Dave Harris signing off
The 12 years that MTA President Dave Harris has served on the Board have been a period of transformation with a renewed focus on members’ needs and organisational sustainability.
With his term expiring, Dave attended his last Board meeting and AGM during this month. Auckland Board member and vice president Bob Boniface takes over as president.
Dave, who has been president since 2015, says his leadership focused on providing a greater level of business advantage for members today, and into the future.
“l will miss the job. I’ve been extremely fortunate to lead a team of amazingly dedicated people who made me look good.”
Era of change
He’s happy with the progress MTA has made over the past decade to better support its members but believes there are more steps to come in this journey.
“The Board, under past president David Storey, made a start on bringing us back to our core function – to put the members at the centre of everything we do. We built on that work and now, at every Board meeting there’s always a director asking, ‘How does this decision benefit our members’.”
There’ve been some personal changes as well.
“I grew, and then lost a moustache and mullet hair style, quit smoking, smashed myself up on a few motorbikes, and learnt about the complexities of farming ... on a small scale, mind you. I’ve also changed my business profile – moving my workshop from AA to Auto Super Shoppe and adding a Caltex and a Mobil to my existing Challenge business.
I have also learned a lot from the many amazing people that I have had the privilege of engaging with over the period.”
Leaving a legacy
Dave reckons the diversification of MTA’s investments during his time on the Board will allow MTA to continue to provide member benefits when opportunities present, or when hard times hit.
“We are a 100-year-old organisation and our members’ funds were invested in fairly traditional ways – such as the MTA building something we could ‘see and touch’, or the 100 percent ownership of VTNZ which we could proudly say was ‘all ours’. Both ended up presenting a level of exposure because they formed a large portion of our investment portfolio, and would be difficult to sell if we wanted (or needed) to extract the funds in a hurry.”
He’s proud to have helped lead MTA into a more diverse, high performing range of investments anchored by a balanced portfolio of local and global shares, bonds, private equity, etc.
“In addition, we still hold our 40 percent share of VTNZ having sold the remaining majority to our German partner, global automotive giant, Dekra SE. The expertise and strategic direction that Dekra have added provides value not only to MTA and VTNZ, but to the entire New Zealand motoring industry. Remaining a part of this business has been good for MTA. Our shareholding provides a financial benefit to MTA and opens up opportunities for our members – like the Certified Repairer partnership scheme.
MTA also recently purchased Auxo Software – the parent company of the SAM, Orion, Autoline and other automotive computer systems used by many MTA members.
“This is another investment that provides an income that helps offset subscription fees, and also gives us an influence on a product that benefits a great number of members.”
He said the Board would keep looking for opportunities like this, as well as tweaking the broader investment portfolio in reponse to the prevailing markets.
“MTA’s balance sheet is very healthy and able to weather a couple of tough years, which are most likely on their way. During my time as president, we have grown our portfolio from $65m to $79m, with another $4m of value expected to rebound once the impact of Covid-19 washes through. My plan was not to grow our savings, rather to prudently leverage our reserves to provide opportunity for members without eroding the hard work of our forefathers in building our funds.”
In the meantime, the strong balance sheet means member subscriptions can be kept low. “They are much the same as they were 12 years ago. We dropped the fee by $100 three years ago, so individual members now pay $20 less than they did in 2011.
“Whilst I keep talking money, the most important thing to me has been the member equity we have grown over the time. We use a measure called an NPS Rating to measure the satisfaction trust external parties have with the organisation. It is a scale from -100 to +100 with anything ‘+’ viewed as pretty reasonable. We have used this system to understand member satisfaction with MTA since 2016. In that first annual survey we scored an acceptable -3. When we wind forward to our latest survey in 2020, we had moved to a massive +26. This was achieved even against a backdrop of some fairly tough and unpaletable changes we made around our local branches and area representatives By focusing on deploying resources and spending our funds where we can expect the best outcomes for members, we have seen specific gains - for example a ten-fold increase in member attendance at training and events, most of which are driven by the Regional hubs.”
Bright Blue Badge
“One of the main reasons members join MTA, is to access the MTA brand. Our Brand Health survey regularly asks the public if they would recommend an MTA member. This is a measure of trust of us and our members reflected through our brand. The 2018 survey showed we had a brand NPS value that most organisations would give their eye tooth for – an +20. Our 2021 survey showed this has risen to a staggering +55.”
“We have made huge advances in our advocacy over recent years. For me it is one of the most understated but important things we do for our members. It used to be something off to the side but it has become increasingly important to focus on lobbying and to influence the decisions that affect our members.”
Dave says it's not just the small businesses that make up the majority of MTA who benefit from its role as a ‘voice’ for the industry.
“Our large corporate members also make use of the channels we open up with Government and its agencies.” He said the big corporates often share the concerns of smaller businesses but can’t push their views too hard without being seen as self-interested and elite. “I think our advocacy is one of the major reasons these big companies retain membership, or join MTA.”
He believes MTA will need to become even more nimble and responsive to future policy shifts. “Things move very fast today, and we don’t have years or even months to naval gaze over issues. If we want to shape policy we have to be in at the beginning of discussion, not the tail end.”
“A previous Board member I worked with used to say ‘Success has many fathers’”. While I would like to take credit for this hugely successful period in the life of our Association, I am aware enough to recognise the huge contribution by the Board members, our CEO Craig Pomare, the staff of MTA, the large number of member volunteers, committee members, official and unoffical advisors I have had the pleasure of serving with.”
With 12 years of regional events, conferences and fun activities to look back on Dave reckons it is the people he has met who will stay longest in his memory.
“I have got to know so many different people during my time on the Board – people I would never have met any other way and we’ve had a lot of laughs.”
Highlights have included various conferences in New Zealand and overseas, the MTA100 Centenary and an awards function in Invercargill a few years ago. “The Bluff oyster festival was on, so we stopped by. There was a massive storm, all the marquees came down, and everyone was evacuated. By the time we got back to Invercargill for the awards there was six inches of snow on the ground.”
Dave says he’s planning to focus on his own businesses now his presidential term has ended.
He remains on the Dekra NZ and Auxo boards and will still be seen at Kaimai Region events.