MEETING OF BUSINESS MINDS: (from left) Jim Hurley, Denis Wagner, Darren Eather and Rod Kelly at the Warwick Club.
MEETING OF BUSINESS MINDS: (from left) Jim Hurley, Denis Wagner, Darren Eather and Rod Kelly at the Warwick Club. Jeremy Sollars

Trucking tales give glimpse of history

ABOUT 70 local business identities found themselves in stitches at the Warwick Club this week thanks to guest speaker and transport industry legend Jim Hurley.

The co-general manager of the massive Brown and Hurley truck sales and parts operation - still based at its founding location of Kyogle - regaled the assembled crowd with tales of some of the more humorous moments in his long career in business.

He also managed to impart some sound managerial advice in his address.

Mr Hurley, who is the grandson of one half of the firm's founding partners, told the story of how the family's business interests evolved following his grandfather's decision in 1922 to sell his bullock team and invest in a single White truck.

"People often ask me 'why Kyogle?'" Mr Hurley said.

"In those early times with the truck my grandfather carted logs and followed the wheat harvest from Gunnedah," Mr Hurley said.

"Then at one stage he had a load of cement bags from Backhouse's store at Killarney which needed to be delivered to Kyogle, where it had rained heavily and the truck got bogged.

"One of the Kyogle timber mills had a horse team and they pulled him out.

"Around that time the railway to Brisbane was being extended and they got him to cart steel for the rail bridges and in the end he decided to stay in Kyogle.

"If he hadn't got bogged there he wouldn't have ended up staying."

But it was later, in 1946, that Jim Hurley's father Jack, together with his business partner and former army mate Alan Brown formed Premier Motors in Kyogle, later changing the name to Brown and Hurley.

Their first business was a bicycle shop with a workshop and petrol bowsers but their real love was trucks, and in 1948 they secured the White Truck franchise.

"There was a lot of demand for timber in Sydney after the war and they started building logging equipment - they also sold milking machines and irrigation plants, anything there was a demand for," Mr Hurley said

"In 1962 they opened a used truck yard at Rocklea in Brisbane - Peter Wickham used to say to me that you need to go where the phone books are thicker."

Brown and Hurley went through several trucking eras after White, including Leyland, Volvo, Mitsubishi and Hino, but in 1965 Brown and Hurley sold its first Kenworth - the first one sold in Australia - marking the start of one of the most enduring commercial relationships in Australian transport history.

"Next year will mark 50 years of our association with Kenworth," Mr Hurley said.

"At one stage the American owners told the Australian operation to stop building customline trucks and just come up with a standard model.

"They rightly resisted and today, when someone like Frasers and Wickhams or Wagners place an order, up come their specs."

Mr Hurley - who said he still gets "a kick" out of getting an order for a truck - said a guiding principle had been to never stop doing business with people "as long as they are reasonable".

"It's also important to remember that you've never won a dispute if you lose a customer," he said.

When asked how his firm handled succession planning Mr Hurley quipped, "well if your surname is Brown or Hurley you have a better chance of getting a start".

Then and now...

In 1986, when Jim Hurley became co-general manager with Rod Brown, their annual turnover was $1.4m, today it's $411m.

In 1986 they employed 100 staff, now it's 400, with their administration centre today at their Yatala depot.

As well as depots at Kyogle and Yatala, Brown and Hurley have premises at Rockhampton, Toowoomba, Coffs Harbour and Darra.

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