Wednesday, May 22, 2019


So, the Austrian racer who competed despite his powerful family’s wishes, has greeted the chequered flag in the sky, aged 70 – surviving one of the most horrific Grand Prix crashes ever, and yet it was the lingering scars from his Nurburgring crash, combined with recent health issues which claimed the life of this outstanding man.

During his incident-studded career he raced in 171 F1 races, winning 25, and in the process he became a triple world champion. In my mind he was one of the great champion drivers.

Start of 1976 Formula One Grand Prix de Monaco

I had the good fortune to attend the 1976 Monaco Grand Prix, which Niki led from start to finish, and with help from Sir Jackie Stewart, I was able to interview Niki in the courtyard of the Automobile Club de Monaco in June 1976.

Despite almost complete exhaustion he answered my questions with grace and dignity, when he recognized that not only was I interviewing him as the Editor of my car magazine back in Australia (MODERN MOTOR), but because of my enthusiasm for F1 I was posing sensible questions, which he took his time to answer, despite a crush of F1-accredited reporters waiting to speak to him.

I saw him again at the 2011 Australian Grand Prix at Albert Park, discussing the changes since that Sunday in Monaco in '76.

Of course he not only has his three World Championships to celebrate, but a long and distinguished career with Ferrari, and his creation of three airlines carrying his name.

Niki was a no BS sort of guy, who thought in black and white, not abstract tangents. He was precise, eloquent, determined and opinionated and I admired him for all those qualities as well as his racing achievements.

Niki Lauda, an all time champion.

Friday, May 17, 2019


It’s amazing to me that my working life has been less about career-planning, and more about opportunities and serendipity. Like many young people leaving High School to enter the workforce, in 1960, I had not a clue what I was going to do for a job. But I did manage to buy a car, a 1949 Morris Minor, for £100.

My mother told my father she would like me to have a job where I could wear nice clothes, and have clean hands. So, via a close friend in Dad's Masonic Lodge, I ended up working for (then) Australia’s largest private bank.

I began as a book-keeper, progressed to accounts clerk, and as my superiors noted that I had an outgoing and gregarious nature, ended up as one of the youngest Tellers in the Bank of New South Wales. Without being blasé, it was not rocket science, and personality was as important as handling large amounts of cash.

So long as your daily transactions balanced with the cash left in your drawer, and you were nice to the customers, everything was just fine. I like to think that was the groundwork for the start of my eventual career, as a ‘communicator’.

Without resorting to guile or flattery, I managed to keep all my customers happy, and growing their business at my bank branch. This meant a big tick in the box for using personality to attract more turnover, and of course it was very much a face-to-face business.

One of my customers was the owner of a printing business, and a member of a ‘car club’ and he regaled me with exciting accounts of various motor sport events he attended – finally suggesting that I drive out to the outskirts of western Sydney the next weekend to attend a ‘hillclimb’ for racing cars.

The hill climb was called ‘Silverdale’ and was a relatively short, but steep 650m bitumen track which included fast curves, dips, sharp uphill climbs, a tricky U-corner, after which the cars shot past the commentators’ box crossing the finish line, and hopefully creating a record-breaking time.

Each competitor was allowed at least four attempts, and more were allowed depending on how few accidents there were, and ‘failures-to-proceed’ - a not uncommon result for poorly-prepared race cars. After just one hillclimb meeting, plus the ever-present smell of Castrol 'R' motor oil, I was hooked on motor sport.

Coming from a lower middle-class family I could afford a car on my wages, but certainly not to participate in the sport itself. So, at future hill climb meetings I needed to take on a voluntary job to help the meeting run smoothly. I was a flag marshal, a starter’s assistant and an observer, but what really attracted me was the excitement generated by the commentator as the cars raced up the hill.

MG TC on final uphill straight at Silverdale*
After three meetings in various roles, my friend Jim came to me around 10:30am one Sunday, and said the commentator had become violently ill, and did I think I could get up to the commentator’s box and take over.

After one day in the box, injecting as much excitement as I could into the perils and pitfalls of the competitors’ valiant attempts, it seems on reflection now, that that day in 1961 was the real start of my life as a ‘communicator’.

From that moment on, I became the lead commentator at Silverdale and felt right at home behind a microphone.

The next step, may not have been surprising, but it was momentous.

Attaining 21, the legal age I could join a social club licensed to sell alcohol, I joined the Australian Racing Drivers Club (ARDC) as soon as I could.

Visiting the clubrooms, I met racing fans, racing officials and racing drivers among the membership, adding a new dimension to my social life.

On my first visit to the clubrooms the Club was calling for members and friends to volunteer for various duties at the new Catalina Park circuit – flag marshals, fire marshals, gate attendants, lap scorers and timekeepers. I volunteered as a timekeeper, which preceded another change of direction in my life.

Sadly, this was also the year that my father died of a heart attack, but enjoying the fraternity and good spirits at the ARDC gave me access to male company at a time I needed support, and I also came under the gaze of the General Manager of the Club, a former police officer, Jack Hinxman.

Jack (below) had a fearsome reputation as a hard taskmaster, with a booming stentorian voice and the image of a strict disciplinarian, with everything 'by the book'.

He had a ‘tidy mind’ and was very well-organized, so consequently race meetings run by the ARDC ran like clockwork.

I will admit Jack ruled with a rod of iron.

Jack Hinxman*
However, in conversation at the Club one night, the subject of my father’s death arose, and I could see a softening in Jack’s attitude towards me.

My first meeting at Catalina Park, I reported for timekeeping duties.

The Chief Timekeeper was a corduroy-jacketed, Aussie-born, would-be Englishman called Stuart Marlowe. He was very prim, and rather aristocratic and he was judged on the accuracy of the timekeepers.

After the second race meeting Marlowe approached Jack Hinxman and said: “John’s a lovely young man, but he can’t continue to be a timekeeper, because he gets distracted watching the racing, and forgets to click the stopwatches!”

I was called into Jack’s office, where he stood quietly, put his hand on my shoulder and in gentle tones told me why I could no longer volunteer to be a timekeeper. By this time I think Jack had assumed the role as my surrogate father.

He said: “Johnny, is there anything else you’d like to do, to help out?”

My answer completely blew him away. “Yes, Mr. Hinxman, I’d like to be a commentator.”

At that stage the commentary team was made up of four experienced 40 year olds, and the idea of a 21 year old race commentator was beyond the pale. Nonetheless the leader of the team, Keith Regan, said to Jack: “We’ll give him a go later today, and see if he’s cut out for it.”

Catalina Park, Katoomba, NSW, 1961

I called the second last race, made no mistakes identifying both cars and drivers, and because of my enthusiasm for following the sport, I knew a lot of mechanical detail about various cars, which I tried to seamlessly inject into the commentary as race positions changed.

At the end of that race, Keith Regan said: “That was very good, how about you call the last race. It’s a handicap race remember, so you’ll have to keep your wits about you.”

The last race call went without a hitch and from that day on I joined the regular commentary team at the race circuits used by the ARDC, at Catalina Park and Mount Panorama circuit at Bathurst.
CONTROL TOWERS (T-B) Catalina Park; Bathurst; Amaroo Park; Oran Park*

Later I joined the commentary team at Oran Park, and when Catalina Park closed, I called races at the ARDC’s new circuit at Amaroo Park. All of these race circuits were located around Sydney, and easy to access.

Start of the Rothmans Car Rally, Westfield Mall, Burwood, NSW
After that I was regularly employed, by the sponsors of major car rallies, introducing rallycars and their drivers and co-drivers, when the big rallies started at Sydney's high-visibility shopping malls.

Then I was asked to write race reports for the brand new motor sport newspaper, Racing Car News, edited by a charming woman called Gail Sach.

Gail's  charm was an important part of the arrangement, because the job didn't pay any money. It was all about the glory of getting a byline, and having legitimate access to the racing heroes of the day - meaning, I could learn more about racing, and communicating through writing.

All of the preceding was down to my enthusiasm, my curiosity and my opportunistic nature, by not saying ‘no’ to trying new challenges.

In 1964 I went down another path, which led to an even more opportunities to develop my skills as a communicator.

*Photos courtesy of Chevron Publishing

Wednesday, May 15, 2019


No, not that kind of leaf.
Read the story
The Nissan Leaf has hardly been a smash hit for Nissan, in fact it’s true to say the car has failed to make an impact in any market where it is sold. By volume, it may be the world's biggest-selling production EV, but the volumes are pitifully small.

With a real-world range of maybe 170 miles (274km), it is the high volume generator of range anxiety – especially among the poor souls who drive one.

My friend Philip King, writing in The Weekend Australian Magazine last weekend was intoning about the forthcoming appearance of a ‘New & Improved’ Nissan Leaf, however the driving range remains pathetic.

Who wants a leaf, even at -50%?
And, to make matters worse Nissan, like many EV makers want governments to subsidize the purchase price, so more people will be consigned to worrying about whether they will get to work and home again on one charge!

Which brings me to my own Nissan Leaf saga.

In 2006 I was driving from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the total opposite of a Leaf – a Bentley Continental convertible – and called a friend of mine in LA to invite him to dinner the following evening.

The conversation went something like this:

“The company has bought all its senior executives Nissan Leafs, to promote the company’s ‘green approach’ to commuting. However, I get less than 120 miles out of a full charge at home, dealing with the inevitable clogged LA freeways, and subsequent traffic jams.”

“So can you pick me up at home so we can have dinner together, because if I drive from home to work, then out to dinner, then to home, the total mileage means I won’t be home to hook up the car to the charger, and if we’re home later than 10pm, the car will not have been charging long enough, for me to get to work and back the next day!”

So, we went to dinner in the Bentley convertible, which made him feel a lot better, and when we got to the restaurant, in a flash hotel, the concierge said it would be good for the hotel if he parked it out front while we enjoyed dinner.

There could be a good possibility we sold more Bentley convertibles that evening. However, with Nissan Leafs out of sight, in garages getting a charge, there's not many on the road to stimulate sales. Pity about that.

Monday, May 13, 2019


It’s a cliché, but many times rings true – “Behind great men, there’s often a great woman.”

It has certainly been so in my case, and the lady I married 53 years ago this year has been an integral part of my success in life, sometimes guiding me forcefully to the ‘right’ decision, but we are a great team. I made the money, and she managed it – that’s the only way we now survive the way various governments’ mess with your savings plans, and our opportunity to self-fund retirement.

However, there are other tributes I’d like to pay, to the women on the other side of my day, the women I worked alongside, and who also played a big part in my career successes. I need to highlight their contributions to getting the job done well, in a professional and commonsense manner.

In 1977 when I finished the Singapore Airlines London-To-Sydney Car Rally I had already been offered the job as Public Relations Manager for Leyland Australia, on my return to Sydney.

The company then occupied a six-storey building in Bondi Junction, east of the city of Sydney, and was the remnants of the former British Leyland manufacturing entity, now surviving by importing a variety of poorly-built British motor cars from Morris, Triumph, Rover, Jaguar and Land Rover. Plus Leyland trucks, buses and tractors. The reputation of its products was as low as could be.

My friend and colleague, the late
Tony Cumming.
Consequently the PR brief was wide, and the human resources were limited to one - me. I mentioned this to my then boss, Tony Cumming, and he said there was a young woman in another department, who might be just the ticket and her name was Joan Tough.

Joan was born in Blackburn, Lancashire and emigrated, first to New Zealand, then she and her husband moved to Sydney.

Joan grew up in a big family in an area with a troubled economy, but she revealed the grace, tenacity and determination that was the culture of northern England.

She was not just a survivor, but a doer.

She brought those qualities to work with her every day, plus unlimited ability to take on new tasks, come up with ideas, ways to improve effectiveness and thoroughly support me in the quest to try and turn around the dreadful image of our products in the eyes of the media.

It was the start of a 13-year relationship which produced extraordinary results and many of our toughest critics recognized Joan’s role in those achievements.

And, we had a ball doing it.

This photo below shows Joan  around a campfire with a few of her 'mates in the press' helping to make a Range Rover launch very successful.

I don’t think we ever had a cross word, we worked closely together, and took huge pleasure when a program or an idea delivered the results we were aiming for.

Joan was not just a good organiser, she was a social catalyst as well, blending her social and professional skills.

Joan's outgoing personality ensured that media events were not just serious, Powerpoint presentations, but she injected fun and engagement with the media that proved very successful.

Whenever I needed support, Joan was right by my side. However, when we had a knees-up, there was no-one who enjoyed gregarious adventures as much, helped along by a full champagne flute, as this photo of her with Sir Stirling Moss and the late James Hunt shows.

Everyone loved her infectious laugh, her flirtatious nature, her ability to take a joke and above all, her serious dedication to the job at hand. When Joan took on a task it would be completed on time, on budget and with positive outcomes. She was a rock.

In 1990 our company was facing severe financial problems, which ultimately a year later ended in its implosion, and Joan moved on to work at Honda Australia.

Later she went on to join the NSW government handling a variety of highly complex jobs, again, with outstanding results.

In the meantime I had accepted the job as PR Vice President for Jaguar Cars North America, which had its own set of problems. It was at this stage I realized I was really becoming a dedicated ‘salvage merchant’.

Eileen Devlin
I joined in March 1991, with a staff of five. Three months later, it was back to me and my secretary, Eileen Devlin. Things were really tough – the company was losing sales, market share and relevance daily.

Jaguar Cars was owned by Ford Motor, and any time I requested more staff, I was told I could have access to various PR agencies which Ford contracted, but I would have to pay for their services from my own PR budget.

I’m sure it’s not surprising, but being a huge company these agencies sent massive invoices to Ford each month which were paid without question, and as far as I could see no investigation as to the legitimacy or veracity of the charges. Needless to say, I could not afford their billing rates.

So I discussed with Eileen that I would like her to cease being my secretary, and revise her employment position to become a PR Coordinator. This offered her the chance to create, manage and run PR programs – with a subsequent pay rise to reflect her new status.

This was agreed by the Jaguar Cars management, and I was thrilled when I saw her blossoming from ‘a VP's secretary’ into a fully-fledged PR operator. Eileen grabbed the challenges with both hands and gave it her all.

At the Geneva Salon 1994
What we achieved together in just four years was amazing, and we were able to help steer Jaguar Cars North America back on the road to rising sales and, more importantly, profitability. Not bad for a department of two, and the valuable assistance from one of the most amazing PR companies I have ever worked with – JMPR in Los Angeles, and its skilled and energetic principal, Joe Molina.

When my USA visa expired I returned to Australia in December 1994, to join the fledgling Daewoo Motors Australia, which had just set up shop in Sydney in August 1994.

Ing. Dr Ulrich Bez, Seoul 1995
After a year or two of selling legacy General Motors products with Daewoo badges, it was time to launch four new models, all managed by my good friend, the brilliant Dr. Ulrich Bez, who joined the Korean company after distinguished careers at Porsche and BMW.

At the same time as the new models arrived, we launched an ambitious and innovative service plan for all new cars called, Daewoo Freecare. It was an industry first for Australia, but it brought with it the need for a separate department to run it, so I became General Manager for PR, and Customer Care, and set about hiring some talent for the job ahead.

Keep in mind that because of the low price, most of our customers were buyers migrating from only ever owning used cars. Their Daewoo was the first ‘new’ car they had ever bought. Which meant, in effect, that if the slightest fault emerged they were on the phone swearing and cussing at my team. I simply told them that when a customer began swearing, just hang up the phone.

On the whole Daewoo Freecare was a huge success in selling more cars, but even more spectacular were the efforts of the two young women I hired to run the Customer Care operation.

The manager was hard-working, indefatigable and seemingly never lacked energy and follow-through, to keep our customers happy.

Her name was Robynne Hall (right), and I never failed to be surprised as she finalized case after case with a positive outcome, whilst retaining the customers’ confidence as well. That was no mean feat, but she was both charming and determined, and would just never give up.

Robynne eventually moved on to other senior positions in the Australian automotive industry including a long and successful stint at Mazda Australia.

However, if Robynne continued to amaze and inspire, her companion in the department, Alyson Macdonald, was an even bigger surprise package. The two of them together were the veritable Tour-de-Force and became the dynamic duo, thanks to the results they produced.

Alyson (left) was a self-starter, and needed just a little guidance in the right direction, then Robynne and I stood back and she surprised and delighted us with her professional approach, and also demonstrated an amazing capability with extremely difficult customers - all this aged just 21.

Alyson has been a major driving force in the PR department at Kia Motors Australia for many years, once again demonstrating her evolving management skills, and dedicated attention to detail. She is part of a team, but if her confederates were suddenly lost in a sinkhole, Alyson would have no problems running the whole thing by herself – she is capability-plus, and a big contributor to Kia’s rise-and-rise in the Australian market.

In 1998 Volkswagen AG acquired Rolls-Royce and Bentley Motor Cars, although as it transpired, not the Rolls-Royce bit, which was sold off by the owner of the automotive division, Vickers plc, to its aerospace partner BMW Aerospace AG.

I was thrilled to get a call in September 1998 from the then Chairman of the joint company, Graham Morris, to be asked if I would be prepared to once again move from Australia to the USA to become Director of Public Relations for Bentley Motors North America.

By the time my USA visa was approved, I joined the US operation in March 1999, with a familiar situation - the PR department was, once again, a department of one – me!

I was told I would not be able to hire any staff, so it was suggested I contract PR services from an outside agency. 

After my successful collaboration at Jaguar Cars North America with JMPR Inc. in Los Angeles, I had no hesitation in bringing them on board at Bentley. The company performed miracles with the media on a daily basis, thanks to hard-driving and original thinker Joe Molina, the owner of the company, and his sidekick, Jeff Perlman.

With JMPR's dynamic Joe Molina
Los Angeles , March 2018
JMPR and I worked in tandem with the automotive media as our primary target, because the Bentley brand had not had any decent form of PR dealings with the motoring press for at least the previous five years.

In 2002 it was obvious we had established excellent rapport with the American automotive media and the many freelance auto writers, so it was time to branch out and develop a similar relationship with what we dubbed ‘The Lifestyle Media’ – which really was a bunch of television programs, and magazines which catered for elements of design, fashion, interior décor, jewelry, champagne makers and all forms of celebrity.

With Annette Koch, Seattle 2004
The person we needed to hire was, for me, an obvious choice. Her name was Annette Koch and she was then working for Bentley Motors GmbH, based in Berlin.

With the opportunities laid out in front of her Annette decided very quickly to join the North American operations, and even now I congratulate myself for my foresight, confidence and bravery. We were one of the first automotive companies in the USA to move into these unknown waters of new media.

As a practitioner of what really was a ‘black art’, Annette Koch could not have been better choice – a round peg in a round hole.

She was a self-starter as well, and once the challenge and anticipated results were presented to her, she took the reins and completely managed what was a very different form of PR for a car company, with tremendous success.

As Detroit is certainly not the headquarters of lifestyle media, Annette spent a lot of her time in New York City, grooming her media targets, and producing amazing results on a very thin budget. She was charming, creative, an innovator and tenacious, with impeccable taste. She also adapted very well to life in the USA.

The Bentley name soon became the watchword for style, luxury, design and a signal you had ‘arrived’. It became a pinnacle luxury car brand within a very short time, thanks to Annette’s energy, her visionary ‘sales’ approach and her flexibility in creating a personalized PR program aimed at a specific target media.

At Bentley Motors we simply did not have the budget to hire more PR staff to accommodate the increasing workload, which accompanied our success in both the automotive and lifestyle media. However, I was able to take advantage of a Volkswagen of America program, to hire interns for periods as long as six months, who would work alongside both Annette and myself.

This certainly helped ease our workload, and we had a turnover of some very smart and intelligent young women, but two ladies really stood out.

The first was a young Turkish woman who had been studying in the USA on a student visa, and she was suggested to me by the head of our finance department, as he had met her socially and was impressed with her drive.

The day Deniz Tozak sat opposite me in the interview room I was literally dazzled by the ‘fire in her eyes’. I could see the drive, energy, skill and obvious ability to handle a large number and variety of tasks. I instantly recognised she would be a very useful addition to our team of two.

When Deniz was given a PR program to manage, we just handed her the task, stood back and watched her hatch innovative, creative and highly effective PR programs, and along the way winning the complete confidence of the media she worked with. No mean feat when you realize how skeptical, and suspicious journalists are of ‘PR people’.

Deniz’s ability to handle a huge load of detail associated with running PR programs was truly amazing. Part of her secret was that she had ‘chutzpah’, never better demonstrated than when we were working at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance one year.

In mid-afternoon during the official judging one of Deniz’s film star heroes, Monterey resident Clint Eastwood, arrived to join the organizers for lunch. As he left in a golf cart to return to his home, Deniz simply pushed through the crowd, introduced herself and engaged Clint in conversation. He was simply knocked off his feet with her charm, confidence and that magic ‘chutzpah’.
Deniz and her movie star mate at Pebble Beach

So he wasn’t at all surprised when one of our team captured the moment. He was equally charming, despite being caught off-balance by Deniz’s resolute and determined approach to meeting him.

Alas, her student visa expired and she returned to Turkey, where, using the skills and experience she had amassed at Bentley Motors, she enjoyed employment at several global PR companies, servicing an impressive international client list in Turkey, the USA and the UK.
Istanbul 2011
Later Deniz took the next obvious step and formed her own PR company in Istanbul in partnership with her husband, which she continues to run with skill and produces excellent results for her clients.

The next lady in my life was an equally impressive, hard-driving and determined young graduate, Elizabeth Maynard, who was born and bred in Detroit. She hit the ground running when she joined Bentley Motors.

By this time Annette Koch had returned to work in Berlin for Bentley Motors, handling PR programs across the breadth of Europe, and Russia.

Beth took on the roles of personal assistant to me, a PR executive, and programs manager.

There was no limit to the range of skills she possessed, and further developed during her time in our tiny PR department. Beth Maynard was, and still is a powerhouse of energy and ideas. 

She dealt not only with automotive media, but following Annette Koch’s example she was also equally successful dealing with lifestyle media outlets.

Then, in 2005 I made a disastrous hire, against all advice including from our head of human resources.

This pleasant and gregarious young woman I interviewed was a PR manager for one of Detroit's Big Three, and she came with outstanding verbal recommendations from the departments she served. The only problem was, it turned out she never actually ran any programs, she delegated everything to several external agencies, then appeared on the day of execution to claim the credit.

Almost from the moment she joined Bentley, it was Beth who stepped in to take over the programs, and clean up the mess.

It was obvious that Beth had real ‘management skills’ in her DNA.

Again, her attention to detail, endless energy and determination to execute programs with success and humility forecast she would go on to bigger and better roles – and she did.

Beth became involved in the luxury hotel business as a Director, managing sales, marketing, and events.

Her skill set and the results she achieved in a number of major hotel jobs and large event production projects resulted in her moving ever further up the career ladder.

Her latest role is Head of Global Procurement at Deckers Brands, which is a conglomerate of a variety of well-known footwear lines like UGG, HOKA ONE ONE, Teva, and Sanuk.

Going back to 1978 in Sydney, Australia, working alongside Joan Tough, I learned very quickly how important three things were in managing staff. First, I had a very light touch, and allowed my staff to throw themselves in at the deep end, and only stepped in to assist when they requested me to; second, I used what I thought was an essential element to encouraging my staff – I always told senior management when one of my team was the instigator of a program, and that they had driven it to a successful conclusion. This always meant they were pleasantly surprised and flattered when senior managers and directors complimented them on their contributions.

Thirdly, I learned very quickly how important it is to ‘trust’ your staff. Knowing that they wanted to learn, and wanted to succeed means ensuring the staff member recognizes your complete trust in their ability and their potential.

With all of the wonderful ladies in my life, I always operated on the principle – “It’s all about people”. All I had to do was provide training, encouragement, trust and confidence in them, and I, and our company, would be rewarded by their determination to succeed, and that makes for a happy and successful partnership.

I'm very proud that none of the ladies in my life ever felt impacted by a 'Glass Ceiling' - they were all strong, independent and resourceful women with determination and resolve.

I was always willing to give them as much freedom and encouragement as possible so they could achieve their aims.

Their results were evidence there were no obstacles in their paths, and I have retained warm ongoing friendships with all of them to this day.

This is a great example, when Annette Koch and I hit the slopes in Verbier, Switzerland (right) in March 2006, after we had finished our media duties at the Geneva Salon.

Annette also assumed the challenge of motherhood and here's 'Lulu' and Annette in Prague (below).

The same is true of Deniz Tozak. Both ladies seem to balance their personal lives with their professional careers with the same calm and determined approach they apply in business.

Joan Tough also likes to remain engaged with her old mates from Leyland Australia, and she loves to gather her friends around her.

I admire all of my former ‘partners’ and especially the challenging roles each of them have gone on to handle after they spent time working alongside me. They are winners, all of them, but I also feel like a winner too.