After celebrating more than 90 years shaping New Zealand, a new era is beginning for the Caterpillar dealership in our country.
It’s an exciting time for Gough Cat, with new chief executive officer Grant Whitelaw on board since October and new owners Sime Darby Berhad set to invest in and grow the business.
“We’re looking to a bright and exciting future as we prepare to unveil a new brand to customers in December and then introduce innovative asset management solutions to New Zealand,” says Grant.
The chance to work in New Zealand, and the opportunity to grow the business for new Malaysian owners Sime Darby, attracted Grant to his new role.
“When we were pulling our business plan together ahead of the deal, we could see the potential upside and the opportunity that was available. I wanted to be a part of that.”
So, who is Grant Whitelaw anyway?
While the slight Aussie accent gives away his origins, he admits he was backing the All Blacks in the recent Rugby World Cup – at least once Australia got knocked out!
Grant started on the tools as a young apprentice more than 35 years ago and since then has experience with Cat dealers globally including Indonesia, China, Peru and across Australia.
Through that time, Grant has worked in service, parts, operations, sales and marketing in various management and executive roles.
Most recently he was the Brisbane-based general manager, Business Centre Operations at Hastings Deering, a leading provider of Cat machinery and aligned solutions that’s also part of the wider Sime Darby family.
Grant was responsible for the parts and service operations across Hastings Deering’s business centres in Australia, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Island and New Caledonia.
He regards this role as the pinnacle of his career, wanting nothing less than to transform the way Gough Cat does business here.
“Our focus is on improving the customer experience and finding a way to make it easier for customers to do business with us and to own and operate a Cat machine,” he says.
“We also want to invest in the business in New Zealand and refresh the whole business model.”
The Gough Group deal gave Sime Darby – which already owns several of the world’s most successful Caterpillar dealerships – the rare opportunity to expand in the Asia Pacific region and gain exposure to New Zealand’s construction and forestry sectors.
“It gives us opportunities to participate in markets that we’re not currently in, in this part of the world.
“The Gough Group’s transport businesses also provide great synergy for the existing Sime Darby Motors business that’s been in New Zealand since 1999.
“We also saw that there was a good team in place and thought that with some much-needed investment, the business could deliver a lot more value for customers and shareholders.”
Grant says he’s had a “fantastic” welcome from customers since he arrived.
“My first few weeks in the job involved an epic road trip from the very bottom of the South Island to the top of the North Island visiting our teams at 19 branches and depots plus customers.
“Every customer that I’ve met so far, in all sorts of different industries, has been keen and excited hearing about our plans to reinvest in the business and the team.”
Sime Darby and Hasting Deering have a good reputation in the industry, so customers are keen to see how this will be leveraged into New Zealand, Grant adds.
One first impression is the genuine passion that customers have for Caterpillar products.
“Many of the customers I’ve met are from family-owned businesses and are very passionate about the Caterpillar brand and their relationship with the dealer.
“The other thing I’ve seen here is that this is a unique environment with some challenges I haven’t seen in other locations, particularly around logistics.”
The sales agreement requires Sime Darby to forgo the Gough name in future, so a new brand will be unveiled for the Caterpillar dealership in mid-December.
“This gives us the chance to refresh the brand after 90 years, building on the Gough family’s long and proud legacy in New Zealand and reflecting our bright future ahead,” says Grant.
Grant’s also excited about preparing to introduce industry firsts to New Zealand in future, including an innovative new range of asset management solutions.
“We believe that most customers who purchase Caterpillar equipment can get more value from that equipment than they realise, so it’s about partnering with customers to provide solutions to make them even more productive.
“The first thing we want to introduce is a customer portal to give easy online access to vital information about things like fuel efficiency, machine locations, hours on equipment, utilisation of equipment and oil lab results.”
More innovative solutions are on the cards, with Grant keen to see the dealership preparing to offer these to customers in the future.
“Where customers currently want to purchase an excavator to dig a hole, for instance, we think in the future they may just want to purchase the hole.
“The next evolution for, say, a quarry owner goes beyond ‘power by the hour’ to paying by the tonne moved.
“Eventually, customers may purchase the output of all our asset management solutions rather than equipment, parts and service like they do now.
“This means we need to position the dealership for change, moving away from a transactional model to a solutions model, with asset management and digital technology the tools we use.”
And when he’s not launching brands or transforming business models, Grant enjoys spending time with his wife who has just moved to their new home south of Auckland.
He can’t wait for his adult children and their partners, who are all in Australia’s mining industry, to visit so they can explore New Zealand’s great outdoors together. Grant is also a keen surfer and still plays squash and touch football.