John Hughes – Who Are You?
0.05 – 0.28
John: Okay, I’m a Fremantle boy I was born in December 1935 if anybody knows Fremantle right opposite the beacon’s field state school my grandmother had a shop on the corner of Lefroy and Hampton road. Shop is still there actually it’s a pizza shop now I think and I was born in the house next door. So beacon’s field actually but Fremantle in December 35.
0.33 – 1.30
John: I went to Christian Brother’s College in Fremantle I got my leaving certificate I think the equivalent now is the TEE or whatever it is year 12 anyway. I wasn’t the smartest boy in the class but I was the hardest worker. I remember we used to have school on a Saturday morning. The classes were really small back then, I go to Christian Brother’s first week in every February and I talk to the year 12 boys about my life and give them some recommendations some ideas. There is probably in excess of 100 students there when I was doing my final year I think we had 9 boys in the class. I remember we used to come to the school on Sunday morning and all the boys were complaining about all the homework they had to do because they had gone out the night before, went to the movies or whatever. I had done my homework. I would stay at home on the Saturday night. I had a very good work ethic and it was something that stayed with me all of my life.
1.36 – 2.04
John: I don’t know that I stuttered for lack of confidence so I think it was more as they say excitability. I think if anyone is stuttering take your time, speak slowly, know what you are going to say before you say, don’t get your mouth into gear too quickly. And build confidence, there is nothing wrong with stuttering. I mean you would prefer not to stutter but doesn’t mean to say you can’t do a job properly or can’t be successful.
2.09 – 3.10
John: When I left school I didn’t really know what I wanted to be, I thought maybe an accountant but I couldn’t add up. Went to a few jobs but I stuffed up the auditions so there was no chance. Finally I got offered a job, I wanted to be a lawyer but I couldn’t afford it, I had to go out and work. I finally got offered a job as a personal cadet with the department of external territories in Canberra. So I’m 17 years and 2 months, a shy, callow, unsophisticated youth. So I hopped on this dc-3 first time I had ever been on a plane. Landed about 4 times before we got to Canberra because the dc-3 didn’t go very far before you had to refuel. I get to Canberra at 4 o’clock on a Sunday afternoon. Canberra airport was like a bus stop then there was nothing there, nobody there to meet me. I didn’t know where I was staying, I didn’t know where I was working. So I sat on the bench and I cried.
3.10 – 4.25
John: If I had enough money if my parent had enough money I would have been on the next plane home. But I couldn’t I was stuck. So that’s what happened. Then I got a job at this department of external territories and I did university part time at the Canberra University College and I did psychology, English and political science. Didn’t complete it because I hated Canberra so the first opportunity I got… well I am getting ahead of myself because while I was there I did national service. They didn’t quite know what to do with me. I was a western Australian working and living in Canberra. Where did they send me? It was Singleton I think it was in New South Wales or Puckapunyl in Victoria. So they sent me to Puckapunyl called Pucka. And I went in a boy and 3 months later I came out a man. National Service, I hated it, but it was very good for me in retrospect. And I applied discipline to myself and I apply discipline to my staff. I got discipline from two sources: Christian Brother’s in Fremantle and National Service. If I had anything to do with running a government today I would put national service back on the agenda.
4.25 – 7.49
John: They hadn’t got me to sign a contract. So I was able to leave. So half way through the year I left and went back to Perth. I was looking for a job as an accountant but jobs were hard to get in the middle of the year. Jobs seemed to come out about November, December. So I saw an ad in the paper and it said wanted clark this is the exact word I remember it now. “Wanted Clark Atwood motors Sterling Street Perth” that’s all it said. I was a Fremantle boy I didn’t know where Sterling Street was. I get the bus I get off, I go over a bridge and I see this lovely new show room with new cars, Vauxhall cars, new trucks Bedford trucks, their all gone now. I was very impressed so I came up and said I am here applying for the job. They said “Son it’s not here it’s 300 yards down the road.” It was a broken down ex horse stable they were using as a panel shop. Now today you have an accident in your car and there’s a problem with you right hand front guard they don’t repair it they take it off and get a new one. But in those days they’d get a dolly which was a big lump of metal and hammer and they would bang and tap. It was noisy, dusty and it was a bit of a hobble actually but I was there for six months as the clark in the panel shop. Came the end of the year and I got offered a job as an assistant accountant at a place called Rolley’s Ralph Goonan he had a white goods store. Bit like a mini Harvey Norman today, and I got offered the job. When Atwood’s knew that I was leaving they came down and the sales manager said “Look we think you’re a bright young guy with a bit of potential. How would you like to be a sales cadet?” I am 18 pretty impressionable, maybe just 19, and salesman had 3 button suits and let me tell you a 3 button suit was a big deal to me. 3 button suit couldn’t afford one. And they drove around in new cars and I had a 1936 Austin 10 with one window winder. My scuffy mates in the back would say “John pass the community window winder” so they could wind up their windows. No power buttons all wind up. So I thought yeah this is for me so I went and became a sales cadet. I didn’t get a 3 button suit and I didn’t get a new car. But I was the boy on the floor when people came in to look at new cars I would explain the features to them. For those people that bought the car I used to coordinate the delivery and that is what I did. I used to creep into the used car manager’s office at lunch time and sit in the Triumph Vanguards and the Triumph Farrells and the Ford Pilots. This was fantastic. I don’t know what it was. My father was a fitter internal mechanic but I had never turned a screw in my life. I know nothing cars really but there was something about used cars that fascinated me. So I kept saying to Atwood’s “I want to be a salesman.” And they said “you are too young you’re not ready yet” and then I got offered a job at Howard Porters in Fremantle and they were selling Austin Cars and they had allowed me to sell new cars and second hand cars. So I left Atwood’s and went down to Howard Porters, and that was the next phase in my life.
7.54 – 11.52
John: The place that I was working for originally in Perth as a clark Atwood motors they had opened up a division in Fremantle and they wanted somebody with Fremantle connection to go there and ultimately run the place. General Manager. So I went there as Sales Manager together with the owner’s son a chap became a very good friend of mine, his name was Peter Young. When Atwood’s were moving down to Fremantle they rang me and asked if I would talk to Peter Young join him he would be the manager I would be the sales manager and start an Atwood’s in Fremantle which was right where the Catholic Cathedral is there today in Fremantle. Now we got very successful Peter and I we worked well together. Now Atwood’s had a used car yard in Sterling Street, we took that over then we expanded from there, we called it Motorama. We finished up I think we ended up with 7 or 8 car yards and I was running it with Peter. We got very successful and that was Motorama. Then I got married, but I was then 32 years of age. 32, 33. And I thought I used to wake up in the morning 3 or 4 o’clock with a knot in my gut. Went and had all the tests but there was nothing wrong. But the knot in my gut persisted. And I saw advertised a service station site at 196 Albany Highway Victoria. Just over the causeway. I never had any money, I had just gotten married. But something was driving me telling me you gotta do something. Do something. But I couldn’t I didn’t have the money. So I didn’t go the auction. Next day I rang up rather perversely hoping that the agent would tell me it had been sold. It hadn’t so I didn’t sleep well that night. So I rang them up the next morning and made them and offer they couldn’t possibly accept. I forget what the figure was now. 5% deposit in 60 days, another 5% in another 60 days. Full settlement 120 days after that. Fairy tale terms, there is no way any vendor would accept that. So I slept soundly that night. Well next morning they rang me and said it’s yours. So I had to get my briefcase walk up and down St George’s Terrace borrow a 120% of what I needed, and you could do that in those days. I can tell you the minute I had taken on that overwhelming responsibility, the minute I had made the most important financial decisions of my life and one of the most important decisions I would ever make, that know in my gut went away. That was my body telling me John, you are not destined to work for other people you have to do it on your own. So that’s how I started. And the next problem was I borrowed 120% of what I needed, the builder was slow in getting this office built and I had to make the first payment before I had sold a car. I didn’t have the money. I nearly went broke before I started. But fortunately through a mutual connection of an accountant. I had a connection with a car yard, still there, corner of 6th Avenue and Beaufort Street in Inglewood. While this was being built went over there with a sales person and bought the cars, reconditioned the cars, sold the cars, washed the cars, did all the paper work. Worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, four months. We sold 92 cars in our first month and that gave me the cash flow to keep this place open. I didn’t have it but you need capital behind you because you know it takes 6-12 month to build up a reputation and get repeat business but that’s how I started yep.
11.57 – 12.47
John: I knew Alan very well. He married my cousin Eileen I knew him very well. He said to me once, this was in his halcyon days when he was buying breweries, everything. He said to my “John you are like the engine driver that drives the train from Perth to Fremantle and back.” He said “You might be a good engine driver but all you do is go from Perth to Fremantle and back.” I thought about it over the next few days should I be buying breweries and whatever I didn’t cos I didn’t have the money and didn’t have the ability. So I am still driving that train from Perth to Fremantle and back and that’s all I do, but I genuinely believe I am the best train driver in the world.
12.53 – 13.49
John: It’s hobby, it’s passion. This to me it’s not… I said hobby it’s a bit flippant, it’s a big business and it takes a lot of concentration and effort. But there is no stress. You know I spend six and a half days a week here and I love what I do. I don’t know what I would do if I weren’t here I don’t play golf, I don’t play bridge, I don’t race horses, I haven’t got a property at Margaret River, I don’t play bowls. The thought of gardening fills me with dread really. The advantage as you get more mature, I never like to pronounce O-L-D or A-G-E. You get so much more experience, so much more confidence. Look there is not a problem I have to face, a decision I have to make, a situation I’m going to get involved in that I haven’t encountered a hundred if not a thousand times before. I can solve the problem before it even starts. It’s wonderful you know I have never ever been more on top of my game.
13.54 – 14.53
John: I used to do a lot of public speaking to owners of businesses and managers and the best question I can ever get “Mr. Hughes how can you manage your family and your business life?” The best answer I have to that is that you chunk it. Now from half past 7 in the morning til half past 6 in the afternoon, this is my time, this is business time. My wife unless the house is burning down, even then what am I going to do go and grab a hose and put it out? What would I do? My wife never rings. But 6.30 to 7.30 that’s family time. I don’t make or take a business call after 6.30 in the evening or before 7.30 in the morning. So I chunk it very rigidly and very disciplinary. Very disciplined. So that’s what I do and it has worked out very well for me. Always made sure I was home in time to tuck them into bed and read them a bed time story. Always.
14.58 – 15.26
John: I’ve only ever bought one car in my life. A 1936 Austin 10. My father lent me the money it was a shocker but it got me around and it had one window winder in it. I remember I had a nudge on the right hand front guard, it was thirty shillings what’s that today? 3 dollars? I didn’t have the money. I drove around with this dent in the guard, big dent too, for about 6 months until I saved up enough to get it fixed.
15.31 – 16.23
John: I drive what I sell. About 15 years ago I bought a new Jaguar because I like Jaguars. I picked it up on the Thursday night at around 5 o’clock. That night my wife and I were going out for dinner, we parked it. Next to us was a chap with a Mitsubishi Nimbus, an old one, which he said “Mr. Hughes I am a client of yours.” Putting his young children in and out of this car. I said thank you. He looked at me, he looked at the Jaguar and he looked at me. And he said “Mr. Hughes why don’t you drive what you sell?” He was right. Took the car back the next morning I had driven it from Osborn Park to Mosman Park and driven it back to Mosman Park. Lost a lot of money, sold it the next day. And since then I drive what I sell. I currently drive a Volkswagen Gold, I drive the R the sporty one, and it’s pretty quick.
16.27 – 17.45
John: Totally. Absolutely totally. If ever I am talking to a group of managers or owners. If you could encapsulate in 2 words what it takes to run a successful business and it’s hard to do in 2 words. Simply just “Be There.” Just be there you know you don’t get up at 8.30 in the morning with a coffee in one arm and a newspaper under the other arm. Get out there and meeting and… Saturday mornings I am never here I’m out there talking to customers, closing deals and getting my photo taken “Mr. Hughes can I have a photo?” And I say “of course you can.” Be available. And I never ever go out for lunch my lunch here is at 12 o’clock every day, and it’s fruit. My wife makes it, puts it in a plastic bowl. I’ve had it, my PA now has been here for 5 years. Somebody said the other day “Mr. Hughes we must go out for lunch.” And I laughed at him. I said “Jasmine how long have you been with me?” She said 5 years. And I said “Tell this gentleman in those 5 years how many times have I gone out for lunch?” She said “Mr. Hughes, never.” I don’t. It is 15 minutes at the desk. It’s all about productivity and accountability. Now if I eat my lunch here in 15 minutes what do you think I expect my staff to do?
17.50 – 18.40
John: I get a knock of my door. This chap says Mr. Hughes can I see you I said yes you can. “My Name is Danny fisher” I said yes. He said “I have got the Hyundai Franchise for Australia.” And I said “Oh what’s that?” he’d been back to Hyundai half a dozen times. That is what persistence can do, knocking on their door and finally in desperation they said look you get a financial partner in Australia and we will give you the Australian distribution. So he went up and down St George’s Terrace nobody wanted to know him. And then he finished up with the Bond Corporation. And Alan said “Get John Hughes involved and I’ll be involved.” That’s how Hyundai started. So I suppose if I could select one moment, to take on that Hyundai distribution that was a big deal, and a big part, a big point in my life.
18.45 – 19.40
John: For 7 consecutive years I was the world’s biggest Hyundai dealer. You might get a shot of that later. Up there is Chairman Chung Mong-koo Chung is his name. He owns Hyundai Kia, he’s got public companies he’s got 40% of it. He came over to present me a trophy for being the world’s top Hyundai dealer for 7 consecutive years. I thought well he might give me a check for a hundred thousand dollars US what about a couple of first class A380 ticket’s around the world. He gives me a hunk of timber. Just down there now. Yeah I was, and I have been top selling Hyundai. We’ve brought them into Australia in 1986, you tell me what’s that? 32 years 33? I’ve been the top selling Hyundai dealer in Australia every month for 33 years.
19.45 – 20.55
John: No, they are the by-product of what you do. No, no, no. What drives you? What drives you initially is money, because you got to get some money together because I started with nothing. But then it becomes ego and I don’t mean a bad ego. I don’t mean to stand up, pound your chest oh look at me how good I am. It’s having that quiet sense of inner conviction because you know to yourself just how good you are. The advantage to being successful in business is you can account for it. Whereas if you are a successful professor or a successful I don’t know about engineer, it’s hard to measure success sometimes but I can measure it in terms of you know how many vehicles we sell, customer satisfaction is a big one, I measure that. I want to be known as someone who set the bar for integrity and reputation and customer service in the car business way up there. And I dragged a lot of dealers up with me. I’ve raised the public perception of the car industry by a huge amount. And I say it very candidly, and I am proud of it, I have done that.
21.00 – 21.04
John: I do about 18,000 a year.
21.09 – 21.58
John: If I had of floated when I was intending to I would have gotten a very return out of it, but like every other industry particularly in WA when the mining boom collapsed and business had been down. If I had done an IPO based on my expectations for the future based on what I had been making in the past, I wouldn’t have achieved it and I would have felt very embarrassed. In a rather perverse way I am pleased. If I go to get an IPO again I won’t get anywhere near what I would have got at least I wouldn’t have had to feel very apologetic to shareholders or offer to buy shares back. I wouldn’t be able to walk down St George’s Terrace and look everyone in the eye. If I can’t do that I wouldn’t have done that, so I am glad I didn’t do it, and at the moment it is not on the table.
22.03 – 23.26
John: Biggest challenge I have ever faced. It’s how to appeal the under what are they 40 year old? Whatever it is. It’s how to get to them. Now we have got a digital department. We’ve got an internet obviously. But you know I am old school. Look 5 or 6 years ago if you wanted to buy a car you looked in the newspaper. You’d find one up in Wangara, one down south and maybe one in Vic Park and you would drive around and take all day. Now you sit at home and you push a button and you can come up with 10, 15, 20 different vehicles in your price range. And the problem with that is it’s boiling everything down to the lowest common denominator which is price and profit margins in the car business and in any other retail business at the moment have never been lower. Now you see how many of the firms that have gone out of business. I mean Roger David 47 years 57 years they have gone. I don’t know how people in the CBD can survive paying the rents, paying Australian taxes, paying Australian wages people will go in take up an hour or two of the shop assistants time, go home and buy it at half price on the internet it’s not fair it isn’t fair. So I am grappling with that, and I don’t think I am quite there yet.
23.30 – 23.55
John: I pulled out, I’m old school I am not the right one to talk about this. I pulled out my phone the other day in public and people laughed at me. I have got a black Nokia. I make a call I take a call that’s all I want. When I see people pushing buttons and up come photos and all that, I don’t know if they were not doing that what else would they be doing I wonder?
24.00 – 25.05
John: I do yeah I do. Not too far any more. You know you are flogging yourself half way around the world and then having over a week of jet lag and then back again because I suffer from jet lag pretty badly. I like to get away. It’s not because I am getting away from the stress of the business there is no stress. It’s to spend meaningful time with my wife. Just the two of us together. So we don’t go too far, we have gone to Singapore there is some nice places in Bali, Bali generally doesn’t appeal to me but there is some nice areas Nusa Dua. I’m in Hong Kong about 10 years ago at the four season’s hotel. It’s a big foyer a big lobby I am checking out. I am using my credit card. I wasn’t doing anything. I might have only said 3 or 4 words. Behind me I heard “Are you John Hughes?” I turn around way in the distance there is this young fellow in Hong Kong! I said “Yes do you know me?” He said “Yes I know you Mr. Hughes.” I said “I don’t know you how do you know me?” he said “I recognize your voice.”
25.10 – 25.20
John: That is really, really hard. I suppose it would have had to been the first decision to go into business for myself. That was full of drama and full of stress.
25.25 – 26.43
John: Hasten slowly.Hasten slowly. Don’t try to do too much too soon and never ever delegate too loosely. You can’t beat just being there. If you are going to business for yourself try not to go into it undercapitalized it’ll be 6 or 12 months before you turn a dollar. Work your backside off, don’t play at this. You go into business for yourself it is 7 days a week I am telling you. Work hard. Understand, know what you are doing don’t go in and try to reinvent the wheel. It should really be something you have experience at or that you have practiced for a while. Practice with other people’s money for a while. Sounds a bit cruel but you know what I mean. You work in an industry get experience, and get contacts. Very hard to go out on your own in a fresh business if you don’t know what you are doing. Work hard look after your customers. Be very careful selecting your staff because you are as good as those people who are representing you. And then make your staff accountable, discipline them, and never fail to praise them when it’s due.
26.48 – 27.35
John: Family, business success and putting a smile on my customers faces. Unsolicited testimonials from my customers. Non-pushy, professional, friendly they’re the 3 things people say they get from me when they buy from me that they expect and don’t always get everywhere else. So what makes me happy? Family, business success, public recognition but I don’t mean that in an ego sense I mean public appreciation for the standards that I set and adhere to. Yeah I would like to be respected for that.
27.40 – 29.09
John: Well I was going to get a double decker bus and put John Hughes all down the side. People could park their cars around here on a Saturday afternoon if that’s when the football is one and my bus would take them there. So what happened was it was 2 o’clock on a Sunday I’m in my shorts a pair of sneakers a t-shirt I am standing outside here and I am looking at the busses. It was a docker’s Eagles game. And the buses are going so I thought I should get on one of these busses and see how far they can go and see how close I can get to the stadium. And that are not supposed to pick people up. So I knock on the door of the double decker bus looks he knew who I was. “What do you want Mr. Hughes?” I said “Take me to the football.” He said “I can’t do that.” I said “come on.” So I go in and the bus is full. And I am a Docker everybody knows that and the bus is full of Eagle’s supporters. So I am strap hanging because there was no seats and I am facing them all. And someone says “what are you doing here John you are a bloody Docker.” So we are laughing and joking. So they all get off and I look around and I say to the driver “are you going back?” “No I’m not going back Mr. Hughes.” “You’re not going back, who goes back?” “Oh we don’t go back.” Ah so no big deal but I had to walk all the way back. So that made inside cover in the west you know the gossip column. And I realized then that the double decker bus idea wouldn’t I couldn’t get close enough to the stadium. So I canned the idea.
29.15 – 29.20
John: I’d like to be able to give you half a dozen examples of how imaginative I am how visionary I am, but I don’t know that I can.
29.25 – 29.44
John: Yes I am cutting back on my traditional media. I don’t like it but yeah we’re spending more on social media. But I am still giving a fair bit of my… fair bit of my advertising money to television but yes we have cut back.
29.48 – 30.14
John: Yeah we done a little bit of that. They are a big nebulous. Problem with those is it’s hard to pin down how many vehicles you have sold as a result of doing it. I tend to pull back on those now, you do things for the community. Not too much just for yourself but you have got to be careful business is that tough today. Profit is hard to come by. You gotta be very careful where you spend you marketing dollars.
30.20 – 31.00
John: That’s an excellent question. You know one always thinks that one will never pass away you always think you are going to be here forever. Um. I am currently working on a successor plan. I have got a board, I have got an independent advisory group. I’ve got two children my son lives in Los Angeles I have got my daughter here she has taken an interest in the business. I haven’t as of yet nominated one person to take over because they will carry me out of here in a container obviously.
Wayne: Car Maybe.
John: Car that’s a good idea.
31.05 – 31.29
John: No I would want it to carry on doing as well as its doing. Will it be the same without me, no it won’t. But if it does 80%, 75% it will still be a very good business. I would just like to see more of the same here. I have got a very good established pattern, it’s a trademark established business all they really need to do is to keep it going.