COUNTRY KID MAKES GOOD
From selling fishing rods to running supermarkets to leading one of Australia’s biggest automotive chains, Benjamin Ward has done it all
Supercheap Auto Managing Director Benjamin Ward was raised in the country New South Wales town of Leeton where his dad ran the local boat mechanics; so tinkering with outboard motors became a hobby from an early age.
His dad’s business also had a shop, which is where he cut his teeth selling product to customers by retailing boating goods and supplies to the local fishermen.
“Dad was a diesel mechanic who decided it was a great idea to become an outboard mechanic and open a boat shop in the middle of the desert,” Benjamin jokes.
“He was successful for 30 years and that was a big part of my childhood – engines and boats.”
Benjamin did not always want to be a retail expert, but soon learnt it was something he was a bit of a natural at.
“I wanted to be an economist, but retail was in my blood from selling fishing rods and fitting out tinnies as a kid – so my direction was dictated by what I knew, what I was good at, maybe a bit of luck and a lot of hard work to build a career that I am proud of,” he said.
As well as boat engines, Benjamin had a passion for land-going machines, though he decided early on that four wheels were better than two or three.
“Originally it was motorbikes, but a rather large gumtree on a 70hp trike when I was eight made me realise metal on the outside was a better idea for me,” he explains.
“Around that time while watching Bathurst, I saw Jim Richards pull out of the pits in the most beautiful thing I have ever seen – a 635CSI, the ‘John Player Special.’
“I turned to Dad and said ‘BMW.’ He replied by pushing my chair away and stating quite sternly ‘no son – Ford or Holden, you choose’.”
Benjamin worked at the local Franklins supermarket as a casual when he left secondary school to pay his way through university, but
soon realised it could offer a good career option for him.
“My Store Manager at Franklins organised an interview at Franklins Head Office in Sydney and my life in supermarkets started to become a career. I went on to spend 20 years with ALDI in everything from operations, buying and IT transformation across three continents before finally coming ‘home’ to Supercheap Auto three years ago,” he said.
While his career has been varied to this point, Benjamin has a simple philosophy in life and career.
“My approach has always been to work hard, don’t have tickets on yourself and others will value your worth and support your career,” he said.
“Retail is an awesome career that I never realised existed when I worked in stores. There are amazing roles and opportunities in life that you never really know of and consider when you start out – so also be open to things that cross your path.”
Though it was a tough decision at the time, leaving ALDI lead Benjamin to a whole new phase in his career.
““I could have stayed at ALDI until retirement and been happy, I loved ALDI and the experiences, skills and friends it gave me. But the call to start in a brand new company, with a new culture, in a new industry and new role to really test myself and get back on the steep learning path has given me both renewed vigor and a huge satisfaction to still grow a highly successful and well regarded business,” he says.
While happy to reflect, Benjamin is not one to dwell on the past.
“I firmly believe that every decision you make is the right one at the time, so don’t cut yourself up about it if in hindsight you should have gone a different way. None of us are perfect and neither is life, so sometimes you have got to roll with the punches, get up and go again,” he said.
He is also a big advocate that life is “100 percent” about attitude.
“I will always give someone an opportunity who is open, has a good work ethic and is eager to learn and develop. Skills can be taught; attitudes I find many people lock themselves into,” he said.
Benjamin owns a small hobby farm near Forster in New South Wales, which he says is a place of never ending small jobs.
“I’m renovating the 50-year-old shack and endlessly repairing the old tractors that I have bought cheaply as I enjoy the challenge of figuring them out,” he says.
“My father has been a key influence on my love of not only of cars and tractors, but the wonderful engineering that goes into them. He is an endless tinkerer and very mechanically creative, which I am inspired by.”
The passing of his mother at a relatively young age eight years ago has inspired him to live life to the fullest every day.
“You never know what is going to be thrown in front of you,” he says.
Benjamin is a big believer in remaining honest and humble.
“I had a Chief Executive Officer once tell me that he wanted to hire me because of two strengths – candor and humbleness. Candor I have had to learn. I have always been frank, but maybe needed to be more open – I’ve worked on that,” he said.
“Humbleness I think comes from working my way from the supermarket floor to be offered the amazing opportunity to be the custodian of Supercheap Auto.”
Reg Rowe founded Supercheap Auto 50 years ago quite literally from his garage. He grew from being a mail order retailer to having stores and was most successful when he focused on fantastic value for his customers.
“We are now part of a much larger organisation that is listed on the Australian Stock Exchange and has four wonderful brands – Macpac, BCF, Rebel Sport and Supercheap Auto,” Benjamin explains.
“We offer hundreds of thousands of products for your car, home and garage. Whilst we have or can source just about everything for your vehicle, we have grown to stock a wide range of products such as cleaning, storage, 4×4 and camping.
“We currently have 329 stores across Australia and New Zealand and continue to expand both the number of stores we have, as well as our online offer so all customers can access us.
“Our customers are quite literally everyone in Australia and New Zealand. There is so much more in our stores than just automotive. We believe that whoever you are, whatever you drive – we can help you make it super.”
Benjamin believes that a focus on customers is the key to the business’ accomplishments.
“We are unashamedly a place for everyone. Our customers are mums and dads, families, and kids getting their licenses. We are passionate about automotive and want to truly help our customers with what they are passionate about – as well as helping them on their journey,” he explains.
“Retail is a tough game no doubt. You always need to innovate and respond to changing customer needs and wants in a tough competitive environment. Our challenge has and will continue to be to offer great quality products to our customers at great prices.
“We are in a constant state of evolution, but I think one recent big change we have made is to update our tagline from ‘everything auto and much, much, more’ to ‘Make it Super’ after 17 years. It reflects our focus on helping our customers improve their ride, their garage or even just their day!”
He also sees the company’s staff as paramount in its continued success.
“Supercheap Auto has over 4000 team members who are highly passionate about what they do – whether it is serving our customers, fitting out stores, sourcing products or leading teams. It is these team members that are our key competitive advantage,” he says.
Benjamin is convinced that the company has a strong future.
“We will plan to continue to grow and evolve Supercheap Auto to a place where we can continue to help all Australians and New Zealanders ‘Make it Super,’” he said.
“I am constantly surprised by the number of times I hear first time customers say that they have driven past Supercheap Auto for years and never realised how many products we stock that they need.
“Retail is a tough game, no doubt. You always need to innovate and respond to changing customer needs and wants in a tough competitive environment. Our challenge has and will continue to be to offer great quality products to our customers at great prices.
“From a marketing standpoint – we need to convince more people to step inside and see for themselves!”
To learn more about Supercheap Auto, visit www.supercheapauto.com.au