This photo shows my uncle Tony and his family as they are about to depart for Australia in 1964. Tony worked for John Deere and was sent there to lead the sales and service operations down under. Tony is now deceased as documented in this previous blog about him. However, I recently discovered that he wrote a memoir about he and his family’s experiences while in Australia. This is the first installment of several to come:
by Tony Hoying
The land “down under”!!! A country so far away. A country so inviting. A country with roots similar to those of our own country. A country we could only dream of visiting. And yet that dream became a reality.
I am often awed by the unbelievable opportunity awaiting a simple farm boy when I entered the real world and started my career with John Deere. Never in my wildest dreams had I ever thought that I would be considered for a high management position, let alone being assigned to that capacity as the only American to represent Deere in a foreign country half way around the world. Much of the successes in that area must be granted to Mary and our kids. Without their agreement, encouragement and support, the promotion would have been mute. Their enthusiastic approval was the confidence builder much needed.
I’ll never forget that midday phone call from our Columbus , Ohio John Deere Branch Manager Ray Matson on that bright August day. I had just completed checking inventory at our John Deere dealer in Russellville, Ohio and prepared to break for lunch. The odds that an earlier brief conversation with him resulted in the question “Are you still interested in an overseas assignment?”, would in my mind, be a million to one. A few months prior, we had discussed Deere’s entry into the overseas market through the purchase of the Heinrich Lanz Company in Germany, I casually mentioned that an assignment there would be an interesting experience. My brother Hank had been appointed Branch Manager for NCR in Germany almost a year ago, and was doing well.
Mr. Mattson mentioned that I had been recommended as a candidate for the position of General Sales Manager at the recently opened office in Sydney, Australia. Lanz owned a facility in Australia, which Deere had acquired in the purchase, and Deere executives had plans to significantly upgrade operations in that part of the world. Naturally, I was caught completely off guard, as a thousand questions entered my mind, but I tried to remain calm and focused as possible as I responded, then was told to talk it over with Mary (Tony’s wife) and let him know as soon as possible.
I could scarcely think of anything else on my way home, driving that ‘64 Chevy station wagon hard on the winding two lane highways, wanting to break the news to my family. My emotions ran wild; surprised that I was even asked and offered an overseas promotion. The mystery of a very different culture; the impact it would have on our kids; wondering how our aging parents would feel; and realizing that we would face many near impossible challenges; all these entered my mind as I drove.
Finally, upon arriving home, I hurried into the house to break the news to Mary, busy ironing the laundry, not a real fun job. When I asked if she would like to move from her hometown of Springfield (Ohio) to Sydney, she showed obvious lack of enthusiasm, thinking I meant Sidney, Ohio. But after a short hesitation, I added Australia.
“Yes, yes, she cried, almost dropping the iron. Our sense of adventure grew by leaps and bounds, anticipating a most interesting future. Our kids, however, didn’t seem to grasp the significance of this issue when we presented it to them. But they, too, had a big stake in our decision. Their ages ranged from 15 months to 13 years old.
Early next morning Mr. Mattson was advised that all systems were “go” as far as we were concerned, so he immediately had plane reservations made for me to travel to Moline, for a formal interview with the Executive VP in charge of world wide sales. We were about to commence an eventful and satisfying journey. When I commented that I wasn’t sure of my ability to handle the job, the VP responded “Don’t worry, Tony, we’ve already taken care of that.” What a confidence booster!
After a welcome lunch in the executive dining room with the EVP as well as the CEO and many of the other top guns of Deere & Co., I was escorted on a private tour to the offices of other executives with whom I would correspond when in Australia. All seemed to be pleased with our decision, and welcomed me to that peer group. It was difficult to remain humble amongst all that executive power. They ordered first class airline tickets to Sydney for me, and a week later QANTAS delivered me there, arriving about 6am.
Dead tired after an all night flight, I was met by a contingent of executives of John Deere Australia Pty. Ltd.. After a brief conversation with them, I was escorted to the airport parking lot and for the first time, I had the harrowing experience of riding in a car with the controls on the right side and driving on the “wrong“ side of the road Needless to say, positioned in what we considered the driver’s seat, the ride to the Menzies Hotel was scary and hectic.. No apparent traffic lights, and mostly 4 way go streets made for a very exciting ride. Cars arriving from the left had the right of way. Sitting in what was normally the driver’s seat for Yanks, with no control of the vehicle, it was scary;.. Accommodations in Sydney were in the Menzies Hotel, as our offices were on the 20th floor in that same twin tower complex.
The next few weeks were spent traveling to the John Deere facilities in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as our distributors in Sydney, Adelaide, Perth and Brisbane, where we took in the Agricultural Show of Queensland. A couple of days of R&R at the Chevron Resort in Surfers Paradise, then back to Sydney for a few days in the office before returning home to Ohio. What a trip! What a high!
Another couple of days in Moline for conferences with Deere people I’d be working with, and I was ready to take on the new job. But when the company presented me with a one way ticket for our family to Australia, I experienced a tremendous sinking feeling in my gut, wondering if we were really doing the right thing. This was a time of not only of high anticipation, but also of dread. I began to have some serious reservations. This was for real. Until now, all these activities were an exciting adventure. But now, serious questions entered my mind. What about our aging parents, what about health issues, what if we became seriously ill, what about a lot of other important issues, such as investments, remaining personal property, etc. But the tickets did include a two day layover in Honolulu, another indicator that John Deere was a company with character, concerned with the well being of our family.
Look for another excerpt of Uncle Tony and his family's Australian adventures next week