It’s safe to say that Tasmanian-born Graeme Elphinstone is one of the most influential – and versatile – equipment designers in Australia. Be it oversized logging skels or high-tech load cells, Graeme has taken on just about every piece of equipment and improved it during his long and coveted career in the industry – adding to an almost mythical reputation as a man who can’t help but take action if confronted with a problem.
But what is truly setting him apart is the ease with which he is walking the tightrope between tradition and future thinking: Graeme not only has a deep understanding for the role heritage and culture play for the people and businesses in Australian road transport, but also a strong commitment to innovation and technological advancement.
Helping him master the balancing act is his son Grant, who joined the company in 1987 and has since become the driving force behind the Elphinstone brand on mainland Australia. “Talking about Elphinstone without talking about my son is not possible,” says Graeme, explaining that his own success – which earned him a nomination as Trailer Magazine’s Industry Icon last month – is closely tied to his son’s ingenuity and the creative energy flowing between the two.
“Grant has been part of the business since he was six or seven years old,” says Graeme, who spent much of 2017 in Melbourne to work alongside his son on the expansion of the local branch and overcome some of the ‘growing pains’ that come with ongoing business success. “I almost can’t remember not having him around and value his feedback very much. He challenges me and brings a new perspective to the table, helping us future-proof our business by combining the best of the past with the innovation of today.”
Graeme says even though his organisation can draw on a long and proud tradition in the industry – and is acutely aware of the role it has to play in the local community – Grant’s input is vital to avoid getting stuck in the modes of thinking and working that brought success in the past.
“By working together side by side, we don’t allow routine to dull how we go about responding to a shifting business environment. I think that’s the beauty of having family in the business, and it’s an important aspect of my legacy that goes beyond the technical side of it,” he says. “Any alleged industry icon has that responsibility of passing on the baton and involving the next generation, so it’s important to me to reflect on Grant’s role in the business, too.”
Instead of allowing old values to harden into rigid rules that have legitimacy simply because they are enshrined in precedent, Graeme and Grant have found a way to balance tradition with progress in a remarkably simple and engaging way – by involving family, trusted long-term employees and allowing for a robust interaction between one generation and the next. “I’m lucky that my business is my hobby and that my passion is shared by my family and long-term employees. Without it, I wouldn’t be called an Industry Icon today.”
Made possible by Smedley’s Engineers, Industry Icons is a new series dedicated to honouring the unsung heroes of commercial road transport.