Thirty eight years ago, the founder of Tough Dog Suspension chose family over traveling the world and since then, he hasn’t looked back

Founder of Tough Dog Suspension Mr. John Agostino retires

The 22nd of December 2023 marked John’s last official day in the global business he built initially beginning with three partners and an investment of just $3,000 each.
John began his career as a Qantas flight attendant, not as an engineer or mechanic, but as a determined person looking for the next great opportunity.
Working internationally meant half his time would be spent with long stints overseas, the other half with family at home.
Having an entrepreneurial spirit and a strong desire to always be connected to family inspired John to look for a side hustle through his travels that would enable him to return home on a permanent basis, allowing more family time.
After importing cars for a time, he eventually developed a relationship with G Brothers Mercedes in Mona Vale and began importing car parts.
Not long after this in 1984, Tough Dog began, albeit under a different name at that stage.
“Coming from a service background (Qantas Cabin Crew) and working for an iconic brand (Qantas), I took the principles of quality products and good service and built the Tough Dog brand around those principles,” John said.
“Things break, but it is the way you respond to those incidents that make your products stand apart and makes the customer feel that even though there was a mishap, the company stands behind and rectifies any issues that may occur.
“In any small business, there is never enough time or people to do what needs to be done.
“I have always led by example and always was ready to step into the breach and lend a hand wherever and whenever it was needed.
“That I believe is the main reason why people came to believe in what I was doing and were prepared to go that extra yard.
“I can’t express my thanks enough to the many staff over the years that have worked above and beyond to make this company what it is today.”

A early 4Way Suspension shop in Hassall St, Parramatta NSW

Establishing a business in the mid-80s wasn’t easy, especially when interest rates soared, hitting over 18 percent, forcing start-ups to rethink the way they accessed capital to build an inventory.
For John and Di Agostino, this meant selling the family home to extract the equity they needed to breathe life into Tough Dog – a risky move, but one that would ultimately pay off.
As with most startups, Tough Dog began from humble roots in a garage on the Northern Beaches, rebadging and selling imported shock absorbers.
However, John knew the limitations of importing and reselling product. For the business to grow it needed to innovate, to start developing its own products, and so he set about building a strategy to create his own market leading suspension products.
Known then as Bulldog 4way Suspension, Tough Dog had its first big break in the early 90s when one of the first Coil Over Hydraulic Shocks were developed, and the business began to boom.
The innovation didn’t stop at products, with new and innovative markets also sought out.
The business went on to become one of the first to create cab mounts that connected truck cabins to chassis with their suspension, leveling the ride out and providing a far smoother journey, much to the delight of truck drivers and their chiropractors everywhere.
In the years that followed Tough Dog would go on to grow at a rapid rate, forcing the organisation to relocate to larger premises six times as the business continued to expand.
While the business grew and continued to innovate and build on its success, one thing remained a constant for John and the team at Tough Dog: the core of the business was always about family.
After working at Tough Dog for around 30 years, Simon Vella, Director of Product Development, affectionately described the operating style of the business as, “similar to the chaos of a 1980s Italian fruit shop in Marrickville.”
“It was always run like a bit of a fruit shop, Johnny came from a fruit shop, so I think that was just natural for him,” Simon said.
“Things were fast paced, emotional, spur of the moment stuff with everything always happening all at once.
“But that’s the thing about a family business, everyone just gets in and gets things done. The one thing that Johnny taught a lot of us in this place was, you do what you have to do to get things done, you roll your sleeves up and you just get into it.”
This family-owned Italian business, while frequently described as chaotic, always shared a common theme, ‘family before everything.’

Roy Agostino (John’s eldest son – standing), Claire Agostino (John’s eldest child daughter inside vehicle to left)
with sister Stephanie Agostino (inside vehicle to right)

Every school holiday John’s kids would be in the business helping out, with Roy Agustino, John’s eldest son, remembering being in the factory at just eight years old.
“Yeah, they couldn’t slow me down right from the early days,” Roy said.
“I remember I’d have a go at anything and everything. From packing screw packs to washer packs, to when I got older cutting, painting and finishing, I had a crack at everything.”
Reflecting on his father’s approach to the business over the many years Roy said, “Dad was always a very caring and generous person. He acknowledged that through his hard work, other people worked hard and he looked after them, he was always one that really lead by example when it came to work ethic.”
Fondly known as Captain Chaos, John has always led the business from the front, being hands on in everything from taking out the bins to creating the next leading innovation in suspension.
Tough Dog General Manager, Ed Crowther, spoke about his experience working with John, and his strong sense of integrity.
“John’s the consummate old school gentleman believing your word is your bond. You know you can trust him whatever he says, he’ll always make it happen,” Ed said.
This ethos helped John strengthen and form longstanding relationships which have built significant value into the business over many years.
Businesses like 4 Tracks in Malaysia, Tough Dog’s very first export customer, is still with the business. It began trading in 1992 and has consistently bought from Tough Dog for over 30 years now.
While John is heading into retirement, it doesn’t look like he will slow down anytime soon.
“Retirement is just a transition to something else,” John said.
“I swim in the ocean every day. Nothing cleanses the soul like a dip in the ocean.
“I have purchased a Can Am Trike and I ride most days. I consider myself a very lucky man as Di and I have four children and eight beautiful grandchildren, and they all live within cooee of us.
“And of course there will be the odd trip thrown in for good measure!”

John’s black Porsche 911 – one of the vehicles John imported and later sold

John gained his motorbike licence just two years ago at the age of 70, and while John’s family were not overly impressed with his new hobby, they struggled to talk him out of this newfound passion – which is unsurprising, as in business and in life, John has always been a decisive leader who’s view, like most successful founders, is difficult to sway once he has made up his mind.
Roy spoke about John’s new passion, saying “we all tried to talk him out of it, but it was just like Johnny, he was out to prove us all wrong and went ahead anyway.”
John has been a guiding hand and mentor for many in Tough Dog and his legacy will be the vast knowledge he has imparted on the team, and the strong sense of integrity and family values that sit at the core of the business.
“I always looked up to John, definitely in my eyes he was always the man,” Simon said.
“You always know with John that if he gives you his word, he will fall on his sword trying to deliver on it. I think this is something that we all hold true and will continue to remain part of the culture at Tough Dog well into the future.”
Tough Dog has long been a member of the AAAA, with John stating that its services have proved invaluable to him as he built his business over the years.
“Tough Dog has attended many overseas exhibitions on the AAAA stands, without which, especially in the early years, would have been impossible for Top Dog to afford to attend,” John said.
“Domestically, it is invaluable to have an organisation that firstly keeps you informed about the goings on in the industry, secondly represents its members at the highest levels of government, and thirdly provides services that would be beyond most members capacity to afford.”
Australian Auto Aftermarket Magazine wishes John all the best for his retirement.

To learn more about Tough Dog, please visit