Alan, tell us about your background. I gather you’re a Coffs boy, born and bred?
I was born in Coffs in 1962 but moved to Dorrigo as a toddler. My primary schooling was all in Dorrigo, although most weekends were spent at my grandparents’ home at the Jetty in Coffs Harbour.
Our family moved back to Coffs in 1973, and I finished high school here. Following school, I attended UNE in Armidale, graduating with a degree in Financial Administration. I then worked for Deloittes in Brisbane and became a qualified Chartered Accountant and specialised in audit and small business accounting. After several years with Deloittes, I returned to Coffs in 1988.
Soon after my return to Coffs, I met my wife, Cathy, and we’re proud parents to Jake, Jasper and Jacoa. My oldest son, James, completes the family.
Looking back on my younger years, the beach and the golf course occupied most afternoons and weekends. I spent most weekends fishing with my dad on numerous beaches along our wonderful coastline. Grassy Head was a favourite spot.
Tell us about more about your role and the business?
Since my return to Coffs about 30 years ago, our family has been involved in a number of businesses, but the two businesses that we still actively own and operate are the 24 hour Liberty service station at The Bailey Centre and our specialised bulk cement distribution business. The cement distribution business operates in Coffs and Wauchope in association with Boral Ltd. We are currently helping to supply bulk cement to all the upgrade works on the Pacific Highway between Urunga and Port Macquarie.
On a daily basis, I am involved with both of these businesses, with a focus on administration and compliance activities.
What major changes have you observed in Coffs over your many years in business?
As Coffs Harbour has grown, we have struggled with employment opportunities, which has resulted in many of our children leaving for the capital cities.
The reduction in banana plantations and timber harvesting greatly affected our local agricultural economy. The current growth in blueberry activity will hopefully reverse the trend.
The creation of the education campus has been fantastic, and the opportunities for more study options at the university in Coffs are great. The development of the sporting fields at Stadium Drive and the countless visitors sport brings to the region is beneficial for all of us.
The single biggest change to Coffs that I notice each and every day is the explosion in heavy vehicle movements through the city, as the main freight corridor moved from the New England Highway to the Pacific Highway, as the highway has been upgraded.
A timely commencement of the Coffs Bypass will, in my opinion, be fantastic for our city. It will give the city centre an opportunity to be fully revived. Even though we operate a 24 hour service station that draws business from travellers, we are predominately a business whose customer base is local. We greatly appreciate the support that Coffs Harbour businesses and motorists give to our fully owned and operated independent station. I don’t see the bypass as a negative for our business, but as a huge positive for the city and those of us who reside here.
What do you see as the most important elements in successfully managing a business and its staff?
Keeping staff changes to a minimum, keeping private expenses separate from business operations, and making regular financial checks are my top tips for establishing and successfully running a small business. If you’re fortunate enough to have a passion for what you do, that makes a huge difference as well. Too many people see small business as a way to buy a job or a lifestyle, and this often leads to failure.
What challenges do you face in business?
One of the greatest challenges we face as a small business is attempting to differentiate ourselves from the increasing competition of large multi-nationals. Our greatest asset in this regard is our staff, who continue to provide the personal touch – a touch that I sincerely hope has been part of the customer experience at our service station since it first opened in 1986.
What’s something about you that might surprise people?
After working with my uncles, cousins and some wonderful staff for nearly 30 years, people may be surprised to know that from an early age I said I would never work for the family business! The opportunity to do so and raise our family in this wonderful region has been fantastic. We’re all so lucky to have access to the amazing beaches and hinterland that, far too often, we take for granted.
You’re a family man – what does your work/life balance look like?
Working with family members allows some flexibility as far as being available for those special and important family occasions. I’ve been fortunate in being able to spend a lot of time with my children, and not just on weekends. If I’m in Coffs for the weekend though, my kids wonder why I always venture into the service station.
I believe it’s important to recognise your staff even with a quick hello, especially when they’re working long hours. Besides, there’s always something for me to do there. I try to play golf on a Thursday at least every couple of weeks. Most weekends are spent with my family, and we usually manage to get away on an annual holiday, so I’d say my work/life balance is pretty good.
How do you most enjoy spending time off?
I’m a bit of a homebody, but I still have a passion for golf and have passed the love of the sport to Cathy, Jasper and Jacoa. I started golfing here when I was about eight years old, and our youngest two have followed in my footsteps – learning the game and etiquette with the sub juniors of the Coffs Golf Club. It’s great to play together as a family.
I also enjoy cooking – I do a mean surf and turf, and we all love making, cooking and eating sensational pizzas.