Working life built around cars and people

Newly retired car dealer Moray MacKenzie reflects on 51 years in the motor industry. Photo: Peter...
Newly retired car dealer Moray MacKenzie reflects on 51 years in the motor industry. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Moray McKenzie went into the motor industry in Hamilton as a "car mad" teenager.

Fifty-one years later, the 69-year-old says he still loves the industry from which he officially retired last Friday.

"The motor business is about two things — cars and people. If you don’t like either of those, then my advice is don’t look for a career there," Mr McKenzie said this week.

He was enjoying being back, temporarily, at Dunedin City Mazda, using someone else’s office, and reflecting on his sales and managerial career in vehicle dealerships in Hamilton, Rotorua and Dunedin.

It started on February 6, 1967 when he began work with Dominion Motors Ltd in Hamilton. During a three-year traineeship he learned all facets of the industry and also undertook tertiary studies for a diploma in business management at the local polytechnic.

"It was very far-thinking for 1967," Mr McKenzie said.

Dominion Motors dealt in many British franchises such as Morris, MG, Riley and Wolseley — "my first company car was a  Morris Oxford, my second a Morris Mini" — and also played a major part in the New Zealand motor assembly industry. After completing his time as a management trainee, Mr McKenzie went into new car sales and sales of commercial vehicles which were coming off their licences. In 1972 he became sales manager for Dominion Motors, which eventually became New Zealand Motor Corporation.

During the mid-1970s, NZMC secured the Honda franchise and the Honda Motor Company subsequently bought a 100% shareholding in NZMC.

From 1983 to 1987, Mr McKenzie was dealer principal for Motorcorp Honda in Rotorua, before he accepted a similar position in Dunedin where the company was changing from private ownership.

He had met and married a Dunedin girl working as a nurse in Hamilton, and his father was a former Dunedinite, so the move south seemed a good idea.

During the next 31 years, there were principal dealer and CEO positions with Honda (Dunedin) and Dunedin Nissan, six years running his own car business, Moray McKenzie Motors (Dunedin) before he was offered the opportunity of being involved with the Mazda franchise at Anngow Mazda, where he was contract consultant and general operations manager. After that he was general manager of Armstrong Mazda Dunedin and fleet sales manager with Armstrong Motors Group (Dunedin).

His last 10 years in the motor industry were spent with Dunedin City Mazda, where he was involved with corporate and new fleet retail customers, something he thoroughly enjoyed.

Over the years, the industry had to cope with various problems brought about by financial crises, including the devaluation and revaluation of the New Zealand dollar, something which had quite an effect on vehicle sales.

But there were also human tragedies to cope with, Mr McKenzie said. When he was still in Hamilton, two of his clients were killed in the Erebus crash and he had to organise the unlocking and retrieval of their vehicles from the airport. He still remembered the woman owner of one vehicle had been so excited because she was taking her elderly father on a flight over the Antarctic. Car dealers had to be able to handle stress, to be team players and to have empathy  for the people they were dealing with.

"You have to be compassionate," Mr McKenzie said. 

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