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Big enough to trust, small enough to care

The loyalty, commitment and ethics of the people behind CJD Equipment have helped shape the collective spirit of the company that has contributed to its growth and development for more than 50 years.

When Chamberlain John Deere sold off its dealerships around Australia in 1973 to focus on manufacturing, two enterprising sales executives within the company saw an opportunity too good to pass up.

Ron Rafferty and Rob Jowett – work colleagues who had spent their early careers with agricultural equipment maker Chamberlain Industries before John Deere took over – made the leap of faith to purchase the WA dealership and start up a business in its own right.

The result was CJD Equipment, which began operations in February 1974. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Today, half a century on, CJD is regarded as one of the country’s leading distributors of construction equipment for the resources, civil, agriculture and forestry sectors. The portfolio includes world-class brands such as Volvo Construction Equipment (CE), SDLG, Kenworth, DAF Trucks, Isuzu and Fuso.

Still headquartered in WA, the company has spread its wings to 23 nationwide branches, many of which also serve as parts and service support outlets for every product the company sells. It’s among the top 100 listed private companies in Australia.

To celebrate the milestone, CJD held a gala celebration at Perth’s Optus stadium in February, attended by more than 400 past and present staff, guests and representatives of the core manufacturers of the equipment that fill the company’s display yards.

Ron, now CJD Executive Chairman, told Quarry of the pride he and Jowett had in building the business up from its humble origins.

“CJD started with 28 employees and turned over $4.5 million (in 2023 dollars) in its first full year. Today, it has about 600 employees and brought in nearly $1 billion in sales revenue for the 2023 calendar year,” he said.

“Our success can be attributed to three main factors: determined leaders, committed employees, and the global brands we stock.

“The company’s leadership continues to maintain the family-oriented atmosphere of a much smaller organisation, reflected in the great lengths of time so many employees choose to stay with CJD.”

This connection is exemplified right from the top. Rob and Ron have been in partnership now for all those 50 years and been personal friends for more than 60. In 2008, they passed on the management reins to Alan Barnett, who first joined CJD in 2001, and remains at the helm today as Managing Director.

Rob reiterated that the company’s growth and achievements were “due to the quality of the people that we’ve employed”.

“We’ve been very lucky. We’ve had some wonderful people come along on this journey with us,” he said.

“And it has been a memorable journey. When we began, we were of course selling Chamberlain and John Deere equipment, before establishing farm equipment dealerships throughout Australia, while still continuing with this business in WA. And we were selling enough to make the business very successful.

“Very early on, we acquired the White Truck franchise for WA. When they went bankrupt, we were very fortunate to be able to pick up Kenworth trucks in WA, and a little while later we became the Australian distributor for Volvo Construction Equipment, where we are the importer, the wholesaler and the retailer.”

Rob said the industry had seen a cavalcade of businesses come and go during the five decades.

“There isn’t one of those original truck and construction equipment businesses in existence in the way we used to know them. CJD is the exception,” he said.

“We’ve always been at the same address, doing the same thing, all the while expanding our offerings and adding other locations.”

Ron said the future for CJD holds great promise.

“Not only do we have a great team of people, but we also very fortunate to represent some of the best world’s brands,” he said. “And with names like that, you can’t help but attract other good people to the company.

“As a company, we are always exploring opportunities to grow. Our longevity is testament to the principles and core values that have always driven us, underpinned by our people.

“We look forward to the next 50 years of CJD Equipment.”

Alan said he was privileged to be able to build on the foundations laid down by Rob and Ron.

“I’ve been Managing Director for 15 years and the time has flown by,” he said.

“As we continue to grow, the key is to ensure that our people always feel part of the CJD family.

“We need to grow organically through improved performance and best practice. We need to grow by acquisition. We need to review our branch network continually to ensure we provide the highest levels of service to our customers. And we need to look for business opportunities that will enable the entire group to grow, not just for the company, but also the staff and their livelihoods.”

THE VOLVO CONNECTION

There’s no doubt that CJD’s acquisition of the Volvo CE franchise in WA in 1992 has been a major stepping stone towards its climb to its current heights. Less than 10 years after the agreement, the company had taken over as national importer and distributor for the entire Volvo CE business in Australia.

Now, almost 32 years later, the working association is rock solid, with the partnership continuing to reap dividends for both parties.

Volvo CE Head of Region International, Joakim Arndorw , flew in from Sweden to visit several CJD branches throughout Australia, a trip culminating in the 50th anniversary celebrations in Perth.

“Volvo has been very happy with the relationship and that’s why it’s still continuing,” he said.

“We have always looked at Australia as a market where we can develop the product better, we are always after feedback to improve.

“The machines that Volvo sell are tested for all the environments that they are being used in. Australian customers can be assured that the machines have been thoroughly trialled in local conditions.

“Australia has some of the harshest conditions in the world, from heat to remoteness to dust, and we regularly test our products so that customers know they’re cared for and thought of that way.

“We sell about 800 units in Australia annually – articulated haulers, crawler excavators, wheeled excavators, wheel loaders, road machinery – and we’re constantly improving our machines. I think we have the best in the business.

“And it’s important to have really good partners like CJD that take care of the machines when they are in the market being used by the customers. Because I think to be successful you need to have good products but also have good support.”

Joakim said that while Volvo continues to innovate and improve traditional engines, the big focus moving forward is on sustainability and the development of electric mobility machines.

It’s the next step forward in Volvo CE’s ambition to reach net zero value chain greenhouse gas emissions by 2040 – alongside development of hydrogen fuel cell solutions and more sustainable internal combustion engine products – and is part of Volvo Group’s target to have at least 35 per cent of its sales of vehicles fully electric by 2030.

“That means that by 2040, all new sold Volvo Group products shall have net-zero emissions,” Joakim said.

“So our target is to sell 35 per cent electric machines by 2030 and we have taken the first step here now in Australia, by launching electric compact excavators and electric compact wheel loaders, which are being tested at the moment.”

Using them is relatively simple, Joakim said. “You can either charge with a fast charger or with a regular power socket for the smaller machines,” he said.

“There’s still a lot of development going on in this area when it comes to battery management and battery capacity, but this will happen fairly quickly.

“We’re moving to being solution providers: the days of just selling a product are changing. We’re trying to provide the complete solution to customers for them to reduce their emissions and not just for the product, but for them.

“Our customers need full servicing operations, package support, the data connectivity; and it’s information that we can provide to help them be more efficient, and get the right product offering.”

Joakim said CJD’s 50th anniversary was an achievement worth commemorating.

“When you have done 50 years, it’s important that you celebrate that, because it’s a really good achievement. And the dinner event showed how proud the people and the employees of CJD were to work for the company and to carry the Volvo brand,” he said.

Alan said CJD worked well with Volvo because they shared the same goal and desire.

“Partnerships that have the same vision achieve greatness together. There’s always the ups and downs over the journey, and with Volvo, we built not just the working relationship, but friendships, and I think that’s the other thing that comes out of it,” he said.

“It becomes very personal. It’s not just a job. It’s not just a business. It’s not an e-mail relationship. That makes a difference because we care.

“We represent ourselves to the customers. We’re one together always. You know we can’t do it alone. And Volvo can’t. But together we can.”

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