PERSON OF INTEREST - STRENGTH IN DIVERSITY

Tuesday, October 13, 2020

Trailers may be long and narrow, but his breadth of education and life experience means Colin Patchell’s vision for Roadmaster Trailers is anything but.


Photo: Brand-driven, Roadmaster’s new CEO Colin Patchell has a clear vision for the future of one of New Zealand’s best known trailer marques.

Forty-six year old Colin Patchell is fiercely individual; raise a subject and you won’t get anything close to a wetfish response. That’s not to say he’s a shoot from the hip type. Given a varied line of questioning you start to realise his response is drawn from a wide, and at times deep, internal referencing. The son of Ian Patchell, Colin was, not surprisingly, indoctrinated with a strong work ethic right from the getgo, spending his early years in and around the family business Patchell Industries “sweeping the floor after school”, to use his own words. Following secondary school the desire was “anything but engineering”, and it was off to Otago University where he spent eight years completing a BSc in zoology and geology, with postgraduate diplomas in geology and management. “Originally I wanted to be a marine biologist, but I hated the way data could be manipulated in order to get the result you want. Geology is geology, it is what it is.” On the cusp of completing his Masters degree, Colin had been offered a job working in the North Sea oil exploration industry, when one of those stake in the ground life moments occurred.

“My father flew down and offered me a position back in the family firm, starting at ground level. I’m not necessarily a big OE person, the North Sea thing wasn’t appealing on account of the travel or anything, it was the opportunity, and this was another opportunity.” The Patchell offer was accepted, and so commenced an exciting 12 years at Patchell Industries that ended with Colin as general manager of Patchell Group from 2009 to 2011. “We achieved a hell of a lot. A highlight for me was starting the tanker business. We bought Simmons Engineering off the receivers as the base to start from and built it up from there. The end result being a strong, profitable business overall.” As we all know, the only constant in life is change, and 2011 saw a restructure at Patchell’s that wasn’t part of Colin’s vision for the company. So, once again, he was off, happy to seek out the next opportunity. “Mike Donnelly, Roadmaster’s GM, had just passed away, which was really sad. Mike and I got on well. The loss opened up an opportunity for GM operations here, and I accepted that.”


Photo: Well-educated and a formidable intellect complements a beginning that started on the workshop floor after school.

Then in 2013 came ‘that’ word again: ‘restructure’. The general manager roles in operations and administration were disestablished, but this time all was well, and Colin stayed on as sales manager. In late 2018, the takeover of Roadmaster by Modern Transport Group catapulted the combined entities to a clear first place in terms of industry output. The inevitable management and structural recalibration that goes with such shifts in the landscape saw Colin take on the role as CEO Roadmaster Trailers from previous owner and CEO Ross Bell in April this year. “It’s a fantastic opportunity, a natural progression I’m really excited about. For me, running my own business, or a position like this, was the obvious next step. I’m a very brand-oriented person and I love the Roadmaster brand. The thought of developing it to its full potential is exciting. I want it to be number one, no question. “Michael, Zane, and Robin [Ratcliffe – Modern Transport Group] are great to work with. There’s a management meeting once a month, but beyond that they encourage you to pursue your vision.”

So, what will Roadmaster look like in five years time?
“I want it to be efficient, and driven by growth. A reinvigorated company though great practices and culture. I see an expanded portfolio, building products we used to build but haven’t of recent, and tapping into the group resource where the opportunity presents, things like our Ejector technology. If it fits, and the numbers stack up, then why wouldn’t you? If you’re not growing, you’re going backwards. “I want it to be a place where people want to come and work, and do a good day’s work that they are rewarded for.” Colin also sees huge opportunity in the service and repair business, and growing the customer base, with both new and returning clients. “In terms of resource we’ve taken on some key roles in design, manufacturing, and sales positions, so the support structures needed to cope with growth are now in place. “I want Roadmaster to be a great experience for all, both inside and out. Roadmaster is a strong brand, no one could argue that. My job is to make that brand market leader.”

What about the now? Strange times?
“Like everyone, Covid’s given us the unique opportunity to stop and take a look at the business. Day to day you get so involved in the business, getting that breather to question what we could do better was a moment not to be lost. “It also meant some skilled staff were available as other manufacturers had to let people go; that in itself was an opportunity. “Our level of enquiry and our order book is strong. There’s a lot of work yet to do making the road transport industry more efficient. Trucks towing 4-axle trailers with 9-metre decks are a thing of the past. Customers in the supply chain are demanding the utmost efficiency from their suppliers, and some of the big forwarders now have minimum capacity requirements and end of life clauses on the gear their contractors run. The post- Covid recovery means the need for more efficient gear will be greater than ever, and that can only be good news for us.”

Colin Patchell’s tips for managing a busy life?
“You can’t bury yourself in the stresses of the job. You have to compartmentalise what you’re doing. Too many people die of stress-related diseases, cancer, heart attack; they’re unable to segment it. In this role you have to make the vision clear, delegate it, monitor progress, and most of all support staff in their jobs, reinforcing the underlying goal that if the business does well, everyone does well. “Believe me, life is the best teacher. My own experiences have a fundamental impact on how I operate at a business level.”

The state of the nation (NZ)?
“Confidence is key. I’m excited about the future. The things to watch though, are minority groups with agendas to push, who impose that agenda, and use spin to create a sense of social exclusion for those who aren’t aligned. It’s a common strategy today and one that’s really concerning.” Outside of work? “Hunting – mainly deer, fishing, diving, mountain and motorbiking. “My wife Sarah runs her own bookkeeping business, which she’s started from nothing, and we have five kids between us, so it’s a busy life.”