ARTICLE By KEN WILSON
YOU’VE got to have a sense of humour.
That’s one element of living in the bush.
And ‘golden oldie’ principles of honesty and respect are other elements that, more often than not, provide the foundation of a successful life.
For Bill and Pam Boekeman, the intuitive instinct to live those three elements, has seen the couple oversee the growth of a successful family business, aptly called, Boekeman Machinery.
And they used those elements to great effect in bringing their three sons, Stuart, Andrew and Tim, into the family business.
Bill was born in Quairading and lived on the family farm in his early years where he developed a shine for sports and rose to prominence in the district as a league footballer, playing for Subiaco.
He juggled football with his job as a ‘stocky’ with Wesfarmers, after serving a three year traineeship at the company’s Midland branch.
The inevitable location transfers within the company saw him move to Gnowangerup – a three year stint during which time he met the then Pam Harris in Katanning and married the love of his life in 1964, two years after being transferred to Wesfarmers Corrigin.
An urge to be his own manager led Bill to scope out a possible business for himself and Pam and in 1968, they started Boekeman Machinery in Wongan Hills on the corner of Mitchell Street and Fenton Place, which now houses Primaries CRT.
Franchises at that time were International Harvester Corporation (IHC) and British Motor Corporation (BMC).
Bill recalls the start of the business was not in ideal times.
“The economy was not buoyant and with the introduction of wheat quotas in 1970, times got even worse,” he said.
But Bill’s astute business skills were to the fore.
For example, he remembers buying a farmer’s investment house so the farmer could buy a tractor, then selling the house for a profit.
At another time, he traded farm machinery surplus to requirements to help a farmer buy a plough.
There was even an occasion when one farmer was errant in paying for equipment and the collection agency was called in.
The farmer promptly paid his debt but what Bill didn’t know at the time, was the debt collector brandished a gun.
Then there was the story about the farmer taking his son to the local hospital with a severed thumb, only to return home before any treatment because the doctor’s quote to re-join the thumb to his son’s hand, was too expensive.
Such tales fostered a raconteur personality in Bill and he was frequently called on at social gatherings and even business functions, to “tell a joke”.
This aspect of Bill’s personality provided a perfect foil to his no-nonsense approach to building his business and it took only two years before he and Pam opened their first branch at Dalwallinu, with a staff of one to boost the company’s staff to four.
Five years later in 1975, as demand for machinery equipment grew, the pair opened new premises on Wongan Road and by 1978, the business was able to employ 13 staff, along with Bill and Pam.
The good-natured humour is also reflective in Pam and her smiling face meant no job was too big to complain.
It obviously rubbed off on staff in one year when they responded promptly to Pam’s efforts to clean up the new Wongan Hills dealership while Bill was away on an inter-State trip.
“There were bits of old machinery lying around and the shop was really dusty,” Pam recalled. “So we had a big clean-up while Bill was away to give it a more professional look.
“When he first saw it, he was really pleased and said it set a tone and we’ve always maintained our premises that way ever since.
“A clean and tidy premises says something positive to people.”
In 1982 Boekeman Machinery started a new venture with Toyota, expanding into motor vehicles and in that year Bill and Pam hosted their inaugural clients on a tour of factories and farming enterprises throughout Canada and the USA.
Growth continued the following year with a new and larger Dalwallinu branch and the establishment of a third branch through the acquisition of Dowerin Machinery.
And Bill and Pam’s eldest son Stuart joined the family business. Today he is the company’s dealer principal.
Two years later, middle son Andrew completed Year 12 to start an apprenticeship at the Dowerin branch under the supervision of service manager Colin Riggs (who is now Dowerin branch manager) and he was followed in 1991 by Tim who started his career in the parts division at Wongan Hills.
With Stuart concentrating on business studies, Bill encouraged Andrew and Tim to travel overseas in 1995 to gain experience in Case IH dealerships.
Andrew went to Kansas, US, and Tim went to Manitoba, Canada for 12-month stay.
On their return, Bill and Pam started their retirement planning.
The generational takeover was a seamless affair, reflecting the fruits of regular family discussions that always sought resolutions to problems.
It was clearly evident to Bill and Pam as their sons grew up that each was gifted in a different way and each son needed to be encouraged to grow his own branch on the family tree, so to speak.
“We don’t overdo the blood line,” Bill said matter-of-factly, making a point that each son was treated with the same respect with no favourtism handed out by doting parents.
The boys were given “coalface” experience in parts, service and sales with a timely reminder from mum to ensure clean premises at all times.
According to Bill, Pam kept everybody on their toes to ensure the business always presented well to the public and she kept busy with numerous tasks including planning business trips.
“And she has injected good Christian principles into the family,” Bill said.
With more focus on succession planning in the late 1990s, regular family meetings set a course and a target date.
“A lot of people hang on for too long,” Bill said. “We didn’t want to do that because you’ve got to give your kids an opportunity, otherwise they lose their drive.”
At succession meetings, all issues were placed on the table, including how the business should be structured without Bill and Pam.
“We always tried to bring forward disagreements,” Bill said, “particularly on issues such as fairness.
“We’ve maintained that their wages, for example, should reflect what they are doing and that it can’t simply be a three-way cut.
“There was more emphasis on performance-based rewards, taking responsibility and learning from failures.”
According to Pam, family disagreements were always resolved.
“I think the biggest thing is forgiving people and treating each other with respect because it builds a harmony in the family and becomes a strong foundation,” she said.
“We’re very fortunate the boys get on with each other and they still come to our house to talk with us about the business or to hold meetings between themselves.”
Bill also held a strong ethos of working hard and ploughing profits back into the business.
“We were never big borrowers,” he said. “I never believed in it and it has brushed off on the boys.”
Bill and Pam officially retired from the financial aspect of the business in 1998 and relinquished their ex-officio positions on the family board in 2007 but the boys still have regular meetings at their parent’s house (located next to the dealership).
“But we don’t interfere,” Bill said.
In 1999, Boekeman Machinery bought Alan Moore Agencies, Northam, to mark the establishment of their fourth dealership, with Andrew taking on the role as branch manager.
Today the company manages franchises for Case-IH, Toyota, JCB, Ausplow, Simplicity, Trufab, Roesners and Krone.
According to the “boys”, who are now company directors, growing up in the business set a natural pathway for their careers.
“We were always around machinery,” Stuart said. “And being involved with the community helped draw us to the business.
“We all played cricket and football and that also helped create roots and build relationships.”
According to Andrew, building relationships in communities is a “big thing”.
“We speak with all family members in our business and in country towns it’s really important to know, for example, you’re speaking with a son or daughter of clients because over nearly 50 years, that son or daughter could be running the farm now.”
Tim, who oversees the Dalwallinu branch operations, also shares the “Boekeman commitment” to be good corporate citizens.
“We want to be actively involved in communities,” he said. “So we sponsor a lot of things like sporting clubs and ag societies, etc, and we don’t have a budget for that sort of thing.
“We’re mindful that the community grows and prospers if everybody pulls together.”
With 50th year celebrations looming, 2018 is set to be a big year for Boekeman Machinery, which now employs 85 people in its four branches, including Stuart’s son Ben, who joined the company in 2015 and is working in sales at Wongan Hills.
He is keen to maintain a third generation input into the business.
“I’ve come in at a stage when the company is really strong and successful and I know the reasons for its success,” he said.
“I hope to be able to carry on that Boekeman tradition of after-sales services with customers and build relationships.”
The Boekeman story is a perfect example of the importance of strong machinery dealerships in country towns.
In many cases they rival government agencies as the biggest employers, but perhaps more importantly, they provide a focus for the continuation of technological knowledge to farmers and an avenue for young people to pursue careers in ag.
Boekeman Machinery has a robust apprenticeship training program and since Bill and Pam erected their first shingle, up to 200 mechanics have been trained in the company.
Bill Boekeman’s passion for the farm mechanisation industry saw him serve as an active member of the Farm Machinery Dealers Association (FMDA).
Bill was a member of the inaugural executive committee of the FMDA in 1977.
He served as vice president of the association from 1996 to 2002, when he became president, a role he filled until 2004.
In 1996 he was awarded the John Lynn Award for outstanding service to the farm mechanisation industry and in 2012 became a life member of the association and for a brief period, remained a member of the executive of the re-named Farm Machinery & Industry Association (FM&IA).