Stewart: the man with the plan

Errol Stewart working on plans in his office at the JMC Ford dealership in Launceston.Picture: PAUL SCAMBLER

Errol Stewart working on plans in his office at the JMC Ford dealership in Launceston.Picture: PAUL SCAMBLER

ON every desk that Errol Stewart sits at, an architect’s scale will be within easy reach.

It is a three-sided ruler used to draw up buildings.

For locals he remains best known as a car dealer, but his interest in developing projects in Launceston will probably be his legacy.

Since his return to the state 22 years ago with his wife Adrienne and their two children, Troy and Kristy, the 62-year-old has taken his interest in drawing to a new level.

He’s always been interested in drawings, he reveals, but now with the capital to back him, his drawings are becoming a reality.

The multimillion-dollar Silo Hotel at North Bank is the result of this.

He is the single largest Ford dealer in the state, with no fewer than 10 dealerships and satellite businesses already operating and one on the way for Kingston.

His office remains at his Jackson Motor Company Ford dealership, which he moved from its Invermay site when he bought it back in 1992, across from Seaport – another project of his.

The Seaport motel remains his and the Peppers group runs it, along with York Cove at George Town.

Born in Smithton in 1952, Mr Stewart celebrated his 62nd birthday just last weekend.

He moved to Devonport with his parents in 1965, and was sent to board at Launceston Church Grammar School for his high school years.

As an aspiring Victorian Football League player, he moved to Melbourne as an 18-year-old to play with Hawthorn in the seconds. As was the custom then the club found him a job and he began work at the Country Roads board.

‘‘It wasn’t a professional sport then so you had to still work – when I went there I was doing a night course at the RMIT, I was working through the day and training Tuesday, Thursday, Sunday and playing on Saturday and that was pretty much the gig in those days,’’ Mr Stewart said.

He was paid ‘‘about a measly $8 a week, which was chicken shit’’ as a contracted player for two years. Hawthorn won the premiership in 1971 and in 1972. Mr Stewart said the club decided his career wasn’t going to be in footy and suggested he move on.

Although he said he was probably pretty disappointed at the time, he took up a sport his family was involved in, woodchopping, which also led him to meet his future wife, Adrienne.

‘‘So that took my interest – my father was quite good at it and then I started chopping and I started following this circuit,’’ Mr Stewart said.

‘‘I can remember when my wife first met me – I played at Waverley in the seconds and then we went cutting in the afternoon, competitively.’’ The couple married in 1972, aged just 20.

When he left Hawthorn, the club got him a job at Ford.

‘‘That changed my career path then. You had to work a lot harder, you were away from home a lot more, you travelled.

‘‘When I got in the auto-industry it probably changed my psyche a bit,’’ he said.

‘‘So I spent six years with Ford until 1978 and then we bought a small country dealership in Bairnsdale in Eastern Victoria, and I was 25 years old and we sold our house.’’

He can recall getting $40,000 for the sale of their first home and put that into the dealership.

‘‘On my 40th birthday, I announced to my family at home in Bairnsdale, that I was coming down here to live ... that was 22 years ago now, and we got back in September,’’ he said.

‘‘So next month it’s our 22nd anniversary of being in Tassie.’’

He bought the Jackson Ford dealership that was at Invermay, redeveloped the current site and moved the business to lower Charles Street. When he took his first job with Ford in 1972, he said he had little interest in cars.

‘‘My very first job, that I got when I was 15 years old, was working for the Ford dealer in Devonport, riding a bicycle around delivering spare parts,’’ he said.

‘‘There was a big wheel at the back and a little wheel at the front and 20 years later, I bought him out.’’ Mr Stewart remains the Ford National Dealer Council chairman but JMC has eight brands including VW, Isuzu, Kia, Suzuki and Audi. Troy and Kristy followed their dad into the business; Troy runs the Glenorchy dealership and Kristy the new $13 million Hobart city business.

Mrs Stewart is also a part of the company, doing the payroll for JMC, the Stewart Group, which handles all statewide operations, York Cove and the construction side.

Despite all his interests, Mr Stewart said he was not as busy as he used to be and was good at delegating – dealing primarily with the development and construction teams now.

The redevelopment of the former Glen Dhu Infant School into four separate apartments soon after he returned was his foray into the sector.

Mr Stewart said he had his eye on the silos for a number of years but because the former Gunns mill was located so near, it saw the area zoned industrial and prevented accommodation being developed nearby until now.

With the smaller silos project on the drawing board now, he doesn’t envision seeking money from the state government and would like to get it off the ground without additional help.

He said the state government committed to building the flood wall, which it did, and they would build the hotel.

‘‘In whatever we do, I’m probably going to have two private investors with me and I’ve got to convince them that this is financially sound as well,’’ Mr Stewart said.

‘‘And I’ve got to convince my wife, because she’s going to say ‘do you know what you’re doing here’?

‘‘And my kids because they say, ‘don’t you waste my inheritance’.’’ He laughs.

Mr Stewart ensures his development and construction team keeps a tight rein on spending, so if they need to reduce costs and find ways to do things cheaper, such as buying equipment as opposed to hiring it, they do.

He said everything was in the planning process because ‘‘once work begins, you’re committed’’.

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