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Work Hard, Play Hard

When you run a successful business close to a skifield (Mt Hutt), you can offer a sought-after technician a day off when there’s a decent snowfall.

At Methven Motors there’s a ‘work hard, play hard’ atmosphere. Pet projects and passions are supported and the staff and business are an active part of the small rural community.

“At one time we had four volunteer firefighters on the staff,” says Operations Manager and major shareholder Brent McDonald. Brent is also a volunteer with Land SAR (search and rescue) and operates the AA rescue service that includes responding to breakdowns on Mt Hutt.

“Think Ice Road Truckers but with a mountain road. Those guys are pussies,” laughs Brent.

The business, with a large workshop, tyre and lube facility and service station, has been operating for 30 years and employs 25 people. It is owned by five of the senior staff and astute Canterbury businessman Graham McPhail (now retired).

Brent joined Methven Motors as a mechanic almost 30 years ago, buying out one of the six original technicians who had joined Graham McPhail in the business venture.

Today Brent manages the business but still finds plenty of time for his ‘hobbies’. He’s known locally for his adventure motorbike addiction, 4WD off-road racing, and his para-motoring (paragliding with an engine).

Over the years, Brent has also been part of many search and rescue missions. He’s a bit of a legend from the one that saw him replace the original victim on a stretcher. “We were carrying out a woman with an ankle injury when I slipped a bit, grabbed a tree for balance and realised I’d knocked a wasp nest. I managed to yell out ‘WASP NEST’ to get the guys to scatter before I was attacked.” Brent was swarmed and a count in hospital revealed 142 stings. He passed out, his lungs swelled up, his pulse stopped. “Luckily, someone had an epi pen on them and they used that on me.” It probably saved his life but he still wasn’t able to walk and had to be lifted onto the stretcher to be carried out of the hills. “The woman had to walk.”

Continuity Through Shareholding

“In 2016, after 10 years with just three of the original owners left, we decided we had to make sure there were people in place for the future. So we decided to sell shares to selected younger staff - to build in succession and also make it more attractive for them to stay on,” explains Brent. “Getting and keeping qualified staff takes work.”

Workshop foreman Johnny Warburton is one who benefitted from the canny approach to employment.

“I started out here as an apprentice and then travelled for a few years. I came back 15 years ago.”

To sweeten the pot, Johnny’s employment contract reflects his enthusiasm for skiing. “I can take a day off if there’s more than 20cm of fresh powder.” But, since taking on the extra responsibilities of foreman and becoming a father, he doesn’t get to take the same advantage of that clause as he used to. In 2016 Johnny was offered the chance to invest as a shareholder. “That investment is growing and is providing good, very consistent returns.”

He says founder Graham McPhail’s belief that ‘good people make good business’ is very true. “We serve a large community and have very trusted relationships with our customers. They know our strengths and weaknesses and like continuity with staff.”

Warrick Lill joined the ownership team in 2016 and runs the Bridgestone tyre centre and vehicle servicing side of the business. He has also taken over much of the AA work allowing the older guys to have some time off. Warrick is also a volunteer firefighter and a member of search and rescue.