Jim is one of those people who simply love trucks and the people who make up the road transport industry. People from within trucking are his closest friends and across the industry you would be hard pressed to find a single person with a bad word to say about the man who has been an active participant in a myriad of trucking activities, including promotion of what he regards as Australia’s most important contributor to the economy.
Jim’s 56–year track record is long and interesting, mostly due to the fact that he has virtually been there and done that in the dealerships, along the way seeing a huge number of changes both to trucks and transport services provided to the community today.
”Trucks have become so much better along with all the components. During my time in the workshop, if a gearbox wore out you’d rebuild it, put bearings and new gears in it, but now you just put an exchange transmission in. It’s the same with diffs. Crown wheels used to be riveted into the carrier and we used to cut them off and re-rivet them and we’d also replace crown wheels and pinions which all took time, but now they too are done on an exchange basis,” Jim (pictured above with wife Clare) says.
“Of course the cost of labour today is one reason why that is done, let alone the reduction in downtime. Due to the value of the Australian dollar you can rather put a brand new engine with a warranty into a truck and have it back on the road quickly. Reliability and uptime are vital to any operator nowadays. After all, if customers are to make the payments in today’s trucking climate, where margins are so fine, they just can’t afford to have trucks off the road.”
Jim served his time as an apprentice mechanic in Kyogle, but then was quickly exposed to the ‘nuts and bolts’ of how a dealership worked. “Brown & Hurley established a used truck yard in Brisbane because we did not have the opportunity to sell used vehicles in Kyogle. The man in Brisbane was the late Ted Van Fleet, an excellent salesman and probably the best I have seen in my life, but he had little mechanical knowledge. A person would trade a truck and say he had just rebuilt the engine, in an International R190 for example, but when it came into the yard it would be absolutely buggered, so I moved to Brisbane to appraise the trade-ins and to arrange which repairs were needed on them,” he says.
“At that time we were selling Leyland, but that company did not take trade-ins, so if there was any sale where a trade-in was required, they would put the deal through us. Leyland had five salesmen on duty, but as they weren’t taking trades, everything had to go through us. However, we had no cash reserves at the time so when we reached a number of, say, five trucks, we couldn’t take any more. “Those salesmen were virtually selling the trades for us, so they could get rid of them allowing new truck deals to go through. Leyland gave us a great start, we didn’t have to pay for new trucks until the deals went through and that gave us a great leg up in the truck business.
“Ted Van Fleet left us and so my dad, the late Jack Hurley, spent a lot of time in Brisbane; and I came back to Kyogle and became involved in sales. Ted had passed a lot of selling skills onto me, as I said he was a brilliant salesman, which held me in good stead and gave me a great start,” Jim recalls.
“One tale that comes to mind about Ted is that we were selling Albion Chieftan trucks that had a four-cylinder engine in them. When somebody said in passing that the small engines did a great job, Ted asked what he meant. It turned out he had thought they were fitted with a six-cylinder engine and had already sold around 15 of them. I’m not saying anything bad about Ted at all, just he had little mechanical knowledge.”
According to Jim, Ted was so talented a salesman that if a person came into the used truck yard to look at a vehicle and had the money with him; there was no way in the world he would get out without buying it.
“Another thing about those days was you had a set of AGC or Lease Industrial Finance documents in a drawer. You filled them out, sent them into the company, and the truck would be paid for. Now it is a two or three week process to get finance on a truck. There were a lot less repossessions in those days, too,” Jim says.
As mentioned, Jim returned to Kyogle where he married wife Clare, who is just as well known and popular in the road transport industry as Jim himself. In fact, she knows all the customers, their wives and even the names of their children and grandchildren by heart, making the Brown & Hurley Group a truly family-oriented company.
In 1986, Jim moved into the role of Group General Manager of Sales, requiring him to go around the branches looking after the all-important sales for the Group. From there he moved into the joint Managing Director position, sharing it with Rob Brown, the duo generating enormous growth throughout by the Brown & Hurley Group.
“One thing that has helped us thrive was the growth of our customers’ businesses,” says Jim. “Take Wickham Freightlines, for example. It started off with two Kenworths and now operates an extensive fleet which we helped them build.
“Ross Fraser in Warwick is another client of that calibre. I called on Ross for 22 years before I sold him a Kenworth, and now his firm has 50 or 60. And as they grew, we simply grew with them. Or take Les Blenner in North Queensland, who bought his first Kenworth in about 1979 and soon had more than 100 vehicles. Today, we are lucky enough to have a lot of third generation customers that keep that tradition alive. To us they are not just clients, they are all friends,” Jim says.
Considering the company’s rich history, it is a nice concurrence that Brown & Hurley will soon deliver its 10,000th Kenworth to Wickham Freightlines. The late Angus Wickham indicated he would buy every 1,000th Kenworth delivered by the Group and this stands today, testament to the relationship between the two companies.
Following his retirement, Jim Hurley will remain a Director of The Brown & Hurley Group Pty Ltd and continue nurturing his relationships with customers, branches and suppliers, all which have been a big part of his life.
In a restructure of the company, Kev and Doug Hurley have now been appointed as Joint Managing Directors joining Rob Brown. Both have held various positions within the company and have extensive experience across all activities.
Kev Hurley will be responsible for vehicle sales and Doug Hurley will be responsible for marketing. Until this point, Kev Hurley has been Dealer Principal and Sales Manager at Kyogle. Although he will continue his role at Kyogle, a new Kyogle Sales Manager will be appointed. Doug Hurley is a Director of the Brown & Hurley Group and the Dealer Principal and Sales Manager in Coffs Harbour. A new Dealer Principal will be appointed for that branch.
But while retirement beckons, giving Jim the opportunity to enjoy more fishing and golf, he will still be involved in all company activities and keep in touch with his wide variety of friends in the road transport industry. “The fact is people might be customers but more importantly they are very close friends, and both Clare and myself enjoy is their company,” Jim says.
“One of the things I have gained satisfaction from over the years is to have a direct link with the chief engineer at Kenworth, and have been able to have some changes made in the build process. For example, we might have an application where a hose has been found rubbing, so I can call up and explain the situation, he can go out on the line and see what I am talking about, so the next truck that comes out of the factory won’t have the same problem.
“At the end of the day, it is all about knowing what your customers are doing and what they are experiencing. One customer in the outback had a bracket problem; the bolts went through the bracket one way and stones were knocking the threads around, we had those bolts put in the other way so the threads were not exposed to the rocks and the problem was fixed. On a highway truck you wouldn’t notice it, but out in such a rough environment it was a problem,” Jim adds.
“We work closely with each of our customers and with every truck sold we send out a survey form. In the car industry most of those are never responded to, but it is a different story with our company. Each of those forms come across my and Rob Brown’s desk so we can see every comment made. This helps improve our business and ensures every truck buyer can comment on how we and, the truck sold, actually perform. One question asked is, ‘Has anyone from the company contacted the buyer since the truck was delivered?’, and if I see a negative response on the form somebody knows they are in the firing line. It’s all about service and customer satisfaction,” he says.
Jim Hurley has had a long and distinguished career in the truck business and some find it hard to believe he is stepping back. But while it is obvious he enjoys the idea of taking life a little easier, the customer base and performance of the company still remains high on his ‘to do’ agenda. One wonders just how much fishing and golf he will actuallt get up to. Retirement? Well, maybe