Trailer Magazine

Air Brake Corporation opens Melbourne branch

  • Posted on Wednesday 17th, April 2019.

Sydney-based braking component supplier, Air Brake Corporation, has opened a Melbourne branch to help ameliorate its parts and service offerings in the southern states.

Kelvin Sherwood, better known as Kel, is an entrepreneur who in the mid-1980s recognised an opening for a supplier of quality braking system components for the local industry. At that stage he was approaching 50 and figured it was either now or never.

Starting his own business in competition with the huge multinational Westinghouse Brake and Signal corporation was indeed a brave move and Kel agrees it was something of a ‘David and Goliath’ battle. However, with his accumulated wealth of business acumen, along with dogged determination and a lot of sheer hard work, ABC steadily grew in step with the burgeoning trucking industry, offering the latest technology products at affordable prices. The company has prospered as a result.

Kel’s experience as a senior executive in the corporate world, including roles within the automotive braking industry, stood him in good stead for his challenging business venture.

As a young man he attended university and achieved separate Bachelor of Commerce and Bachelor of Business degrees. Following this Kel worked for automotive brake repair company Better Brakes for 17 years, a stint which he describes as his introduction to braking.

“It was quite a big company back in the ‘60s and early ‘70s,” Kel explains. “While the work was mainly on cars, trucks were included also. Of course, back in those days full air brakes were a relative rarity and something of a novelty as most trucks of that era were equipped with either vacuum assisted or air-over-hydraulic drum brakes.”

Nevertheless, Kel’s interest in all things brakes was piqued and after leaving Better Brakes he did a six-year stint as General Manager of then Australian Bendix distributor Westinghouse Brake and Signal, a move which further increased his knowledge of heavy vehicle braking, and in particular the full-air systems that were becoming mainstream in the heavy-duty truck and trailer scene during the 1970s and early ‘80s. Following this Kel moved on to James Hardie Industries where he held the position of General Manager of the company’s largest Australian division for a number of years.

“I always had an abiding desire to do something myself in the braking field,” Kel relates. “As I was approaching 50 years of age I thought ‘If I don’t do this now I never will.

“With my tertiary qualifications and background in brakes, along with extensive executive management experience, I felt I was suitably equipped to take on this venture and that’s certainly been justified by the results.

“Furthermore, during the six years I worked at Westinghouse Brake and Signal I formed solid commercial connections with a lot of the senior American and British executives at Bendix in those two countries. They actively encouraged me to start my own business because they wanted better performance from Australia as sales from the then sole distributor Westinghouse Brake and Signal had declined since I’d left to go to James Hardie Industries.

“So when I started ABC I was appointed as the joint official distributor of both Bendix and another USA-based company called MGM Spring Brakes. From there we have added many more quality products to the range and the business has steadily grown into the successful enterprise it is today. From the start we have maintained a solidarity and allegiance to our original objective and that is air brake systems.”  

Now 82, Kel has handed the reins to his son Robert who is guiding the business through a new era where technology and electronics have converged in the quest for superior safety and efficiency outcomes in truck and trailer braking systems.

Meanwhile, the business continues to grow, not least due to the establishment of a new facility in Melbourne to better cater for customers in Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia. Also, with the introduction of National Sales Manager, Brendan Dullard, and Business Development Manager – Victoria, Adam Woltanski, ABC is poised for further growth and new opportunities.

“For a long time we serviced our southern states market with supplies from Sydney but with increasing freight costs and the added transit time we felt it was important to give our southern clients better attention,” Kel says. “This could only be accomplished by establishing top quality premises incorporating a fully stocked branch staffed with high calibre air brake experts.

“I am sure it will help us secure a lot of additional business that we have been denied due to our geographical remoteness from this market,” he adds.

Kel goes on to say that ABC established a similar facility in Perth about 20 years ago which has been a remarkable success, and the company now commands a large share of the air brake market in the west.

As the new venture in Victoria gathers momentum, Kel anticipates a similarly successful outcome, propelling ABC further towards the goal of becoming a national company with all strategic markets covered.
“Our success story is built on the combination of good availability, high quality products, competitive pricing and high calibre engineering support,” he says.

On a final note, Kel acknowledges the talent and efforts of his son Robert – who has an honours degree in mechanical engineering and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) – in further advancing the business he worked so hard to build. “Robert is well equipped in a professional sense to carry on the business, and he’s even doing a better job than me.”

Fast Fact
With a view to better serving its valued customers in the southern states, Air Brake Corporation has recently commissioned a new fully-equipped facility in Melbourne.

(Image L-R: Air Brake Corporation Managing Director, Rob Sherwood, and founder, Kel Sherwood.)

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