This month Russell Harrison caught up with long-time friend and client John Barnesby. John has had an incredible business life spanning some 60 years and is a proud parent of three.
Instead of coming up with the questions ourselves for John we asked his children what they would ask their father about his business life and success. John and Celia Barnesby’s children are all very successful in their own respective fields, and a long way from the motor vehicle industry that John was involved in.
Peter is the Chief Operating Officer for Contract Logistics, Asia and Oceania for Hellmann Worldwide Logistics based in Singapore.
Judy is the Director of Employee Relations at RM.I.T University in Melbourne.
Christine is the General Manager of Surface Operations for the Olympic Dam with BHP.
John left primary and high school without much formal education and always said his education started when he left high school. In 1950 he joined the family motor business Barnesby Motors. He became involved in managing the business and under John’s management, the business grew from a position where it was selling 1 new car a week to selling over 400 new cars in 1976. John took on positions such as the Vice Chairman of the WA State Dealers Group for Ford which in those days included 13 hour flights to Melbourne. He made the family business very successful and now we get the chance to ask what he has learnt and lived by through his children’s eyes.
What do you believe were the key things that made you successful?
I always seemed to have an ability to evaluate a person’s personality and values by talking with them. Call it a gut feeling. I always felt that if you talked to someone at their level of understanding you could build up trust. I always worked on the premise that you sold yourself first, your business second and your product last. We always made our business the best it could be before doing anything else. By having a base to start from, we could leverage off it and this allowed me to go out and invest in other things. Barnesby Motors was the business that we just had to make work. This allowed me to pursue other investments.
A lot of the investments I became involved in were due to the people I knew, the relationships I had formed with them and by offering to assist. I successfully dealt with people whom others hadn’t due to looks or perceptions.
“Never judge a book by its cover.”
Technology has changed over your time; how do you see it has changed business?
Technology has changed and made things much faster and timelier, but business is still people dealing with people. That hasn’t changed in 60 years. The tools and resources we use may have changed but without being able to connect with people personally you have no business.
You had many people working for you for long periods of time who were very loyal. How did you find good people and why did they stay?
I rarely advertised a vacant position. I paid a reasonable wage for reasonable work, but I always believed in and offered incentives for performance. I rewarded hard workers and high achievers. I also greatly believed in the apprentice programs. We always hired apprentices and supported them through their 5 years of study back then. I always held that the practical experience was better than the technical/theoretical experience. I encouraged my apprentices to get out and experience the rest of the work force after their apprenticeship. They would either realise they had worked in a great place or a terrible place, but importantly they would get to experience other workplaces and businesses. Many would come back and stay in the long run.
Why is humour important in the business world?
It is a great tool to break down barriers between people when you first meet them. I would usually use it against myself by telling a true story from a humorous point of view. It is so much easier to make yourself the brunt of the joke. It made talking with people easier.
What are your key messages you would like others to take away from your experience?
Firstly, always look for opportunities and when you identify one take hold of it. Secondly have confidence in your vision of the future and confidence in your own decision. A lot of things I have achieved or that have been a success were due to having a vision of the future. Also being in the right place at the right time to take advantage of an opportunity when it came up. I have always said “nothing happens unless you make it happen.” If an opportunity comes up, by all means get guidance and advice on it but make up your own mind. Have confidence in your product, staff and business. I always kept a reserve to allow me to act decisively when the opportunity arose.
John who is now 86 years old is still staying engaged, helping people and giving back to the community. He has been awarded a life membership with the Albany Chamber of Commerce and Industry for his years of service. John continues today to personally support associates he has known for many years. He is the chairman of a public company, on numerous community boards and actively gives back to the community he believes in. Most importantly, he thanks his wife and children for their support and advice.
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