24/09/2008 - 22:00

Strongly held values behind Crommelins’ success

24/09/2008 - 22:00


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Two brothers this year celebrate five decades in business. Barry and Terry Crommelin tell their stories to Adam Orlando. WHEN you can persuade Colin Barnett to attend your business anniversary celebration during what has been a hectic time in politics,

Strongly held      values behind Crommelins’ success

Two brothers this year celebrate five decades in business. Barry and Terry Crommelin tell their stories to Adam Orlando.

WHEN you can persuade Colin Barnett to attend your business anniversary celebration during what has been a hectic time in politics, it's a sign you have made an impact.

For Crommelin brothers Terry and Barry, it added to their pride in their achievements over 50 years.

"I think it was respect for what Barry and I have done in business over all these years," 81-year-old Terry explains.

"He's [Barnett] the sort of fellow that respects that and he wanted to say thank you," 76-year-old Barry agreed.

When the Crommelins started their respective companies in 1958, the last remaining Perth trams were retired from service, Perth Modern School ceased to operate as an academic scholarship institution, and Qantas introduced its first around-the-world air service.

Since then, the two companies have weathered many business cycles and grown into successful operations.

Barry's company, Crommelin, (formerly Crommelin Chemicals Pty Ltd) is a provider of sealants, waterproofing systems and roof coatings and is now run by his son, Peter, from Melbourne.

It has grown to have distributors across Australia and Asia.

Terry's company, Crommelins Machinery, imports, assembles, manufactures and distributes portable construction machinery to the building, hire and agricultural industries.

It operates from a head office in Welshpool and has branches and 600 dealers across Australia.

The brothers' contributions have extended beyond the business world, with many charitable ventures launched and countless donations in time and money to the Perth community.

Sitting in Barry's French provincial-style Peppermint Grove abode, adorned with immaculately crafted furniture, soft classical music floating out while rain trickles over the manicured gardens, it was easy to see how the retired brothers now enjoy the fruits of their labour.

"In 1958, Terry and I arrived back to the state, me from Singapore and Terry from Sydney," Barry told WA Business News.

"He had brought some machinery agencies back with him and I came back with nothing.

"We started together as very small businesses because it suited us to share staff and premises.

"Terry said 'rather than working for a company that makes construction chemicals, I don't know how to make them but I know how to sell them; if you go and find out how to make them maybe you can start in that'. That's how it started."

It was a suggestion from a friend that initially encouraged Terry to enter into self-employment.

"The company I worked for, a chemical manufacturing company...when I decided to depart from them I was offered a job with Douglas Jones, a big timber hardware company just like Bunnings," Terry said.

"So I wrote to the managing director, a personal friend of mine, and said 'I'm coming back to Perth, have you got a job for me?', and he replied, 'certainly but why don't you have a go yourself?', so I just placed an ad in The Sunday Times about two-columns, one inch, and I got a number of replies."

Barry said it wasn't difficult for his brother to talk him into starting up his own business.

"I was a share broker in Singapore and I was disenchanted," he said.

"I came back to Perth thinking that I didn't want to work for anybody else again, so when Terry mentioned this possibility I jumped at it."

While the brothers don't know how to use email or log onto the internet, both agree that the fundamentals of business have not changed at either of the Crommelin businesses in half a century.

"I don't think that it has changed, it's always been about doing the right thing to the right people, with the right product and by getting to know your industry," Terry said.

"The principles of doing business the proper way have never changed.

"We took our risks of course, but not risks you couldn't afford to lose."

Barry agrees with his older sibling's take on business operation.

"The secret I think is a mixture of arrogance and ignorance - arrogance to believe that you can't fail and ignorance of all the pitfalls and problems that you are going to face," Barry said.

Despite formulating a winning recipe, both Terry and Barry have endured many pitfalls during their time in business.

"The recession hurt massively," Terry said of the Keating government-era recession of the early 1990s.

"I had to sell my home, cash up all my superannuation, resign from my own company, which is a technical thing you have to do, and sack about 50 people.

"It was very tough, particularly because they were great people and it wasn't their fault - the banks were calling in their overdrafts.

"I had an overdraft of $3 million at the time. I always had a close relationship with the staff too and everyone had accepted 20 per cent salary reductions right across the board, but it took us 12 months to get out of it.

"But we found jobs for almost every single one of them.

"I remember at that time I was at a crossroad thinking when Mr Keating said we had to have a recession, 'if things really get down to nothing I'll drive one of our waste disposal trucks and I will be the best damn waste disposal truck driver in the company'."

Barry said his business was affected by the recession, but not as dramatically as Terry's.

"We had to give 10 per cent pay reductions across the board and Carol my wife came on and worked full time," he said.

Barry said having determination kept the brothers in business through the tough times.

"The only thing that stops you backing out in a situation like that is your ego," he said.

"I would say we all came out of it better because we're more efficient businessmen. Of course when you grow again you trim away all your fat."

Of the 29 premiers to oversee WA's affairs over the years, the brothers agree that Sir Charles Court was the most admirable. They likened premier-elect Colin Barnett to the late premier.

"Charlie Court was absolutely outstanding, he championed progress, and he championed industry," Terry said.

"He was a perfect leader because he didn't have to go back to a committee in order to get decisions made like [Kevin] Rudd does; he'll take a good idea and bang, they'll do it. "Because WA is a growing state I think that's just the sort of leadership you need."


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