MATTHEW Burgess stepped into familiar territory yesterday when he officially took the steering wheel as new dealer principal at Warrnambool Toyota.
The 41-year-old, who was born and raised in Merrivale, has worked in almost every department of the dealership as he progressed through ranks since starting as a young mechanic technician.
His motor industry career began as a 16-year-old school leaver a few metres down Raglan Parade as an apprentice with the former Gleeson Motors before being offered a temporary job with Toyota.
That turned into a full-time role and a chance to rise to the top level under former principal Garry Askew who yesterday headed off into retirement after a 27-year stint with the dealership.
“I’m very thankful Garry saw potential in me,” he said.
“I spent about six years in the service department as a technician, then six years in sales before another six years with the technicians as service department manager.
“Then in June 2012 I became general manager.
“It’s given me a great insight into the business, so when the opportunity came to buy in as dealer principal I grabbed it.”
His equity partner is new car sales manager Paul Gough who started with the dealership as a sales cadet in 1989.
For Mr Askew, 59, retirement means no more long hours at the office and time to enjoy more golfing, boating and travel with his wife Rebecca as well as continuing his involvement with Rotary.
He first worked in the Warrnambool motor vehicle industry in the 1970s with Gleeson Motors before moving to Melbourne, then returned in 1987 as general manager of Warrnambool Toyota which he took over the dealer principal role three years later.
When he started there were 14 staff, now there are 29 covering a region stretching from Yambuk to Penshurst and Camperdown and beyond.
“Warrnambool region has a very resilient economy without the peaks and troughs of other areas and a very loyal customer base,” he said.
“For about the past 10 years we’ve had the top brand volume sales figures in Warrnambool and we’ve won awards annually.
“One of the most significant chapters of my time was in the global financial crisis (GFC) which hit Warrnambool in mid-2009 and lasted about 18 months.
“I had a staff meeting and promised no job cuts.
“The GFC hit very hard and quickly and it was a struggle to break even, but we pulled through.”