FAMILY FIRST FOCUS DRIVING R&J BATTERIES CEO FORWARD
At work and at home, a focus on family is what spurs Stuart Hamilton on
The son of a mechanic, R&J Batteries Chief Executive Officer, Stuart Hamilton, says he was always destined to work in the automotive space.
“I was born and raised in Bendigo Victoria and through various employers, traveled around Australia a bit up and down the East Coast before settling in Ballarat where I currently am in 2006,” he said.
“From a very young age, I was always destined to be a motor mechanic. I was aways into cars, I get that from my father. I left school at 15 and duly got my apprenticeship at Ron Poyser Holden because my father was a mechanic.
“I may have always been destined to be a motor mechanic, but it didn’t last terribly long, I was at the dealership straight out of school for six years as a mechanic, but then I realized it wasn’t for me, so I moved out of being a mechanic and had a variety of roles and careers spanning everything from car sales and media to business banking.
“It is daunting when you leave school at 15 and go into the big wide world, but Poyser’s was a wonderful place for a young fellow to learn his trade and grow up in the world and I was there for 11 years all up: six years as a mechanic and five years in car sales.”
While he eventually moved out of mechanics, Stuart’s love of cars has never wavered.
“I love the Australian classics. I always used to be a Holden man, dyed in the blood. But as you get older, you appreciate all sorts and I will always have a soft spot for the Australian classics,” Stuart said.
“After I finished up at Poyser Holden, through a friend of a friend I was given an opportunity to apply for a role in one of the local television stations in advertising sales, which I did for a couple of years.
“Through that company, which at the time was known as Southern Cross Ten and is now part of the nationwide Austereo network, I was given my first job in management, which saw my wife and I shipped to Gippsland.
“A year or two later, we took a promotion to Canberra and then another promotion a year or so later saw me take up a General Sales Management role in Coffs Harbor. I was doing that role quite happily until the company got taken over and the role I was in was made redundant.
“I was offered redeployment back to Victoria, which was fortuitous at the time because my wife and I got to be home in time to spend a bit of time with our parents; particularly our dads who were getting on in years and have since passed away. It was a difficult time, but in hindsight, it was fortuitous.”
That relocation back to Victoria would ultimately lead to Stuart taking on his current role with R&J Batteries.
“The relocation back to Ballarat was still with Southern Cross Ten as they were then known and R&J Batteries was and still is a large advertiser with them in regional Australia,” Stuart explains.
“I had met (R&J Batteries Co-Founder) Ray Robson and his then partner, John, hence R&J, through a variety of advertising related activities and we just became good acquaintances and got to know each other a bit.
“I then went on to take a role in business banking with Westpac, but Ray and I kept in touch and saw each other at mutual gatherings.
“When the time came that John wanted to get out of the business, it was amicable and Ray bought his share of the partnership and then reached out to me one day just to say, ‘there’s a change happening in the business. I wouldn’t mind having a chat with you.’
“I didn’t hesitate to say ‘I would love to have a chat and come on board,’ and that lead to me joining the business as the Southern Region Manager. I was in charge of the southern half of Australia at the time and there was another chap in charge of the northern half.
“From that formative role of Southern Region Manager I became General Manager following a consolidation of the company, and then as we expanded into New Zealand and appointed General Managers in each country, I moved up to being Chief Executive Officer.”
As a high achiever, Stuart has valuable advice for those wanting to start out in the industry.
“Honesty, empathy, and hard work are the old-fashioned tenants that never, ever change. And if you are heading into or have aspirations to be in management or leadership, you must never lose sight of the fact that your staff are the most important asset,” Stuart said.
“Without question, if you look at the long and difficult journey it takes to make a profit in any business, you can never lose sight that the core foundation is good staff – finding, developing, and retaining good staff. And in this current environment, it’s never been more critical.”
Like any successful businessman, Stuart can look back and pick out both decisions he feels he got really right, and some he would redo if he had the chance.
“I suppose the biggest one I got right was, given where I am now and what I do, is accepting the role with Ray. I had always admired the way Ray went about his business and at the time I was talking to him, there was another employment opportunity coming my way. I decided to go with Ray and looking back, that would be one of the best decisions I have ever made.
“On the other side of things, there is many, and to be honest, I think if anyone says they can’t look back and see how they could have done things better, they are either ignorant or they’re lying. We are human and we do make mistakes.
“There’s not one single thing that stands out where I go, ‘I stuffed that up,’ but there’s been a variety of business and personnel related issues where I look back and go, ‘I could have handled that better. I could have made a better choice.’
“But it’s no good looking back. Provided you learn from it of course – you have always got to learn from your mistakes, accept that other people make mistakes and just move forward. But yes, I’ve made some clangers in poor appointments or poor business decisions, but that’s somewhat inevitable if you’re willing to throw the bat and take a risk. Look back only enough to learn from the mistake, then go full steam ahead and don’t make it a second time.”
Away from the office, Stuart likes to spend time with his family and says he is hoping to find more time for hobbies in the future.
“I don’t do enough (hobbies) – ask my wife and she’ll tell you that. I mean, there’s no doubt that in roles such as mine, it’s not a nine to five, it’s not a 40- or 50-hour week job. Past times outside of work are minimal, but I enjoy tinkering around the shed. I don’t have a hobby car, but I do like just getting out, mucking around the shed, finding time to do whatever it is around the house,” Stuart said.
“It’s a cliché, but I love spending time with the family. I’ve got grown up kids, a 21-year-old daughter and 18-year-old son. Their interests have grown into their own world and my wife and I love being part of those.
“I’m also a passionate follower of the Australian Supercars – not withstanding the fact that we now sponsor one!” he smiled. “I’ve followed them all my life from the Dick Johnson and Peter Brock days, right through to now. I also love my Collingwood Football Club and I love helping out my son with his local footy team.
“Family’s everything to me. It’s the way I was brought up, the way my wife was brought up. Christmas is one of our highlights of the year, but it’s not because we get gifts. It’s because we’re all together.
“Family’s number one and without a question, it’s our biggest priority. But further to that, it’s one of the fundamental tenants of R&J Batteries.
“I’m not here to plug R&J, but we’re a privately owned company owned by Ray and Rhonda Robson. And we have the luxury, if you like, of being a family owned business. We can make decisions at a variety of levels that promote the wellbeing of families.
“And most businesses will say staff are important but very few have the luxury of being able to make a decision in a family orientated way.
“Unfortunately, bigger businesses sometimes have board shareholders, stakeholders and so on that would look more towards the dollar. Whereas I have the good fortune of working for a genuinely family owned business that holds those values.
“It’s very important to me and It’s very important to Ray and that’s reflected throughout the business.”
To learn more about R&J Batteries, please visit www.rjbatt.com.au