Southpac Legends

 
In safe hands - Jeff Mear

In safe hands - Jeff Mear

Southpac Legends

 August 2020   

WHEN IT COMES TO THE NEW ZEALAND Trailer-building industry, the Mear family name ranks up there as one of the best. However, 'second-generation' Jeff Mear is not only proud to be carrying on the family tradition but he is also continually seeking to advance and assist the industry in areas such as safety, understanding and productivity. And that's why he's been selected as our first in the series of Southpac Trucks - Legends 

Industry veteran, Jeff Mear is the Co-owner, Sales Manager and Director of Trailer Manufacturer Fruehauf NZ. Based in the head office in Wiri, his experience spans well over three decades but you could say that his passion for the industry extends back to when his father Pat Mear first began driving trucks in Rotorua. 

Jeff says "My father started out driving trucks back in the hard days, doing livestock and metal cartage. But he first got into engineering working for a company called NZ Arc Welders (now Mills Tui) and then he was the second employee of Roadrunner when that was formed back in the early '70s." 

In 1987, having already gained procurement experience at Metal Imports, Jeff himself was brought into Roadrunner by owner Neil Peterkin to work in the inventory department and specifically on cost management. 

"My skill sets were in operations and my expertise was looking at and understanding drawings," Mear says. "The business was later sold to Fruehauf Pacific as it was known back then and my father started out on his own (with partners) forming Roadmaster." Jeff subsequently went to join his father in the new business. 

For nigh-on the next seventeen years Jeff worked at Roadmaster, but things were changing in the business environment and his father 'got quite sick', resulting in his father Pat wanting to sell up. There was an opportunity for Jeff to purchase his father's shares, however, this eroded away as the direction of the business wasn't where Jeff wanted to go. At the same time, an opportunity arose for Jeff (and partner Phil Watchorn) to take over the Fruehauf business. 

Jeff says, "I approached my father and said this [Fruehauf] offer is on the table, he said you can't turn it away, do it, take the opportunity." 

So in August 2009, with Pat's blessing, Jeff effectively moved into competition with his father and according to him, 'accelerated his father's exit out of the business'. 

Jeff says "When I was doing a bit of soul searching into my direction moving forward, I had a couple of customers approach me and say that the trailer building industry in NZ is made up of five families. They named the five families and we, Mear, was one of them. I took that conversation away with pride. So, for me, getting into Fruehauf, meant carrying on the Mear tradition and how the industry has grown around the Mear family. My father was tickled pink and that's what he took with him when he died, his eulogy was about what he did for the industry. So, I'm the second generation, carrying on the tradition, building on what he started." 

It's evident that Jeff is not simply riding on the coattails of his family name though,...

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WHEN IT COMES TO THE NEW ZEALAND Trailer-building industry, the Mear family name ranks up there as one of the best. However, 'second-generation' Jeff Mear is not only proud to be carrying on the family tradition but he is also continually seeking to advance and assist the industry in areas such as safety, understanding and productivity. And that's why he's been selected as our first in the series of Southpac Trucks - Legends 

Industry veteran, Jeff Mear is the Co-owner, Sales Manager and Director of Trailer Manufacturer Fruehauf NZ. Based in the head office in Wiri, his experience spans well over three decades but you could say that his passion for the industry extends back to when his father Pat Mear first began driving trucks in Rotorua. 

Jeff says "My father started out driving trucks back in the hard days, doing livestock and metal cartage. But he first got into engineering working for a company called NZ Arc Welders (now Mills Tui) and then he was the second employee of Roadrunner when that was formed back in the early '70s." 

In 1987, having already gained procurement experience at Metal Imports, Jeff himself was brought into Roadrunner by owner Neil Peterkin to work in the inventory department and specifically on cost management. 

"My skill sets were in operations and my expertise was looking at and understanding drawings," Mear says. "The business was later sold to Fruehauf Pacific as it was known back then and my father started out on his own (with partners) forming Roadmaster." Jeff subsequently went to join his father in the new business. 

For nigh-on the next seventeen years Jeff worked at Roadmaster, but things were changing in the business environment and his father 'got quite sick', resulting in his father Pat wanting to sell up. There was an opportunity for Jeff to purchase his father's shares, however, this eroded away as the direction of the business wasn't where Jeff wanted to go. At the same time, an opportunity arose for Jeff (and partner Phil Watchorn) to take over the Fruehauf business. 

Jeff says, "I approached my father and said this [Fruehauf] offer is on the table, he said you can't turn it away, do it, take the opportunity." 

So in August 2009, with Pat's blessing, Jeff effectively moved into competition with his father and according to him, 'accelerated his father's exit out of the business'. 

Jeff says "When I was doing a bit of soul searching into my direction moving forward, I had a couple of customers approach me and say that the trailer building industry in NZ is made up of five families. They named the five families and we, Mear, was one of them. I took that conversation away with pride. So, for me, getting into Fruehauf, meant carrying on the Mear tradition and how the industry has grown around the Mear family. My father was tickled pink and that's what he took with him when he died, his eulogy was about what he did for the industry. So, I'm the second generation, carrying on the tradition, building on what he started." 

It's evident that Jeff is not simply riding on the coattails of his family name though, he has become an ambassador for the industry in his own right. Aside from running Fruehauf, for the past twenty years, he's been an executive member of the TTMF (New Zealand Truck-Trailer Manufacturers Federation) board, something he is encouraging the entire industry to centre on, he also advises and coaches young operators, travels the globe building associations, sharing ideas and viewpoints with some of the world's biggest Trailer Builders and works closely with the RTF and NZTA, being influential with both the TTMF and NZTA in the proven vehicle designs that the industry is using today.

Jeff says, "It's a bloody good industry. They say 'once you get diesel into your blood, you can't get rid of it' effectively, that's how I see it. It's got good people in it. It's still got personal relationships, it's not a corporate. And it's wide and it's ranging, you've got different sectors." 

He reckons he's seen a lot of changes from the '80s to now. "From what my father worked on in the beginning to what I'm working on now, we've shifted to a new generation with new ideas. And the input that I've been putting into the industry is, looking at the vehicles, how they're operated, understanding the industry as a whole and designing vehicles around them to increase their safety and productivity." 

Mear says that the biggest driver at the moment is Safety. "What I say to my staff here is that the vehicles we're working on must have the view on safety first and worry about our productivity second. Our vision is to build safe vehicles on the road, we've got to focus on that and then increase the productivity of the thing." 

Despite his hard work both in his own business and for the industry in general, Jeff Mear was unaware of how much his involvement had helped change the industry. He says, "It only dawned on me when I won the award last year." 

Jeff won the VTNZ 'Supreme Contribution to the Road Transport Industry' essentially in recognition of what he's done for the industry as a whole, taking time out of his own business to assist, educate and benefit the industry. Even so, he downplays the award. 

"My business has always been about working with the client rather than worrying about the sale. They've [RTF] acknowledged the work I've done to guide the industry in terms of helping the younger operators understand what we call the VDAM rule, which is the Vehicles, Dimensions and Mass rule, getting them to fully understand how it works. I find it quite amazing that most operators don't know that axle distances are a very important part of the operation in terms of weight management." 

It's some of this lack of understanding that has made Fruehauf themselves move to what they call 'shared services'. They are looking at what their business can do for the client and in doing so have introduced a number of changes such as taking guys off the shop floor and putting them into sales roles, using engineers to sell their solutions. 

"You need someone with expertise that understands the industry, how the vehicle is built, how it's designed. Does it suit the application? does it suit the roads?" says Mear. 

According to Mears he's seen too many instances where guys buy trucks that are not suitable then try and make it work, 'they think they can go and get a permit just like that'. He say's "Getting a trailer through us eases the pain of permits because if we manage the project we can understand what their fleet is and we have a department that applies and manages permits for them." 

He reckons that there's a whole raft of rules surrounding the client that they have to conform to, in order to safely operate the vehicle on the road, so Fruehauf is developing a set of tools around that. 

"The trailer is the profit part of the truck, it carries the load, so you've got to make sure that the vehicle stays on the road. I say to customers that your first cost should be your last cost, the trailer is the most important vehicle that you need to have. Because you're going to be changing your truck, you won't be changing your trailer. So pay the extra and make that the right vehicle." 

The Mear name and the Trailer Building industry are things that Jeff holds very dearly, he lives and breathes them both. He says that the customers he has are very good friends and that there's a lot of trust there for him to design their fleet for them. But Jeff also has a keen eye on the future. 

His son Josh is working on the tools at Fruehauf where he is in the enviable position of expediting his industry 'apprenticeship' plus as a business, Fruehauf has invested heavily in people and passing on their ethics. 

"We always have between 5-7 apprentices on," says Jeff. "The industry is changing, it's become more demanding, so we're looking at ourselves as to how we can shift with it. We need to develop the skill set. In our industry it's quite challenging because it's specialised, we're dealing with a big bit of steel that is going down the roads under all kinds of conditions." 

Whether it's carrying freight or carrying on the Mear family name and tradition it appears that they're in safe hands with Jeff. 


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