Onward and upward
Andrew Harbison, Director and Chief Operating Officer at Isuzu Australia recently took the top job at the long-term market leader. For his first interview Andrew spoke exclusively with Prime Mover.
Taking charge at Isuzu Australia just as the company celebrates 30 years of overall market domination is guaranteed to be no walk in the park. Still, Andrew Harbison is quietly confident he and his team have what it takes to keep the company moving in an upward trajectory.
PM: What is your work history prior to Isuzu?
AH: I spent the first 13 years of my career with South Pacific Tyres mainly managing Beaurepaires retail outlets in Queensland. Then I did a brief stint with automotive aftermarket supplier Auto One before starting in 2003 with General Motors Holden as District Sales Manager for regional Queensland.
PM: Can you provide a brief overview of your time with Isuzu Australia?
AH: In the early part of the century Isuzu had a joint venture with General Motors in Australia so it was possible for Holden employees to make an internal transfer to Isuzu. Which is what I did in early 2005, taking up the position of State Sales Manager for Isuzu in Queensland. I was in that role for a couple of years and in mid-2007 relocated to Melbourne where I moved through a number of National Sales roles before becoming Director of Sales and Marketing in 2016. Some two years later here I am in my current post.
PM: Have you always aspired to one day hold the top job?
AH: Absolutely. I did a Business Management degree straight out of school and the strategic aspect of business management has always been a passion of mine. While everyone has to go through the process of earning their stripes, my desire was always to be given the opportunity to run an organisation. And what a wonderful organisation I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to run.
PM: Have your prior roles been building blocks to the role you now hold?
AH: Most definitely. Even right back to my ten years of running tyre stores. Tyres are not an easy product to sell and my experience there really did imbue in me a fundamental empathy with the customers and how important it is to deliver what you promise.
PM: Leaving Isuzu Australia at an all-time high, your predecessor Phil Taylor has also handed you extremely big shoes to fill. What is your game plan to keep building on the successful position in which Phil has left the company?
AH: Phil has certainly played a big part in the success of Isuzu Australia over the last 30 years. The transition plan has been in place since I became Director of Sales and Marketing in 2016 and Phil has been a very good mentor to me since then. It’s true we butted heads from time to time but, overall we had an excellent working relationship. I think the critical point we both agree on is that you have to have the best people around you in order to succeed.
PM: It’s no secret that Isuzu’s arch rival and compatriot is more determined than ever to wrest more market share from this country’s truck market leader. Is counteraction of this effort something for which you have a specific strategy?
AH: I love golf, don’t have much time to play but love it just the same. What I have learnt from my golfing is that the key to improvement is focusing on your own game. In a business sense we need to ensure we keep doing the things that bring results time and time again. We welcome a strong, competitive and vibrant industry; this is good for everyone.
PM: With the company having amassed a committed and mature dealer network, what strategies and processes will you adopt to keep raising the bar in the crucial customer care realm?
AH: Once again, it’s all about continuing to make sure we are consistently doing what we do well. We are always liaising with our dealer network to ensure each dealer is meeting the standards that we set out in our Isuzu Care program. We have long-established relationships with most of our dealers and we work together with them to keep doing everything we can for our customers.
PM: Since cutting ties with General Motors some years back, Isuzu has remained an independent truck manufacturer. Do you think in the longer term the company could benefit from an alliance with a North American or European truck or engine manufacturer?
AH: That’s an interesting question. There have been rumblings from Isuzu Japan about a potential collaboration with Cummins but there’s been no specific details announced. I believe it cuts both ways: Being an independent company means you’re the master of your own destiny. But on the flip side there can be advantages in having strategic alliances. Even with Isuzu’s business here in Australia a lot of the strengths we have are based around strategic alliances with experts who bring into our business the technology, solutions or products that we would not necessarily be able to provide on our own.