Q&A with Tony Kerr, IAL National Fleet Sales Manager

At Isuzu Australia Limited (IAL), one would be accustomed to coming across various staff with storied backgrounds and professional experiences as diverse as they come. We spoke with Tony Kerr, IAL National Fleet Sales Manager, who is approaching the end of his first year with Isuzu Trucks.

Mr Kerr shared with us his experiences and his philosophy, including how he joined the transport industry, what continues to motivate him in his career, and advice he would give to someone considering a career in the industry.

Your extensive 30-year experience in the automotive and transport industry is pretty fantastic. The trucking industry is a very specific industry, so what inspired you to pursue a career in it

It’s a very good question. Interestingly, I always wanted to be in sales. After I left school, I went into insurance; everyone went into either banks or insurance companies when I was young.

However, after a couple of years in the insurance industry, I found there was a lot of bureaucracy and your career progression was based on longevity—you didn’t get promoted unless you’d been there 20 or 30 years at least, rather than on merit.

So I left where I was, and I went and worked for a division of TNT—that was my first experience in transport. And as a young bloke—I was about 20 years old then—I came into this industry to learn as a sales cadet.

And for 16 years I worked for TNT. The good thing was I went into sales, did a bit of operations, I went on executive management courses, was in the young executive program, and I got a thorough grounding in business, which was great. Because TNT really focused a lot on their younger people, that had a significant influence on me in more ways than one. From there, I learned a lot more with regard to understanding trucks and trailers and parcels and how transport works.

And I understood the customers, because I was one, so that was the first impact leading me to this industry.

And what made you decide to forge your sales career in the industry?

To me, it was the fact that it is competitive, it is tough, it is dynamic.

When I was starting out, and even now, this was what got me out of bed every morning. It motivated me.

In this industry, I knew that the harder I worked, the more I could earn. The harder I worked, the quicker I could get recognised for my achievements and sustain success. These were the things that were pretty fundamental to me when I was young.

Could you tell us about an accomplishment in your career you’re most proud of?

That’s a tough one! I would have to say it’d be helping two companies I worked at turn their businesses around.

Both of them, we had to put a lot of things in place, have a look at what we had, determine where we needed to go, put products in place, get the systems right, implement procedures… And in both of them, I was very proud to have played a key role in getting them to turn around.

How does your sales expertise play into these accomplishments?

I think the fact that being in sales means that I spent a lot of time with customers. And so what I try to focus on, and I still do today, is what the customer’s after.

I think that when you’re in sales, you have a great insight into being able to bridge that gap between the customer and the provider, and articulate to senior executives that, hey, I’ve talked to the top ten of our customers and this is what they say.

This is my philosophy—first understand, then be understood.

When I meet a customer, I’m not there to sell them anything from the get-go. I’m there to understand what their business is about. Then hopefully, there might be something I can help their business with. That’s how I operate.

In your experience, and especially as the National Fleet Sales manager, what do you believe is the biggest selling point for customers?

Price plays a part, but it’s not always a key determiner. There are a lot of other factors, and it’s about how we deal with customers. It’s also the whole-of-life cost of that product.

If I pay $100 for a pen, I want that pen to last me a couple of years. If I pay $5 for that pen, and it only lasts me a month or so, that’s not a real big deal.

So when you look at the capital investment of a fleet, buying a few hundred trucks a year, they need to know that we’ve got all the other important bits covered. And that’s your service agreements, parts availability, dealer network… and if your truck goes in for a service, it comes out in the timeframe you want.

It’s all of those things, but a lot of that is about the total cost of ownership. And Isuzu Trucks has a very good story to tell about this.

You’re coming up to nearly a year at IAL as the National Fleet Sales Manager. How has it been working here in the role?

It’s been enjoyable, I must say. I’m really pleased that I’m doing sales with a market leader with a good brand, and also for a good product, and with good people.

What I’ve been doing in this period is trying to understand the business, my colleagues, all the different products we have—there’s a lot to take in.

It’s a busy role, it’s a busy business. And we’re always on the move. But it’s been enjoyable, it’s been a great learning experience and I’m pleased that I’ve been able to put to use some of my knowledge and experience, and impart it to the business.

What’s the culture like here?

I’ve worked for private companies, I’ve worked for publicly listed global entities, I’ve been fortunate enough to do it all. And I must say generally the culture here at Isuzu is excellent.

You walk in here and you can actually sense a good vibe. You can hear people laughing in the office; this place is vibrant, it’s obviously a good place to work.

And that’s important. Because I think that transmits back to suppliers, visitors, subcontractors, customers.

Also, there doesn’t appear to be politics, or anything of that sort. It’s a collaborative, supportive environment here and I think the business has obviously worked hard to get it this way. Certainly, I enjoy it, it suits my style.

In your role, you typically have busy days where you get up and it’s just go, go, go… what gets you up in the mornings?

I live a long way away too, in the Yarra Valley, which is always another interesting challenge. So I get up extra early… If I’m in the office I make sure I get up extra early to get here.

And what gets me up in the mornings is the challenge, it’s always the challenge. The challenge to try and add value and make the business a better business. You try to add value to the people, and you try to add value to the business you work for.

If you could give one piece of advice to someone looking to pursue a career in the trucking industry, what would you say to them?

Embrace the industry and embrace the learnings.

It’s probably not the sexiest industry, or an industry that people may first consider.

When I was at TNT, I went to the University of Melbourne at the end of every semester to address students, talking about this industry and the career paths that it can create.

Look at the Paul Littles of Toll and the Lindsay Foxes of Linfox… people who worked their way up in the trucking industry. Lindsay started as a truck driver and look at the business he’s got today.

So, my advice would be to embrace the industry. And perhaps the industry needs to do more to highlight the range of career opportunities here for everyone, regardless of gender, especially in what is seen as a male-dominated industry.

What are your thoughts on how the industry can attract talent?

Truckies carry the country; the transport industry drives the economy. It’s important. Nothing moves without the transport business. And we’re a part of that. And it’s an exceptional industry, it’s been good to me for more years than I care to remember. It’s been fun. And I still get a kick out of it.

I think we should embrace young people, I think we should embrace gender diversity and we should make sure that we’ve got a whole range of opportunities for the younger generation, in particular.

This is a place to get a job, and it’s a place where if they embrace it they will be rewarded accordingly. Whether it’s in metropolitan or regional Australia, this is a really good industry and you should treat it accordingly. And it’ll treat you all right.

Mentoring within the industry is also important. As a senior manager, we should be always encouraging and growing the younger people in the business. The thing is to keep growing and bringing people on.

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