17 April 2023

Kieran Davies has an ear for music and the Goulburn car market

| John Thistleton
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Kieran Davies once had a succession plan for when he left Goulburn Motor Group, for his son-in-law James Aubusson as his heir apparent. But the former NRL star and his wife Tahlia moved to Ballina. Photo: John Thistleton.

In good health at age 61, Kieran Davies nevertheless believes the window on his active working life is beginning to close. The dealer principal at the Goulburn Motor Group has sold to National Capital Motors, represented in Goulburn by David Albrighton. He is moving to Melbourne with his wife Lisa, who he married five years ago, and their daughter Ella, who arrived a year ago.

In Melbourne, Kieran plans to establish a tunnel car wash, a concept well established in the US but new in Australia. It relies on a critical mass of population and can wash up to 150 cars at a time.

It’s another pivotal time for Kieran, who came to Goulburn from Wollongong as a music teacher, learned the car industry and bought into the business after giving Peter Clifton a lift home one night and discovering he wanted to sell his Toyota dealership.

From childhood, he was working on Thursday nights and Saturday mornings in a music shop. Gifted on the keyboard, he became a warm-up act for Ray Thornley, once rated as Australia’s top organist. At only 13, Kieran became the musical director for the Illawarra Theatre Company. He belonged to a three-piece band doing music hall entertainment on Friday and Saturday nights.

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“Here was I, 13, being taken along by mum to the restaurants and having all these people coming up buying me drinks and offering me cigarettes after the show at 11 o’clock at night,” he said. He could connect with people with his music, a skill he excelled in while selling cars. Combined with hard work, this paved the way for his rise and success.

Before beginning in car dealerships, he was a Yamaha-qualified Electone teacher in Wollongong when Greig’s Music House employed him to teach at its Goulburn music school. Later he left for studies at the University of Wollongong, but Greig’s lured him back to Goulburn where he continued working. He met his future wife and her father Neville Burrows, who was the Datsun dealer in town.

“Neville said, ‘Come and sell cars’. I said ‘No, I know how to do pianos and keyboards, I don’t know the first thing about cars’. He brought me in, taught me a lot and the rest is history,” he said.

Having worked his way up to managing the business, Kieran offered Peter Clifton a lift home one night after a local motor traders’ meeting.

“I sat in his drive up at Cathcart Street, I just got the feeling through the conversation that Peter was disenchanted with life, with business. I said, ‘Pete, it sounds as if you want to get out?’,” he said. This led Kieran to mortgage his home to buy the business.

“If I had not done that, I would still be working for Neville Burrows,” he said.

“So the opportunity to buy the Toyota dealership was the catalyst for becoming an owner.

“Neville and I discussed it. He was in a similar situation to what I am now: he had a son-in-law coming through the business, but that son-in-law ran the business, and Neville was engaged in his property business.”

They put everything into one company and became partners in a new entity, Goulburn City Motor Group.

“In hindsight, it wasn’t a successful partnership, it played out with lots of business and directional differences between us, which then played into our family situation as well,” Kieran said. “While some of it was beneficial to both of us, relationship-wise it was not beneficial.”

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The business was sold in 2007. Over the next year, he contemplated opportunities in car dealerships in Canberra, but after being out of it for less than a year, the new owners in Goulburn were struggling and Toyota and Mazda contacted him to ask if he wanted to come back.

“Of course, I did in a heartbeat,” he said.

Goulburn Motor Group has a staff of 22. Kieran said in its heyday there were 45 on staff and over the years talented, larger-than-life men including Dennis McKavanagh, Robert Bowerman (Gopher) and Platon Antony sold cars there.

“They are all different ends of all spectrums, but they would be some of the characters,” he said.

“Dennis worked for me, I think it would be 15 years. He was a champion bloke, had his own style, never remembered a person’s name, never remembered what car he was selling, but he used to sell them all the time. He was a bit of a classic, Dennis.

“Platon, loud, gregarious, hard to control, hard to manage, but a big-hearted fellow. He would say yes to everybody, whether he could or not. He certainly was one of the identities in the car industry.”

Over the years, Dennis and Robert succumbed to cancer and died.

“Gopher, the ex-publican, was here a long time,” Kieran said, reflecting on his endearing qualities and the fleeting window life offers us all.

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