Growing up in the NSW north coast town of Taree, his father was a partner in the local Mobil fuel distributorship and the young Mike was exposed to trucks and trucking. The family business was on the Pacific Highway before Taree was bypassed, and trucks played a big part in his life. On weekends you would always find him washing trucks.
“Some of those fuel customers are now valued Cummins customers, people I have known for most of my young life and who feature in my position today,” Mike says.
When he was younger, Mike wanted to become both a diesel mechanic and truck driver and when it came time to leave school, he applied for three jobs as an apprentice diesel mechanic, securing a position with Cummins in Newcastle. He went for a drive in a Detroit powered Kenworth T600 and came home with a job working at Cummins.
Mike was also something of a champion water polo player with a view to one day represent Australia, but from day one with Cummins he was in love with the job, particularly following his first outing with a mechanic to replace a piston in a V1710 engine at a coal handling plant.
“It was the biggest thing I had seen and from that moment I knew I didn’t want to do anything else but work on engines for the rest of my life. But, when I returned home that night there were two letters waiting for me, one from the University of NSW advising I had been accepted and one from the Australian Institute of Sport offering an education there and the opportunity to train in water polo – the engines won,” Mike laughs.
“There was never any question, I was going to be a truck mechanic. I always wanted to be the engine guy as I found that to be the most interesting part of a truck, the bit that made the noise.
“I used to go home to Taree every weekend and my father had a maroon cabover with an 86NT engine, so I used to tilt the cab, remove the rocker covers and adjust the engine brake simply to hear the noise, I loved it.
“It was always my intention to do my time and go home to run the family business but that was never to be the case, actually Mobil reorganised its business and bought out the distributorship so that changed my ideals,” he says.
Mike worked solidly with Cummins Newcastle and along the way made friends with an apprentice in Kalgoorlie, between them making a pact to swap jobs for six months, but other plans were underway and Cummins established a service centre, a mini branch if you like, with Gordon Martin in Scone, so Mike was appointed to run that.
“It was at the time Gordon had bought his 100th Cummins powered truck that I was appointed service manager, a role I had for two years. It was an important time and I soon learned the value of not just working with customers as a supplier but of becoming a partner in their businesses and I think this was one of the biggest turning points in my career. Being successful is being as much a part of the business as the customer, and customers over the years have been absolutely brilliant,” Mike says.
From Newcastle he took on the role as service manager at the Tamworth branch, the move again putting him in close touch with customers. He is known for his close relationship with the customer base and this can be attributed to the fact that he knows exactly what it is like to be at the side of the road, under a truck in the pouring rain and freezing while fixing it – he has been there and done that.
“You know what the customer wants fundamentally, good reliability and fuel economy, and you have to be there to help should problems arise,” he says. “When something goes wrong you have to keep them informed, do as much as possible to assist them and support them every step of the way.
“I have never walked away from a tough discussion with a customer who has a problem and I am proud to say in such circumstances I have done everything possible to help people out. When I say sorry to a customer they know it is not a token gesture, they know I understand and feel for them.
“Cummins has an outstanding reputation for customer support and I think it can be proud of that fact and while we cannot always be perfect, we certainly do everything in our power to be of the best assistance.”
His close personal relationship with clients can be better described as a large circle of friends rather than business partners and the same goes for work colleagues.
“People talk about their professional and personal life but I fail to see what that means. My wife Natalie and I have not had a personal life as such, rather the people in the industry and those I work with are our friends so we have intertwined the professional and private lives. Customers, truck dealers and Cummins employees all feature and we wouldn’t have it any other way,” Mike remarks.
He is passionate about promoting the industry to young people and says there are numerous opportunities open to those looking for rewarding careers.
“The one thing is that you don’t have to have a university degree to gain success in this industry and if you have skills there is no need for a tertiary education. I have been through the ropes, starting on the ground floor and working my way up. People have taken me under their wing and helped me develop skills and I can’t say enough about their training and mentoring. People such as John Bennet, who retired in 2001, and more recently Ross McDonald, gave me some sincere help I am very grateful for and I have been acutely aware of the contribution they have made to my career,” Mike acknowledges.
Mike took on his current role two years ago and indicates he is enjoying it thoroughly. The appointment necessitated a move from Newcastle to Cummins at Scoresby in Melbourne. Natalie and their three children, Bryce (8), Liam (6) and daughter Zoe (18 months), born shortly after the move, have settled into the southern capital lifestyle.
Although Mike Fowler has taken on a senior role with Cummins South Pacific, he will always be the ‘engine guy’.