For Komatsu New Zealand’s Phil Thomson, one of the biggest rewards in a career selling Komatsu equipment since 1985 has been watching customers grow from modest beginnings with just a couple of machines 30 years ago to large civil contracting companies today.
Phil, who’s recently been appointed Komatsu New Zealand’s Major Accounts Manager for the South Island, started working for then-Komatsu dealer Motor Holdings as an Otago and Southland territory sales rep in October 1985.
“In terms of career highlights with Komatsu, one of the things I’ve been really grateful for has been to see some of the key people I started dealing in the late 1980s as very very modest enterprises, grow massively over the years. That has been great to have been a part of this,” he said.
Phil can reel off a list of significant South Island contractors who he’s watched grow their operations and capabilities significantly over the past three decades.
“There’s a lot of them. Some had only one or two machines when I first met them, some I sold them the first excavator they ever bought; now some own well over 100 to 120 machines, and are among the most significant contractors in this part of New Zealand,” he said.
He will also proudly tell you he’s only ever worked with two products in his entire working life.
“When I left school, I did my apprenticeship and qualifications with a Ford car/truck/tractor dealer in Dunedin. After about 11 years with them, I went to Komatsu, and I’ve been here ever since.”
About four years after he started selling Komatsu with Motor Holdings, Phil’s sales territory was expanded into much of Canterbury, “to the extent I was effectively responsible for half of the South Island for the next few years.”
For him a major change occurred in 2002, when Komatsu Australia – as a factory-owned operation – also took over Komatsu distribution in New Zealand.
“At that time, I took on the role of Used Equipment Manager, and I’ve been doing that until my latest appointment.”
Phil sees the move to Komatsu ownership as a turning point for the brand in New Zealand.
“With Motor Holdings, things had reached a very low ebb, and I was just hanging in there by my fingertips, thinking we can’t carry on like this.
“When Komatsu took over, that was a big first step, and we saw a slow improvement over the next three or four years. The most significant change after this was the opening of a new branch in Auckland.
“However, I think the real catalyst for change was when Sean Taylor, who was then Komatsu’s General Manager - Construction, took on responsibility for New Zealand in addition to his main role,” Phil said.
“Sean realised that New Zealand was not the same as Australia, that it was a very different market with a different culture. Once the company as a whole recognised that, things really took off.
“The Komatsu brand started to get real momentum behind it in New Zealand, we got developments like a new branch in Christchurch.
“More recently, we’ve had Phil Pritchard appointed General Manager for Komatsu NZ, and that’s starting to make a difference too,” he said.
“From my perspective, we are starting to feel we have a little more autonomy with Komatsu NZ, and that is a good thing.
“At the end of the day, Kiwi customers like to feel they are dealing with a local company – but they also like being able to deal with the factory.
“It’s a really big difference from the Motor Holdings days, when really it all ran on a shoestring.”
In his new role as Major Accounts Manager for the South Island, Phil will continue to work closely with those customers who he’s seen grow so much over more than 30 years, along with other major customers who have activities in the South Island as well as newer entrants to the business who are going to ramp up their operations in the future.