Welcome, haere mai, new MTA President Bob Boniface
Business guru, guitarist, petrol head: Bob Boniface has many passions.
The new MTA President was elected to the Board in 2012 and has served as vice president from 2018 until now. He was appointed chair of both the Finance and Risk, and Investment committees – drawing on his lifetime of corporate leadership to bolster and refocus MTAs investment portfolio.
During the 1980s and 1990s, Bob steered dozens of companies to success.
“I would go in as CEO or managing director for a year or so and overhaul companies that had lost their way – or needed to be made more efficient or prepared for sale.”
His list includes manufacturing, contracting, distribution, service, machinery, construction, heavy plant rental and IT distribution companies.
In the mid 1990s he was appointed to James Hardie Building Services to turnaround its $50m in losses.
“I changed the nature of the business. The company had 500 engineers with skills in heating, mechanical systems and so on used to working on construction sites. The Building Warrant of Fitness scheme had just been introduced so I turned all those contract engineers into service engineers – retraining them to go into commercial buildings to carry out servicing. They were rough and ready trades people and needed to become more customer focused: to take their shoes off before walking across the carpet and to talk to clients rather than hide from them. After a prolonged negotiation with the Engineers Union, the newly focused group was turned around, moved into the black and sold to Chubb. A good example of maintaining the same technical skills but reinventing a business to meet a changed landscape. This has parallels with the changes and challenges the motor industry is facing for the future.”
His next gig was to take the helm of Caspex Corporation, a group of 12 companies including the former NZ Motor Corporation. “We were the importers and distributors for Honda motorcycles and outboards, Yanmar marine diesels, Komatsu heavy equipment, Mitsubishi fork trucks, Cessna planes, MD and Schweitzer helicopters, and in Australia, Kymco motorcycles. We retailed through about 40 Honda motorcycle franchise dealerships. Interesting work for a petrol head.”
During his 13 years with Caspex, Bob bought his two Auckland Panel and Paint workshops. “Basically, I bought them to be closer to my car and motorsport passion. I always have seven or eight cars rotating around and being fettled -
I have no favourite brands, types or countries, they are all interesting.”
Bob reckons he’s owned about 230 cars since he got his driver’s license at 15. He’s been racing in one form or another since his varsity days in Manawatu with his hotted-up Mini, XU1 and a 2002ti. From the mid 1990s he’s been part of the Targa rally circuit and active in the Porsche Club.
He’s had some success. “I’ve got about 50 plates on the wall; in horse racing terms, I go all right, ‘weight for age’.”
When he was younger, Bob also played the music circuit in Hawke's Bay and Manawatu – but gave that up when he got his first real job at 27. He still pulls his guitar out to play the occasional gig – most recently a guest appearance at the Pig and Whistle in Rotorua.
In recent years Bob’s professional interests have become more ‘directorial’. He first became involved with the CRA because he wanted to have some influence on the collision repair industry and moved on to focus on MTA as a broader industry association.
He has also been a recent director with the John Deere dealer group (Agroquip) and is currently a director of gas company Rinnai. “Like the motor trade, this is also an industry wrestling with climate change and sustainability.”
The motor trade has entered a fast-changing era and Bob believes MTA members will have to take a close and strategic look at their future.
“Climate change, Covid-19 and technology have reset market dynamics. Things will be fundamentally different in the future. Towies will have to handle EVs and hydrogen, repairers will face increasingly sophisticated software, there will be alternative fuels to cope with, increased compliance issues, repairers also need to decide whether their business will be ‘all things to all men’ or specialise and segment.”
He says over half the the cars on New Zealand roads are more than 12 years old so the majority can be easily repaired with current technical skills.
“But if repairers take on vehicles with all the new technology, they will be incredibly stretched and face a huge shortage of staff with the right skills. Repairers may have to specialise and adjust to a focused business model to suit their resources rather than being ‘all things to all men’. Collision repairers face many of the same issues, with exotic materials we have never handled, new repair techniques, advanced electronics, more demanding insurance company requirements.”
Franchises are also facing a major shake-up with the clean car requirements likely to force a reset of the market as brands and dealerships try to adapt supply to exploit the rapidly-growing opportunity for low or zero emission cars.
“The fuel industry may perversely be the slowest to evolve and shift from diesel and petrol to EV and alternate fuels. It will take a long time to lose the older cars in the fleet.”
Bob believes MTA’s role is to help members survive, and even thrive, during these shifts in the industry dynamics. It will also be to help members plan their exits, where necessary.
“At the sector level, MTA needs to understand all these influences, assemble global knowledge, and point out the impacts. We don’t need to reinvent knowledge; we need tentacles into the sectors and globally, to understand what is happening. We’ve started to do that in the last few years and need to accelerate this work. We are well resourced and can shift resources to where they are most needed, when they are needed – Covid-19 has taught us that.”