On the penultimate day of a continuous 40-year tenure with road tanker builder Holmwood Highgate, Roger Manning reflects on a complete career that has encompassed just two companies – both of which use aluminium as the primary building material.
On 10 March 1980 at the age of 25, Roger Manning commenced his career as a draftsman with Holmwood Highgate. Some 25 years later he became Production Manager, a role he relished to the day of his retirement on 10 March 2020.
Prior to starting with Holmwood Highgate, Roger spent six years as a draftsman in the commercial aluminium division of Brisbane-based hardware company Robb & Brown, while concurrently studying Mechanical Engineering at the Queensland Institute of Technology. He graduated just before starting with Holmwood Highgate.
“At Robb & Brown I initially designed aluminium shopfronts and later moved on to designing components for multi-storey buildings and shop fitouts – so basically my whole career has revolved around the design and fabrication of aluminium products,” Roger says.
He adds that in addition to his 40 years of service, another extraordinary element of his career with Holmwood Highgate is that he has enjoyed the privilege of having the same boss – Colin Mellish – for the entire period. Colin is the son of Sid Mellish, who in partnership with Eddie Gumbelis founded Holmwood Enterprises in 1963.
Reflecting on his time with Holmwood Highgate, the pride in Roger’s voice is palpable as he describes how the company has grown and diversified during his watch.
It’s clear he holds immense gratification at having been a long-standing part of this progressive company that can only be described as an Australian manufacturing success story, currently employing more than 200 people in Queensland alone.
Asked about the challenges he faced in his final role, Roger says getting the tankers out on time was always a battle. However, he also says the long careers of his and many others within the company have fostered an environment of continual refinement and improvement of the products over time.
“As Production Manager, my goal has always been to ensure we have the best possible products and over the years we have improved the small details that have made our tankers among the most bullet-proof on the market.
“Another challenge has been the advent of Performance-Based Standards (PBS) which showed heaps of promise in the early stages,” he says, describing the route approval process as an ongoing headache for customers.
“It can take up to six months to get the access route permits approved after the combination is built and the Vehicle Approval is issued. Meanwhile, there can be half a million dollars or more of equipment sitting idle.”
A poignant example of diversification in manufacturing to remain viable can be seen in Holmwood Highgate’s truck aluminium fuel tank division.
Following a dive in demand due to the ADR regulations on fuel tanks being relaxed, the company began producing pencil-shaped cylindrical pontoons for boats consisting of a series of ‘fuel tank size’ aluminium sections welded together.
It’s ingenuity like this that has kept Holmwood Highgate at the top of its game, and in the process provided a challenging yet rewarding career path for Roger Manning over the past four decades.
Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers. Industry Icon is a series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of the commercial road transport industry.