Across a highly successful career of more than five decades, industry stalwart Jim Dean has made a real impact on the Australian Aftermarket industry
Setting out as a 15 year old apprentice Motor Mechanic, Jim Dean’s aim was simply to create a good life for himself.
Now, at 70 years of age, Jim is retiring from his longstanding position as General Manager at the Don Kyatt Group, and a 55-year-career that has allowed him to not only face the challenges of the Australian automotive industry head on, but find solutions for them time after time, leading innovation and technological change.
Starting as service manager and progressing through the ranks, Jim became the General Manager of the Don Kyatt Group and spearheaded many programs and initiatives that helped the company grow into the success it is today, overseeing the growth of the Terrain Tamer and Flashlube brands both locally and overseas.
“Applying for that job was like fate, really,” Jim said, “there aren’t many opportunities for a kid in a workshop to work their way up to General Manager. It was a mix of a lot of hard work and a little bit of luck.”
Jim’s automotive career started as an apprentice mechanic with GV Clark Motors, a Victorian distributor of Bedford Truck and Bus parts through General Motors. There he met Frank Hutchinson, a Parts Interpreter who soon branched off to start his own business with the late Don Kyatt.
Fatefully, Frank advertised a mechanic’s position within that company 10 years later, at the same time Jim was looking for a new role. When Frank saw Jim’s application, it was a chance he was more than willing to take.
“I remembered Jim as the smart-aleck mechanic from Clark’s. He was like that because he was good at what he did, but of course he had to apply for the role like anyone else!” recalls Frank.
“So I called him up and asked ‘Do you want the good or the bad news? The good news is, you’ve got the job. The bad news: you’re the only one who applied for it!’”
Over the following 40 years, the two men grew the company to employ almost 150 staff – twenty of whom have now been with the company for over 25 years – exporting their aftermarket 4WD replacement parts into their 14 warehouses, (including five aboard) and selling into more than 80 countries around the world through more than 3500 direct distributors.
“We’ve seen the industry change a lot over the past 40 years” says Jim. “We’ve had to take some measured risks but most of them paid off, we’ve grown every year since we opened and remained stable, dynamic and innovative.”
Much of Jim’s success can be accredited to a rare trinity of mechanical expertise, a keen business and accounting mind, and a naturally genial personality. These attributes have helped him lead the company into the design and manufacture of a catalogue of more than 40,000 different hard-wearing, quality aftermarket parts; many of which Don Kyatt says have been awarded for their innovative designs and surpass their genuine equivalent.
In the early days as Don Kyatt’s service manager, Jim developed the company’s reconditioning program, which, at its prime saw the company become the biggest manufacturer of Bedford Reconditioned Engines in Australia. Today it continues with gearboxes, transfer cases and engines for popular 4WD models.
The program was a huge contributing factor to Don Kyatt being named the official Bedford Genuine Parts distributor in Australia by Bedford UK. Along with this, Jim helped pioneer a program that repowered Bedford buses, as well as smaller Ford and Holden vehicles with Isuzu diesel engines.
“We promoted Jim to Spare Parts manager, and he was wildly popular with the 700-plus Bedford Bus operators,” explains Frank, adding that Jim would attend Bus and Truck shows around Australia, using his ‘outside the box’ approach to sell parts.
“He once pre-sold an entire shipment of Bedford 466-Short Diesel Bus engines. He paid for them with the deposits, and on the day they arrived, we had a record sales day for the time!”
Similarly, he was key in orchestrating the purchase of not only the entire stock of Bedford Third-Arms from the company’s UK manufacturer, but also the tooling, on a hunch that a highly publicised bus accident would see a change in legislation regarding the part.
That hunch paid off, and with buses now legally required to be newly fitted with the part, Don Kyatt was able to sell all purchased stock direct to Bedford Bus Operators across Australia, helping them keep their vehicles on the road.
Since then, Jim fronted the Terrain Tamer Tooling program, which saw him work with OE manufacturers to research, develop and build exclusive tooling for 4WD hard parts, often improving on the original. Ensuring that this tooling was available only to Terrain Tamer, Jim was able to both regulate quality, and see an increase in production to meet the demand.
He was also key in the development of the company’s Flashlube Kits, spending years researching and developing the brand’s Valve Saver Kits, the first in the world to be granted highly sought after German TUV approval in a road test, as well as the ECUs, self-priming pumps and plug and play cables that feature in every Electronic Valve Saver Kit sold around the world and have been responsible for two innovation awards.
“We’ve worked hard to research and develop parts over the years to make sure they’re at least as strong as their OE counterparts,” Jim said. “In many cases we’ve modified them to meet demand for something stronger, longer wearing and harder working.”
Jim, along with Frank and their team, has helped more than a few stranded 4WDrivers with those parts.
In the early days, outback tour drivers like Bill King, who started AAT Kings, relied on their knowledge and parts to ensure he didn’t break down in the remote outback while on his Northern Safaris. This inspired them to design and develop parts that would solve the weaknesses that they saw in customer’s vehicles and take them to the world.
“Back then we had no idea that the solutions we were coming up with were needed across the world, but people in remote areas experience similar issues, no matter which country they’re in, so demand has only grown,” said Jim.
That demand has grown past the company’s loyal customer base of early bus operators, local workshops and enthusiasts, to include the mining, agriculture and emergency service industries, both here and abroad; now stretching across over 80 countries to the likes of Senegal, Uzbekistan, Bolivia, and even Iceland.
Jim estimates that he attended over 30 Trade Missions throughout his career. Many of these were with the Australian Automotive Aftermarket Association, visiting countries such as China, India, Dubai and parts of Africa as well as SEMA exhibitions in the US and Automechanika Frankfurt.
It was during these trips that Jim laid the groundwork for relationships that would prove key to the companies export expansion.
In the mid-90s, with a backpack full of Flashlube Valve Saver Kits, Jim left his young family behind with the open-ended task of finding a European distributor who could help tap into the LPG/CNG market.
“I was gone for months, I was tired and missing my family,” recalls Jim. “I’d been turned away more times than I can remember, and then finally I got a lead that meant sales into Germany, Italy and eventually right across Europe, that launched Flashlube as the number one brand in its category.”
The trip was the beginning of a new export chapter for the business, and 15 years later, Jim found himself back there, tackling the issue of a growing European 4WD market, starved of local supply.
“We found a warehouse just outside of Marseille” says Jim. “France’s legal and accounting restrictions were a nightmare, but we managed to navigate them, and within weeks, we’d set up a branch to distribute Terrain Tamer and Flashlube products across Europe and more recently, into Africa.”
Beyond his business nous, Jim has been known as a people-person with a genuine friendliness and understanding of human nature that has not only endeared him to family, friends and colleagues, but also given him a natural edge with customer and supplier relations alike.
“Jim has immense integrity, is friendly, outgoing and a great leader, with the ability to mix work, family, sport and world events in one discussion, and there is never a dull moment,” says Sandra Ferdinands, previously Assistant Manager of Koyo Australia.
“The relationships he has with suppliers, customers and staff alike, is a clear attribution to his people skills.”
These skills have translated across cultures, helping Jim source suppliers in areas where language is a barrier. Jim recalls finding a shock absorber being used in a small overseas workshop and wanting to request the manufacturer’s details.
Communication proved no obstacle and through a series of gestures, smiles, and translation from the workshop owners’ eight year old daughter, Jim was able to secure the company’s longstanding relationship with their suspension manufacturer.
Jim has more than reached the goals he set out for himself as a 15 year old. His strong work ethic, positivity and friendliness, coupled with a persistence, passion and determination to solve complex problems have carried him forward to make real change in both the automotive aftermarket industry and the lives of those he worked with throughout what has proven to be an exceptional 55 year career.
All at the AAAA wish to congratulate Jim on an exemplary career and wish him all the best for his retirement.
For more from Don Kyatt, visit www.donkyatt.com.au