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Australia’s employer of choice in the automotive industry

17 08 2013

Many companies talk about the importance of their staff to their success, but where the real value a company places on its team can ultimately be found is in its actions and long term relationships with its workforce. In this discussion with Burson Chief Executive Officer, Darryl Abotomey and members of Team Burson, we reveal how Burson supports its people to pursue long term careers with the company, making the fast growing Australian company the clear employer of choice in the automotive aftermarket industry.

Q – How does Burson find the right people to join this pro-active Australian automotive company?

DA – Burson is in the fortunate position of having talented people join us from inside and outside of the industry, especially people who approach us from our competitors, which speaks volumes for our reputation as an employer of choice in this industry. Given our exciting rate of growth, we are able to offer significant opportunities across all levels of our business, from our parts delivery drivers to our store managers, all the way up to senior executive management. The future is very bright for people who join Burson.

Q – What attracts people to Burson as opposed to the competition?

DA – I think that once people hear about our structure, the respect we have for our staff and the levels of staff satisfaction that we enjoy, they become attracted to joining us. The fact that we have had staff members leave to join a competitor and then return to the company is testament to the inclusive culture of our company. Burson is very distinct to other companies in our industry in that while we are large and growing, the family business and Team Burson mentality that established and made this company a major success, is still very much alive and well.

Q – Can you provide an insight to the differentiating factors of joining Burson compared to the competition?

DA – There are several. We are a company with a very clear and focussed direction, which is to be the automotive trade’s number one choice offering the most trusted brands and outstanding service. We have already achieved this goal across the eastern seaboard and strive to continue to develop this clear and determined focus. We are not trying to be anything else, we are not focussing on retail sales at the cost of our valued and loyal trade customers.

For anyone that joins our company there is absolute clarity on what we stand for and what our objectives are. Our strategy doesn’t change. We also encourage store level autonomy, that is, our store managers have the flexibility to do what is required to enhance and develop their local trade business, even when it comes to selecting and purchasing stock for their local customer requirements. This is the complete opposite to the rigid and totally inflexible store management regulations in place with some of our competitors. Our store managers are effectively running their own small business, as distinct from other companies where stores are just cogs in the machine. We trust our people to make decisions that will enhance and develop their local customer loyalty and it works. Not owning or being aligned to any specific auto repair groups, makes our appeal to the vast trade business even stronger as well. In short, we don’t compete with our customers!

Another important point about being a part of Team Burson is that anyone from a parts delivery driver to the store manager has open access to the CEO. Any staff member can call me directly to discuss any issues or to make suggestions. This is a vital component of our success. We have made several innovations on the basis of direct feedback from staff members. There are no “suggestion box” forms to fill out which are never responded to, simply a call or email direct to me or one of our leadership team and a direct response or dialogue will take place.

I also make the point of personally contacting each staff member (more than 1,300 Team Burson members at this point) on their birthday.  Apart from wishing them a happy birthday, it is an opportunity for any staff member to raise any points or ideas with me. It is a great and regular way for me to also be in touch with our workforce and hear what’s going on in the business.

Q – What other key attributes make Burson an employer of choice?

DA – We like to create excitement internally. We conduct many staff promotions and at any given time we have staff members vying to win all manner of exciting awards  or experiences that we conduct on our own and in conjunction with the our family of long term suppliers. I say the word “family” deliberately, because we base our staff and supplier relationships on being mutually beneficial, close and long term associations. Burson retains the old fashioned friendliness and spirit of co-operation that has made the company what it is today, thus avoiding a rigid corporate structure. Sadly these attributes just don’t exist in many other companies these days, particularly in the automotive industry. We constantly work towards making Burson a great place to work as we recognise that it is important to keep it fresh and exciting for our staff.

Q – Are incentives in place for high performing stores and how are these structured?

DA – We believe that everyone should share in the success of our company and when our store teams achieve significant results, every single person who works in that store from the manager to the parts driver, receives a bonus. This way everyone remains motivated and is treated as an important part of the store’s success.

Q – How could you best summarise the key attributes of joining Burson?

DA – Clearly the flexibility and the endless opportunities of our national expansion offers our people a good, steady career in the automotive aftermarket, which contrary to other parts of the automotive industry, is growing significantly.

Another key advantage is the lack of hierarchy and politics in our organisation, which enables us to deal with issues quickly and efficiently. It also enables us to support our staff with open and clear lines of communication direct to CEO level.  Burson has total clarity in its business strategy to be Australia’s automotive parts, tools and equipment specialist of choice to the trade and this is being achieved through the co-operative efforts of our staff and suppliers rather than by confrontation.

Q – Are Burson staff members contacted to join competitors?

DA – I think that this is a very clear and somewhat pitiful indication of how our competitors struggle to locate and retain their staff. Practically all of our store managers are contacted every quarter by recruitment companies employed by our competitors. One has to ask themselves whether this would be taking place if these companies were in fact better places to work. In a testament to how Burson compares, despite all of these approaches, we had only one person leave and he returned in just three weeks! We have a very motivated workforce and do all we can to keep it that way. We believe that there are several reasons why our team members get up each day and want to come to work at Burson. An example of this can be found with Michael Dransfield, one of our store managers who came across to Burson after spending several years with our opposition.

Case Study 1

Discussion with Michael Dransfield, Burson Store Manager, Redcliffe (QLD) 

According to Michael Dransfield, a long term automotive aftermarket store manager who has recently joined Burson, the trade focus of the company is the strongest reason why he left his previous employer to join Burson. After just over two months with Burson, we discuss the differences that he has experienced.

Q – Michael, you spent several years with a competitor and have joined Burson during an exciting time in the company’s growth. What are the major differences that you have noticed since joining Team Burson?

A – The company’s clear and committed trade focus and the expertise of its people are two major points. From the delivery driver to the parts interpreters, there are many decades of experience in each store to best service the trade. The people at Burson have a can-do attitude that finds them doing all that they can to assist their trade customers. The commitment to providing outstanding customer service across all of my colleagues became clearly obvious as soon as I started. They always go the extra mile and this is something that is refreshing in our industry.

Q – Is the communication process to senior management an issue?

A – I must admit I was not used to how fast the company gets things done. In my case it is one direct report and anything that we need is addressed fast. We are given autonomy with our stores that ensure we can get things done. As an example, I have even been involved in organising the fit out of a new store and the responsibility for this is mine. I don’t need to go through layers of management to get things approved or for things to happen. At every level of Burson management, the same co-operative can-do attitude exists. I think this is a key reason why so many Burson staff have been with the company for a long time. They simply wouldn’t be here for so long if it wasn’t a great place to work.

Q – What about Burson’ systems and processes, how do they differ compared to your past experience?

A – From having reps on the road with tablets that provide real time access to our stock inventory and being able to process orders on the spot for our trade customers, to our external logistics systems, the systems and processes that Burson has in place are real game changers for the industry in my opinion.

All of this is geared around the Burson commitment to the trade. There aren’t any blurred lines in terms of trade versus retail business. I have also noticed that even our supplier sales reps enjoy visiting our stores. It is clear that Burson has a long term history of engaging and co-operating with its suppliers, which is also very unique.

Case Study Two

Andrew Dawson – Burson Store Manager, Brendale (QLD)

Andrew Dawson is the Brendale store manager whom following more than a decade of service as a competitor store manager, made the decision to join Burson recently. He has a number of insights as to how the company is setting its own standards as an employer of choice in the automotive industry.

Q – What brought you to Burson?

A – I had a number of friends working with Burson who encouraged me to join them, knowing that I was not happy where I was. I also discovered that by making this move that I have found more balance between my work and family life. I definitely wasn’t aware as to how slanted that balance had become before joining the company.

Q – What makes Burson different?

A – The company’s emphasis on its staff. Burson is very staff orientated and there is no doubt that the company really cares for its team members. Managers and staff are not overwhelmed by reporting and administrative duties, leaving them to focus on running their stores, gaining the sales and best servicing our trade customers. The biggest change that I noticed when I joined the company was how happy the staff was. The atmosphere is completely different. There is no complaining and everyone is motivated.

Another major difference is the level of automotive expertise and knowledge in the store. This is far superior to any other automotive store that I have worked in. People are here because of their expertise, Burson stores aren’t filled with inexperienced casuals to meet their budgetary or operational hours requirements. Everyone knows their job and does it very well, ensuring that you don’t have only half of the staff of a store doing all of the work.

Q – How have you found the management structure compared to your past experiences?

A – The lines of communication are open and simple. It is clear that the company also doesn’t over burden its senior management, so they are also very hands-on in terms of addressing our requirements or requests at local store management level. This keeps everything flowing well.

Q – You were one of a number of people to join Burson from the same competitor company in recent times. How did this come about?

A – As I mentioned earlier, I had friends at Burson who encouraged me to join them and one of my colleagues was the first to make the move.  He was delighted with the change and I was the second of the group to join. Then a third colleague of ours, upon hearing about how happy we were at Burson, joined us shortly after.

Everything that I was promised upon joining the company has been delivered and I couldn’t be happier with my new career choice, as I am sure also applies to my colleagues.

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