brands, which has forced it to be more innovative and to better differentiate its product and service offering; and is currently grappling with how to thrive in a digital world where online has become another channel option for its end users.
Future automotive technology is changing fast with the onset of Autonomous, Connected, Electric and Shared vehicle technology and these disruptors are challenges for the entire automotive aftermarket which will require GUD, like most of today’s players in the industry, to modify its business models if it is to not only survive but thrive.
GUD says its Leadership Team wants to ensure that the GUD group of companies continues to solve its customers challenges, frustrations and peeve points better than its competitors and if it can achieve this, it says it will continue to build on its proud history.
For more information, visit www.gud.com.au/businesses/automotive