Ben from Southern Sydney
My name is Ben.
I’m 47, I live in southern Sydney with my family – my wife Lyn and 3 children; Martin is twenty-three, Megan is twenty, and William is fifteen.
My schooling started at Carlton (Sydney) South Primary School. My parents lived in the Carlton area until 1973, and then relocated to Heathcote. I went to Heathcote Public School and then onto Heathcote High School. I finished schooling in 1980 at the end of year 10 and then went on to do a four-year apprenticeship to get my certificate for fitting and machining. I enjoyed my school life – it was very full. Mine was somewhat of an uncomplicated upbringing, I guess you could say. Where we lived was surrounded by national parks, so my younger years were simple, but they were full of fun. It was an interesting upbringing. There are a lot of waterholes down in the bottom of the valleys, so in the summer we spent time down there. Ever since a kid I’ve always very much enjoyed outdoors, very much enjoyed summer.
I still enjoy bushwalking and swimming with the family. As you get older your body breaks down a bit, and you can’t be quite as adventurous as you’d like to be but the boys always want to go to the water -we’re only fifteen minutes from the coast, so that’s where we often go. When time allows us we tend to go down the coast – the water quality improves the further you get out of the cities. I hope to lose 10 kilos in the next two years; that’s a personal goal. It will require a lot more exercise daily that what I am currently doing. Work life is demanding so time is scarce.
I come from a family of engineers, but we all went our own ways after the apprenticeships were completed. I have ended up back with my two brothers in a hardware business, importing and wholesaling cabinet and kitchen hardware. We import kitchen hardware and furniture hardware products from all over the world. We hold stock here in Sydney, and then we sell up and down the east coast, direct to kitchen or furniture manufacturers. We have approximately nine thousand different products in stock; a four thousand square metre warehouse, a team of thirty-five staff. We really don’t value-add to any product, we just buy a product and resell it. One of the largest items we would have would be a kitchen sink. Ninety per cent of our stock would be shipped in via containers, a little bit of airfreight. That’s all unpacked, sorted and held in warehouse. A standard work day for me would start at 5:30am, be in the office by 7.00am, seek to get my own day planned and then ensure the staff are diligently prepared for the day ahead. I do a moderate amount of overseas travel for sourcing product lines. That’s quite a challenge to keep up with the latest products being released from different suppliers all over the world. Last month I was in China for three days. I don’t have a whole lot of days in my week that are all the same! You could say one of my passions is to succeed, particularly in the business area. I find satisfaction in being able to build up a business, employ others, reward them for their efforts and results, but broader than that.. Even outside of the employment jurisdictions you have the privilege of caring for others because you know when you were younger and you worked for others they did more than just pay you a wage, they actually cared for you. I’d say a genuine goal is for me to have the business running profitably and structured so within five years I do not have to spend much time here. It’s a very steep challenge, but that’s the idea. Another goal for the future would be to make sure all my debts are cared for, and I’ve set at least my two boys up with houses, so they’re ready to tackle adult life. Being a family business works well. I’m the youngest of the three; we each have very different skill sets. We’ve rather tended to find our own area of skill, and stick to that. Our children are all actively involved in the team. The big advantage is when someone needs to go away for a month; we can do that sort of thing without upsetting the business. I normally walk out of the office between 5:00pm and 5:15pm. We live two minutes from the office. I go home and have a meal with the family, attend the evening church function and after that spend some quiet time with the family. In summertime the boys will quite often go down to Cronulla and go for a run along the beach to keep their fitness up; sometimes I’ll go with them, other times, due to the time change, I catch-up with the staff in Jamaica. I normally turn in by ten o’clock.
I’ve been to Jamaica in the Caribbean twice in the last ten months as I have invested in a business there. We go there on a regular basis to seek to up-skill the staff and turn the business into a profitable one. It’s a similar business model to ours from the point of view we import a product, hold stock, and resell it, but the one in Jamaica is office furniture. The business there is located in Kingston – the main city. Last time I went out selling with the sales team; we went to Montego Bay and Ocho Rios. The majority of the populace is in Kingston but there’s also a lot happening in Montego Bay, it’s about a three-hour drive away. Montego Bay – there’s two sides to it, probably like a lot of the tourist ports of Jamaica. Where the tourists come and see it’s idyllic; the beautiful coastlines are very, very pretty. You’ve only got to go one or two miles back from the beach and you get third world living, very poor conditions, very poor people. If you come in there on a cruise ship as a tourist you wouldn’t see all that. We actually rent a house there, and live on our own, but we have a lot to do with other families there. From my point of view this business investment is not exactly a moneymaking goal. I mean, any business venture is about making money, but it’s more about being able to help people —there’s a lot of unemployment there. I’d like to be able to build the business up so the Jamaicans can elevate their own living standards. Obviously we hope to make a few dollars net return on our investment as well. We’ve sort of doubled the business since we’ve been involved in it, but we can double and double again yet. The next twelve months should show a lot of progress. When we originally came across the business it was really struggling. We decided that we would offer to step in and give them a hand, to take ownership along with some others and give it a go for three years to see what we could do to turn it around. The fact is they’re doing it so tough there. The economic conditions in Jamaica are very, very tough; their currency keeps slipping. In the last six months, there were three or four slips in the currency against the US dollar which means that every imported product you bring in is lifting in price. Therefore it’s a real challenging environment. We’re learning. I mean, we’re teaching, but we’re also learning. When you grow up in an environment you get comfortable with it and you just take it as normal. When you come in as an outsider you can see all areas that could be improved, you just tackle them one at a time. Our goal is for this company to be self-sufficient and profitable without a whole lot of input from ourselves.
In October 2008 I did a round-the-world trip with my wife and my son Martyn. We spent four days in the UK, two days in Ireland and then we came back via UK to New York. Then we moved on to Canada, we went to Kingston Ontario for a weekend then back to New Jersey for a couple of days, and then back via California, through LA and home. It was a two-week trip. It was excellent. UK was interesting; Ireland was excellent, very different – very warm people to keep company with. Canada was awesome; because it was fall, it was very pretty. New York; we spent a bit of time in New York doing Ground Zero and Times Square and so on. We didn’t have much time in California that trip but twice since on the way to Jamaica we’ve stopped in LA for a day or two. Also on the way back from Jamaica last time we called into Miami. We actually went out of the airport for half a day and did some sightseeing. That was quite interesting too because if you’ve been in Jamaica which is very third world then you go to Miami which is the same climate, very tropical, but it’s very first world it’s quite a contrast and amazingly only less than 2 hour flight away.
Being a member of the PBCC
I’m a member of the PBCC because I want to be a member. I was born into a brethren family. I’m very comfortable with it, I always have been. There was a time in my younger years, where, as a restless teenager, I might have some other ideas but that didn’t last very long. I’ve always been an active member, and believing in it. The benefits to me are in some sense endless. I just see our community has a big favour there, because it’s very rare for a household to break up. And you often see—we know for ourselves, it’s very common to see three generations overlap, grandparents and parents and grandchildren all interacting and enjoying life. The family spirit and the community spirit is very, very strong, at the same time as allowing plenty of scope for differences of opinion and free for all. There’s more than enough space for every personality. Freedom of speech is not a challenge; there’s plenty of that! The benefit to me is that I can bring my family up as my parents brought me up, in a happy environment. I witness all day every day the young people being happy; the young people are full of beans; they’re normal young people, doing what they need to do. The benefits are endless. I can take my children to destinations round the world where I have friends and connections – the kids have made lifelong friends by going on these trips. I know they’ll have a good time, but they’ll be safe – that’s one thing I’m very, very thankful for.