(AKA Tony Quinn’s life).
‘Most people can be successful, if it’s nothing more than bringing your children (or your family) up to be respectable decent people, that you’re proud of – that is success – everything else is just a game that you play.’ Tony Quinn.
I managed to get some face to face time with Conservative Entrepreneur Tony Quinn; I thought we’d be talking about the Hampton Downs ‘extension’ but in truth we spoke about almost everything else.
Tony Quinn may be better known to you as the owner of Highlands Motorsport Park or Hampton Downs, you may know him as a very accomplished Motorsport driver or even from his incredible business prowess with V.I.P Petfoods, but after now spending some time with him, I can honestly say he would be an outstanding guest speaker or even have a future in stand-up comedy. Despite being a powerful man and a very straight talker, he is incredibly charismatic; from the instant you meet him you feel at ease.
There are obviously many facets to Mr Quinns life that we could cover but for now, let’s focus on his business side. His father owned a pet food business and therefore following in his footsteps would probably be assumed as a given (particularly with hindsight of his VIP success) However his story is nothing like that.
His father’s business wasn’t what you’d call a profitable one and tony was given the task of making the rendering area profitable, something he did with aplomb. However, eager to break away and stand on his own two feet, he sold up everything he had and bought a sign writing company – Loftus Signs. Through a little bit of luck and some miscommunication, his company landed a deal with Chevron oil – it was one of his (business) life defining moments. The initial deal turned out to be very lucrative and pretty soon he was making money hand over fist, with a personal salary that was larger than the then Prime Minister on the UK; Margaret Thatcher.
The story could have stopped there but he was ambitious and driven, Tony (as was the rest of world in the 70’s) was convinced that Oil was the way to extreme wealth and he predicted that Australia was where it was all headed next. In an interview with the Australian immigration he learned that Perth would be Oil’s new home down under, and he felt sure that Australia would not only offer ‘Oil wealth’ but they would (no doubt) be trailing in the sign writing department too. So despite being at the top of his game in Scotland, he sold his business and moved the family to the other side of the planet.
As he walked through the arrival lounge in Perth he looked up at the fine display of signs they had on offer and immediately assumed that they must have imported them from America. It wasn’t until he checked his family into the nearest hotel and flicked through the local Yellow Pages that the size of his mistake set in. There were 12 pages of sign writers and what was worse was that technologically; they were the equivalent of over five years ahead of Scotland.
This was a dark time for Tony and his young family and although he quickly found himself a reasonable job; underneath it all his heart wasn’t in it. He cried for many a night and spoke quite disparagingly about the ethics of the Australians he met at the time, referring them to being Alan Bond apprentices ‘Shysters that would promise you the earth and then give you an Atlas’ (funnily enough he met Alan Bond later in life and has fond memories of the man, he even ended up doing business with his son).
After three and a half years of what could be classed as torture, (although he does reflect on this ‘damaging’ time as ‘recalibrating’) Tony moved his family to NZ.
He always had a love of the Primary industry and in particular animal by products, rendering. So upon arrival in NZ he looked to get into business with the dairy board in Hamilton but for a variety reasons this didn’t pan out. Subsequently he started up a business called Fatman in Dargaville; which in turn led to him starting up a Petfoods company…
So what has he learned along the way? Tony is quick to talk about the synergies between Motorsport and business but the main blueprint he’s noticed is that successful people have worked hard, believed in what they’re doing and have done it for long enough.
He told me that to him, Motorsport is a sport that attracts alpha males, ‘you need to make quick decisions and you have to deal with the consequences’. It’s a sport that has its fair share of risks but he also considers himself a conservative entrepreneur ‘I don’t mind taking a risk but it’s got to be thought out and it’s got to be a risk worth taking. It’s got to be a calculated, strategic risk.’
There are three things in business that he’s discovered. ‘One is the brand, there is no value in any business without a brand, it’s the brand that see’s you through. Secondly, you must deliver on whatever the brand says, virtually at all costs and thirdly, you’ve got to make margin.’
He elaborated on this. ‘You shouldn’t ‘practice’ running a business, even though I own two racetracks I don’t practice. When you practice all you do is increase the likelihood of a crash and you’re gonna burn fuel and brakes and tyres – if you’re gonna race, let’s go and race.’ He continued ‘It’s the same in business why would you practice? So many people say – well let’s just do it for that price because it will lead to something else – Like f### it does. You’re better off not practicing; don’t call yourself in business if you’re not making a margin. When you make margin, you can afford to employ people and give them security, you can build the business, grow the brand, you can do all those things.’
Like I said, he’s a straight talker. He has another saying: ‘Two plus two equals seven’ I stared at him oddly, after all he is supposed to be a bit of a genius in the business world, he went on to explain.
‘Two plus two equals four right? NO, not if you have any business aspiration. the amount of people in business that take all the inputs, all the elements and sell them two plus two for four – for whatever reason ‘the sprat to catch the mackerel’ f### off – four makes you bankrupt. Ok so you move on, two plus two equals five – you’re just going to go bankrupt slowly! Two plus two equals six…is a good spot, it’s a house in the suburbs, you’ll drive a Volvo, and there’s nothing wrong with it ‘Mum’ will be pleased with you – happy days. The real deal is two plus two equals eight, but you take the eight and give the customer a discount to seven, they feel good and you’re doing well – so the real trick is two plus two equals seven.’
It’s a top equation when you think about it.
So has it all paid off? Well there is talk that he has a net worth in the region of $400M but Tony believes that it is probably somewhere around twice that, however to him it is just numbers. He has three Rolex’s he doesn’t wear and thirty or forty cars in his garage plus he has that Aston Martin Vulcan (which is another great story). What is more important to him now (aside from his family) is his freedom to do whatever he wants to do whenever he cares to do it. He has nothing to prove to anyone (that is pretty evident) and is happy now to spend time to chat to ‘Mix and mingle’ and share the stories he’s picked up on the way – for which I’m truly thankful.
He is a man that is full of stories and has just released his book ‘Zero to 60’ which tells of his journey from a wooden caravan in Aberdeen start to his multimillion dollar deals, plus of course his Motorsport addiction – it’s a book that I’ll be rushing out to get!
Oh, and if you’re looking for some investment advice? Tony say’s ‘ask his wife’. She certainly knows how to pick a winner (especially with her behind him).
Thanks for the pics Chris: Dillon Photography
Full interview here – well worth spending an hour!
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