"I walked out 10 weeks later wearing the same clothes, but with my son."
If there’s one word which sums up Richard’s success, it’s people. You only have to sit with him for a short while to realise his belief in people is much more than rhetoric.
“I think the difference between the success we find, and the success others find, is simply people. I think investing in your people is a very good decision. We forget all too often to remind people how good they are. I think also allowing them to enjoy the success of what you do is really important.”
It’s a philosophy that will take the Furnari business into the future, especially as his children “seem more interested in ‘making a difference to those in need’ than taking over the business. That’s what they’d like to be doing currently given the things they do at school. So, I’m not sure we’re going to have another generation of truck or machinery dealers.”
At this stage, it’s likely the succession model will come from within the business. “I’ve had some of my people for over a decade and I think the future will be involving those people in the business.”
People and family have always been an important part of life for Richard, but the realisation of how important has struck home a couple of times; once when his business was just starting to boom and the second, some 12 years later.
Richard recalls, “I was getting on a plane to Tasmania and I got called from the plane by a message to say my wife had been admitted to hospital.” That was back in the early 2000s, the business was beginning to kick on and the Furnaris had three girls under three.
Julie, Richard’s wife, “Had a blood clot on the lung and wasn’t in a good way. A gardener found her in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor. We spent several weeks in hospital where there was a concern she wouldn’t make a full recovery.”
She was a fit and healthy 26 year old and the episode stunned the young family. A couple of weeks before Christmas, Julie was back home and the Furnaris make a decision which would dictate how they perceive business and, in particular, success from that moment forward.
Richard reflects, “I think we all enjoy the rewards, but I think more importantly what working hard and success gives you, is choice. People say it makes you wealthy, but I think wealthy doesn’t necessarily make you happy. I think if you’re successful in what you do, you’re then able to provide yourself and family with choices. The right choices can make you happy but not necessarily all choices make you happy simply because you’ve made a lot of money.”
The second ‘aha’ moment for Richard came when his eight month old son Oliver was rushed to hospital with rotavirus, a severe form of gastroenteritis in young children.
It’s a little known illness, however Richard adds, “It’s the largest killer of children in the world today. It’s not something commonly seen here but unfortunately he developed it. I walked into the Royal Children’s Hospital in early January and I walked out 10 weeks later wearing the same clothes, but I walked out with my son.”
The legacy of that traumatic moment in time continues to bless children and families some five years later. More on that in the Giving Back section below.
Again, it was a time which “certainly made us reassess our lives and we went from spending around 100 hours a week working, to probably 50 hours a week, finding more balance in what we do.”
From working hard to working smart, Richard was set a goal by Mitsubishi Fuso’s Richard Eyre, to sell 40 trucks in 2013 in the Geelong area. That goal was smashed; so much so, that Richard was named Dealer of the Year in 2013. That accolade was again achieved in 2014, in addition to becoming Australia’s number 1 Volume Dealer by the end of that year. And, all this was achieved within two years of taking on the Fuso Truck and Bus Franchise.
Before going there, we need to have an understanding of Richard’s business. How a kid with a truck and a bobcat could grow so swiftly, that by the age of 22 he was running his own million dollar business.
“It was all about hard work. I enjoyed working and I come from a family of hard workers so it was just putting in long hours.” Sounds simplistic, but it truly was just that simple in the beginning.
Richard learnt how to work hard from his father who migrated here when he was six. Richard’s biggest influence in life came from his father and grandfather after whom his only son of six children is co-named. Despite a limited education and difficult conditions in the 1950s here in Australia, Richard’s father established his own building business and eventually moved into property development. From humble beginnings the family achieved greatness.
Raised in Geelong, Richard did what every teenager did there in those days. “We’d go fishing at Cunningham Pier on Saturday morning, and we all used to get a part-time job at the football doing the old snack boxes during the game on Saturday afternoon.”
After completing Year 12, Richard went straight to work, initially picking up jobs with his Dad, then contracting jobs with his truck and bobcat. His break came on a hot summer’s day, with the temperature nudging 35 degrees Celsius.
The scenario began when Richard received “a phone call one Friday afternoon from Pivot Fertilizers who were looking for a bobcat and truck. They had three of them, but they were all broken down. In fact, they’d been deliberately broken down, because it was so hot the staff didn’t want to work inside them; they weren’t air-conditioned.”
The initial offer Richard made was to work all night after he’d already done a full day’s work contracting elsewhere and to work all the next day as well. Simple, straightforward, hard work, which laid the foundation for what would become a multi-million dollar truck and machine empire.
Richard happily reports that “the first cheque I got from them, 90 days later, was about $130,000. For a kid who was 19 or 20 years old, that was a lot of money back then. I bought seven machines with that money to do them up and sell them so I’ve come full circle now.”
Reflecting on that, Richard now comments, “Twenty-five years later my business is all about buying and selling used equipment and trucks when, in fact, I was doing it at 19 years old, not realising that would be part of my future.”
That was the business; contracting work with his truck and bobcat, and doing up second hand machinery for sale, until he began reassessing his future after his wife’s illness. Eighteen months after that episode, Richard sold his company and travelled to the United States, looking for opportunities. “At the time you couldn’t really get machinery in Australia, most of what we used here was well-worn.”
While in the U.S., Richard met someone from Volvo Equipment in California who helped him establish a business exporting from the US. Ultimately Richard bought this facility from him a couple of years later. The business model was “I’d find bobcats, rollers and graders that were two or three years old – so really still quite new – and export them to Australia to compete with manufacturers here.”
Over the next five years, the business grew. Richard started buying and selling ex-Government trucks, he then commenced franchises for Massey Ferguson and Iseki tractors, Mitsubishi Fuso, Hino and Mercedes-Benz Specialised Off-road trucks, focusing on Unimog four-wheel drive trucks.
It was around that time Richard began his mentoring by Mitsubishi Fuso’s Richard Eyre. “Richard taught me that selling trucks is less about trucks and more about relationships. He proved to be a great teacher and mentor; he’s a person who has great relationships with his own people and is greatly respected, even by our industry competitors. He is a terrific example of the rewards of earning great respect and valuing your people. He’s a person for whom I thoroughly enjoy working hard and delivering a great result .”
So when Eyre set Richard that target of 40 trucks for Geelong for 2013, he applied those ‘people first’ principles and sold 302. The next year it was 402 and Dealer of the Year for a second successive year. “We became the most awarded Fuso dealer in Australia and our Fuso business continues to dominate market share at almost 4 times the National Average.”
It’s a fairly simple, almost predictable, business for Richard. “We all sell the same cab chassis, we all pay the same price for it. I think our people are the difference around where you sit on the scoreboard at the end of the year.”
As in those games of football at Kardinia Park, when Richard worked there as a teenager, the scoreboard doesn’t always tell the full story. It’s people, it’s family, it’s working hard, it’s getting a result and it’s also about evolving. “I think my whole life’s been all about evaluating, improving, challenging and changing.”
Making mistakes, even failing at times, makes you wiser, harder, more competitive and teaches you real values and the importance of success.
With that in mind, Richard added a ‘green’ edge to his business. “I guess it originally stemmed from our farming interests. We enjoy farming very much. We live on a farm these days and I think, unfortunately, a lot of businesses put their profit in front of the environment, community and the needs of others.”
The environmental opportunity “arose when we opened the Hino business – we needed a point of difference. We were up against some of the best traders in the country which hold Hino franchises and so we took on a very green approach.”
Richard summarises, “All our cars are hybrid electric, all our computers and photocopiers are the most energy efficient you can buy, we run on solar, the offices are supplemented by solar. It was just a different approach we took at the time.”
Farming has become a passion for the Furnaris. They own two farms and run sheep on both, one also being a sand quarry, but they also provide ways to involve the people who work for them..
The farms provide the opportunity for “More than half my staff to go motorbike riding with their kids probably once a month, and we go camping. I enjoy the opportunities we’re able to bring to our staff and their families. I enjoy that very much.”
It never stops being about people, and Richard’s willing to share his philosophies with anyone who’s prepared to listen. There are no secrets in his advice for those starting out on their business adventures; put people first and you can’t go wrong.
There’s a kicker though; don’t be afraid to break some rules. “The advice I would give to someone today is you’ve got to challenge yourself and challenge the rules. I think it’s okay to break the rules and I think it’s okay to rewrite the rules. I think in breaking some rules, you break new ground and you establish whole new parameters for what can be achieved.
Richard comments that “When speaking at a recent Mercedes-Benz conference, someone made the comment that we’ve not only broken the rules in selling new trucks, but in many ways we’d rewritten them and we had some nice compliments.”
Richard’s success means his work now benefits other dealers too. “Today our marketing and our branding drive most of our network to greater achievements because they’re chasing what we’ve been doing and working on improving themselves. So, we’ve taken great satisfaction in our own results, but also in the fact that we’re contributing to the improved results of other dealers.”
By anyone’s measure Richard Furnari is successful, but he measures success a little differently, and you guessed it; family and people come first. “My definition of success starts at home. I think success is measured by how successful you are as a parent, as a teacher and as a husband.”
Richard delights in the fact he can watch his children and team grow as people. “I enjoy the fact we can provide the children with a good education. I enjoy the fact you watch them grow and you watch the people that work for you grow. I have people that started with me at 16 years old as apprentice spray painters and today they have a house or two houses or kids in private school and they’ve got a couple of cars and they’re 26 years old.”
Success for Richard is about commitment. “I think if you aspire to be the very best you can, whether that’s in marketing, mining or any industry of choice, success is there for everyone to enjoy. It’s available to everybody; it’s your level of application which leads to how successful you’re going to be.”
On reflection, Richard is very comfortable saying, “I think I’ve had 46 of the best years you could ever want, and I think all you hope for is the same for your children.”
That period when Oliver, at just 8 months old, was clinging to life in the Royal Children’s Hospital, gave Richard and his wife plenty of time to reflect. “It was a harrowing experience, but, amazingly, it’s become a blessing. We made an offer to the hospital to see if we could purchase something for them.”
Rather than just handing over a cheque, Richard wanted to provide something tangible; something that would make a difference. After meeting with the hospital, the Furnari family paid $55,000 for an endoscope imported from the United States, which had particular characteristics allowing around 250 children a year to avoid having an open stomach operation.
“We purchased that machine, and then we purchased the machine to complement that machine and that was hugely rewarding for us.”
Six weeks after the machine was installed it was used to save the life of a premature baby. “Some parents were told that there was nothing more that could be done for their baby and the doctor that looked after Oliver at the time wanted the opportunity to use that machine. He found internal bleeding on the back of the throat, which was causing the baby to vomit up blood, and they weren’t able to find that previously because the baby was so small.”
Helping the Royal Children’s Hospital continues to be a rewarding experience for the Furnaris. They also help the Geelong Hospital, having purchased humidity cribs and other equipment and also supporting many local charities.
“If you want a better car, money fixes it. If you want a bigger house, money fixes it. If you want to go on a better holiday, money fixes it, but money couldn’t fix Oliver’s health” Richard adds. “For us, that was life-changing.
“There’s a lot of enjoyment in helping, and we do it very quietly, because I think that’s a real sign of your genuineness towards people.”
- “It certainly made us reassess our lives.”
- “I think success is measured by how successful you are as a parent, as a teacher and as a husband.”
- “By the age of 22, he was running his own million dollar business.”
- “In breaking some rules you break new ground and you establish whole new parameters for what can be achieved.”
A family trauma gifted Richard Furnari the sense that business isn’t the most important part of life. Richard runs eight successful truck and machinery operations, turning over $90 million a year. This includes running Australia’s most successful used truck business for over a decade. After spending 10 weeks at the bedside of his baby son, his emotional story is one which can easily make us all reassess our priorities.