Dispatches From Down Under: A Great Trip Comes Full Circle

June 1, 2017

The other evening I had “a parma and pot.”

To explain, I was in a pub to take in a most quintessentially Australian experience. I was there to watch the first match of the annual best-of-three State of Origin series between the Queensland and New South Wales rugby teams. The Series tradition calls for eating chicken parmesan (a parma) and drinking brew, that they call “pot.”

The pub was a sea of light blue and maroon jerseys, and full of what must be called tribe-like passion for each team. I felt like I was witnessing a once-in-a-lifetime-type experience-a far more fierce, and ultimately friendly, rivalry than any I’ve seen at college campuses in the United States.

My travels the past couple days have included quality time with a fellow former dealer-turned-entrepreneur, Greg Duncan. He’s a well-known and highly respected retailer, who helped build the 23-store Trivett Group and founded Carsguide.com.au, which Cox Automotive has acquired. Duncan has also earned one of Australia’s highest honors, the Medal of the Order of Australia.

These days, Duncan provides strategic insight and counsel to Cox Automotive Australia, and serves as a principal dealer investor and chairman of its board of management. It was an honor and privilege to discuss the car business with Duncan, and to know that he’s helping steer the company forward.

Speaking of Cox Automotive Australia, I owe a special thanks to Matthew McAuley, the company’s communications director. In the past week, we’ve been to three airports, three cities, and in/out of countless cars and multiple meetings. It all went off without a hitch, thanks to McAuley’s advance planning and in-the-moment improvisation.

Through much of my trip, I’ve been asking people to repeat themselves. The reason: There’s something about Australian slang that’s like music to my ears. Here are a few words I gleaned from my discussions with dealers:

Reconditioning: The Aussies call it “rectification.”

Packs: The Aussies call them “loads.”

Larry Doyle: The Aussies call this type of customer a “wood duck.”

Used car lot: The Aussies call it “the yard.”

Some of these words came up in a lunch conversation with four very smart, and young, dealers. The group was led by Jonathan Hardwick, managing director of HFH Automotive Group.

I was struck by the group’s smarts and passion for the business and, among other things, their keen understanding of the necessity of Velocity principles in today’s margin-compressed market.

It turns out, I was basically talking to a table of ringers. Hardwick is a close friend of Sean Del Grande of the Del Grande Dealer Group, one of the brightest, progressive and up-and-coming dealers in the US today.

The same day, I presented a $50,000 check to David Blackhall, CEO of the Australian Automotive Dealer Association, the beneficiary of all proceeds from my speaking engagements here. The check presentation was a bit ironic. Nearly 20 years ago, Blackhall gave me checks as a Detroit-based executive at Ford Motor Company, one of the key clients for my former company, Digital Motorworks, Inc.

The interactions with Hardwick and Blackhall made me realize that my trip had essentially come full circle. I’d connected my current trip to my career back home.

Next up: A trip back to Sydney, where I’ll be joined by my family for more fun and exploration of the Outback.