Industry stalwart retires
Through newsletters, articles in Radiator magazine, seminars and workshops, Martin has devoted himself to improving industry skills in diagnosing and repairing automatic transmissions. In 2011 he was presented with an MTA Outstanding Service Award for his contribution to the industry.
In August, due to ill health, 69-year-old Martin retired, selling his business to long-time employee and manager, Luke Regan.
MTA Chief Executive Craig Pomare says he is sad to hear of Martin’s illness. “Martin has been of enormous value to MTA, his fellow members, and the industry over the years. He has been a resource for anyone trying to solve difficult automatic transmission problems and a dedicated supplier of technical articles to Radiator. He’s also run dozens of seminars for MTA members across the country, mostly in the South Island. He is a terrific example of the professionalism and collegiality that makes our association so strong.”
Martin started his career early. He remembers helping his mechanic father undo a Chevrolet’s sump screws when he was about 10 years old. He went on to do his apprenticeship in his father’s country garage.
“My first real job was working with the Christchurch branch of the New Zealand Motor Company Austin Morris dealer. And I never looked back. After a couple of years, in 1978 I moved to Leversedge Motors, which specialised in automatic transmissions. About 10 years later I bought the business.”
He began travelling, mostly to the US, to learn more about the diagnosis and repair of the transmissions which were becoming much more commonplace thanks to the importation of used Japanese cars. He renamed his company Aceomatic Transmission Services – borrowing the name of a US firm he had come across. “I had the owner’s permission and thought the name better described what my business did. It also showed up at the top of the column in the Yellow Pages.”
Martin’s trips to the US to attend seminars became annual events for himself and his staff. “I saw it as an educational opportunity for them. There were lots of technical classes they could attend.”
Over the years Martin became involved in international groups keen to share and promote specialist knowledge on diagnostics and repair of automatic transmissions. He was president of the Torque Converter Rebuild Association for three years and served on its board for several years. He was also an active member of the Automatic Transmission Rebuilders Association, which is based in the US, and was a speaker at some of its annual seminars.
“After the Christchurch earthquakes, one of my topics was preparing for disaster. It included lots of advice on how to make sure your business records and processes should be backed up.”
In New Zealand, he travelled the country hosting seminars for technicians and following them up with email newsletters containing tips and information. He remembers his first seminar in the late 1990s.
“I hosted it at my Christchurch workshop and 70 people turned up. I wasn’t used to speaking to so many people back then but got better.”
Leaving a legacy
Looking back, Martin says he hopes that by sharing his knowledge he has made a difference to someone else along the way.
He reckons the two best tips he picked up over the years have stood the test of time.
“Always know who the most important person is in your business. You can ask your staff who they think the most important person is, and they’ll name a range of people. But the correct answer is always ‘the customer’. Without customers, you have no business.”
And his best technical tip is a simple one. “If you are not sure if there is water in your transmission fluid, take a small sample and drop it onto a hot metal plate – if it sizzles or smokes then you have your answer – it’s contaminated.”
New owners of Aceomatic Transmission Services Luke and Gemma Regan.
Luke joined the firm straight out of school 23 years ago. “I think the fact that I have been working with Martin for all that time, along with many other long-time staff, shows what a good boss he’s been.” Luke says Martin was also generous – acting as guarantor for his first home mortgage and flying staff to the US for seminars at transmission expos.
Martin says Luke has had his eye on the business for a long time. “He told me about three years into the job that he liked the look of my chair.” He says Luke will do well. “A lot of the customers probably already think he owns the business as he’s been running it for the last six or seven years. It’s nice to be able to pass it on to someone who cares, who is keen and who will bring in new ideas to take it to the next level.”