By Merv Robertson April 05, 2017 Where are they now?

Did you hear the one about the Irishman, the salesman and the grandfather? The punchline is that all of the above is just part of what makes up Eamon Kenny.

This Irishman arrives in Dunedin and lives with his brother… Nah, there’s no punch-line – the Irishman was Eamon Kenny, it was 1964 and he would go on to have an outstanding career in our industry, principally with Fisher & Paykel.

Eamon’s first job was as an Apprentice Draughtsman at HE Shacklock. His training included a secondment to Fisher & Paykel for most of 1968 where he advanced his skills in product design.

In 1970 he married Jill McKay and the following year they took off to live in Adelaide where Eamon worked as a Process Engineer at Kelvinator for two years, followed by a return to Dunedin and Shacklock.

In 1974 Eamon joined the National Cash Register Company (NCR) as a trainee in the retail division which had a good reputation for training non-salesmen to be salesmen.

Eamon recalls: “I learned a heck of a lot about the art of salesmanship in that time!”

After two years he transferred to Rotorua, but as a commission salesperson, he was finding more and more that the NCR range wasn’t really competitive against Japanese product so in 1978 he looked around for a new position.


From General Motors to Fisher & Paykel

Eamon Kenny’s next role was at General Motors New Zealand which was looking for an Area Sales Representative for the Frigidaire Appliance Division, covering the Waikato, King Country, Thames Valley and Bay of Plenty.

Right from the start however Eamon had doubts about how long he’d be in that job, because he’d found out during the interview that the whole Frigidaire range was actually made by Fisher & Paykel.

“Now, I was no marketing genius but felt pretty sure that if you had no control over your product, especially in features and benefits and production schedules, eventually that would spell trouble.”

Indeed in February 1979 Eamon and colleagues all received a telegram saying that as of June 30 they would be out of a job!

General Motors was exiting appliances and the worldwide rights for Frigidaire had been sold to an American company, White Consolidated Industries, coincidentally the same outfit which was licensing Leonard and Kelvinator to Fisher & Paykel .

Not to be deterred and assuming Fisher & Paykel would not want to lose valuable production income, Eamon felt the odds were good that Fisher & Paykel would pick up the Frigidaire brand, so he wrote a letter saying he would like to join Fisher & Paykel if it happened.

[ Above right & below: It’s August 1979 and Fisher & Paykel produces its very first Frigidaire dealer newsletter. Featured in the main photo below are (L-R): Lea Francis; Richard Blundell; Graham Boggs; Mike Barker; Neil Bleakley; Judy Dineen; and Bill Pellett. ]


“Have you got Eamon a car yet?”

The response to Eamon’s exploratory letter to Fisher & Paykel was a phone call from the Kelvinator Manager, Colin Collins, who confirmed they were looking for people to join the upcoming new Frigidaire Division!

A meeting was arranged during a visit to Thames with Colin and area rep, Dave Sergeant, and those who knew the late Colin Collins will understand that the meeting took place over a beer, not a coffee.

Still, the interview seemed to go OK and, after a couple of weeks, Eamon was invited to Fisher & Paykel ’s Mount Wellington offices where he met again with Colin and Mike Barker, who had been appointed Frigidaire Manager.

Eamon recalls there was a twist to the interview. “I was intending to keep up my sleeve the fact that I had worked as a colleague of Gary Paykel at Shacklock, in case the discussion didn’t go very well. But, just as we were about to start, the door burst open and in came Gary!

“He said: ‘Have you got Eamon a car yet?’ Well I figured that even I couldn’t stuff this one up, I was quids in!”


With Frigidaire in the field

The interview ran its course, Eamon was offered the role and started with Fisher & Paykel ’s new Frigidaire Division on the first Monday of July 1979 reporting to Field Sales Manager Graham Boggs.

[ Right: Frigidaire’s intrepid inaugural regional sales reps from 1979 (clockwise from top left): Doug Ferguson; Eamon Kenny; Ron Thompson; and Ross Falconer. ]

Eamon grew the Frigidaire brand until 1981 when Graham transferred over to Panasonic. Doug Ferguson, the Auckland rep, took Graham’s chair and Eamon moved north to take over Doug’s Auckland patch.

This was a change he relished and included the opportunity to personally manage key accounts, notably Bond & Bond where the late Jim Kirkley was Marketing Manager and buyer of major appliances.

Eamon takes up the story with another game of musical chairs in play.

“I had around six months as Auckland Rep, after which time Mike Barker was appointed to the newly created role of National Whiteware Manager with all brands (Kelvinator, Leonard, Shacklock and Frigidaire) reporting to him. Doug Ferguson was promoted to Frigidaire Manager and I became his Field Sales Manager.

“That was an amazing experience for me and I really loved the job. Having national responsibilities, I got to travel the country and meet dealers from Kaitaia to Invercargill, all with their own talents, methods and attitudes and I was also able to define my man-management skills working with a team of reps.”

Then in 1984 Doug left the company to grow tomatoes, Eamon became Manager and the Frigidaire activity shifted from Koru Towers in Pakuranga to Fisher & Paykel ’s Mount Wellington head office.

At that stage the Field Sales Manager role was absorbed it into Eamon’s new job meaning he was still able to get out and about, albeit not as often as he would have liked, with the added tasks of “forecasts, budgets and all that sort of crap”.

[ Below: From 1980 and the very first Fisher & Paykel -Frigidaire sales seminar. Who do you recognise? ]


From the EDA to managing marketing

However, going into 1985 Eamon began to doubt the merits of Fisher & Paykel’s EDA (Exclusive Dealer Arrangement). His concerns were heightened by comments made by Mark Jones, who had taken up the top job at Arthur H Nathan.

Mark, like many of his peers at the time, was extremely frustrated at not being able to maximise his company’s growth potential by opening more and/or bigger branches, due to all Fisher & Paykel refrigeration and laundry being on strict allocation and the EDA preventing him from buying other brands to fill the void.

“I thought Mark made some very telling comments, which were ignored of course,” Eamon says today. “Fisher & Paykel had an obsession of not holding stock in the warehouse. Production numbers pretty much matched the allocations and the distribution centre got everything that came in the door out to the dealers as quickly as possible.

“A few months later and still unsettled, I recalled the words of a truly great Fisher & Paykel man, (Sir) Don Rowlands, who believed that anyone wishing to make progress in the company needed experience in a manufacturing division.

“We had just launched the Prince Philip Award Series of refrigeration with a nationwide road show and John Bongard had been appointed Marketing Manager Refrigeration, based in East Tamaki so I had a talk with him, the upshot being that I became his Product Manager.

“Then, when John moved back into head office as Commercial Manager at the end of 1985, I became Marketing Manager and thoroughly enjoyed my time through until 1990, a period of 4½ years on the production side.”

[ Below: Frigidaire International's Jay Rushworth visits New Zealand in 1994. Seen here with Mike Barker and Eamon Kenny. ]


Of Fisher & Paykel and overseas successes

Two successes stood out during Eamon’s time in the East Tamaki plant. With Fisher & Paykel products being distributed in Australia by Email, one of John Bongard’s major projects over the first couple of years was to extract Fisher & Paykel from that arrangement and open up a direct channel to the retailers.

“This strategy was largely brought about by the fact that Email had no interest in our new chest freezers and frankly, their attitude was holding us back.

“John’s work in establishing direct distribution was superb and we had a very busy schedule travelling around Australia conducting product knowledge sessions for our new dealer network.”

And then Fisher & Paykel had a breakthrough in Europe – Belgium to be precise – when at the 1987 Domotechnica show in Cologne, a Belgian distributor visited the stand, liked what he saw and said he was interested in marketing Fisher & Paykel refrigeration back home.

Says Eamon: “We took him on and the exercise was so successful that Paul Thompson was moved from our International Division into Belgium to manage our interests there.”


Servicing the change from multi- to single brand

Eamon had been quite vocal in his criticism of Fisher & Paykel ’s Marketing Services department, so when an opportunity presented itself in in 1990, having been invited to put his money where his mouth was, he moved from the factory back to Mount Wellington.

Marketing Services organised product releases and provided all the dealer support material including POS and brochures. Eamon also managed the advertising budget in conjunction with John Bongard.

Eamon however soon hankered after a sales role, but Gary Paykel scotched that idea by making it clear that “there was nothing for me in sales”.

Eamon accepted that and had a great time as Marketing Services Manager, observing that it would have been very hard not to enjoy working in the Fisher & Paykel head office environment at the time, just as multi-branding gave way to Fisher & Paykel in a new single brand approach.

With sales off the table, Eamon “got stuck in”, and he and his team helped create successful product road shows, in particular the launch of the SmartDrive autowasher.

“We very much set the benchmark for those events, covering the country as widely and quickly as possible with two teams away from home-base for two weeks and after each presentation we would cater with a nice meal and drinks.

“Those ‘roadies’ were a real highlight for me. They were fun to do and created terrific camaraderie with the dealers and teamwork within our own group.”

[ Below: From 1994, Fisher & Paykel ’s Regional Managers (L-R): Eamon Kenny; Vaughan Simon; and Tim Kirkup. ]


Pleased as punch to be back in sales

In 1993, with John Bongard now General Manager Marketing working alongside GM Sales Richard Papworth, the decision was made to regionalise sales and now Eamon saw a window of opportunity.

“I was busting my arse to get back selling!” he admits and was “pleased as punch” to be appointed one of three Regional Managers reporting to “Pappy”, “a great boss”.

Vaughan Simon got the Southern job and Tim Kirkup came back from Perth to take on Central.

Tasked with taking on the Northern territory, Eamon was well staffed, with a Field Manager, four sales reps, three technical reps and a sales office crew making up the team which operated from Kaitaia down to Turangi and out to Tauranga and Raglan.

During this period, Eamon saw the development of some very strong independents in his region, highlighting in particular Guinness Appliances in the Bay, Heathcotes in the Waikato, Barrell’s in the North and Magness Benrow and Hill & Stewart in Auckland.

In 1998 tragedy entered the Kenny family when Jill was diagnosed with cancer, eventually passing away late the following year.

Eamon’s first priority was the care of his wife and his gratitude to Richard Papworth and the Fisher & Paykel management for their understanding during this time is still obvious today.

[ Below: In 1999, Eamon Kenny, among many others, celebrated 20 years with Fisher & Paykel. ]


With Fisher & Paykel to the UK and back

Tim Kirkup went to Brisbane in 2000 and was replaced in Wellington by Steve Bruce. Then “Pappy” took early retirement at the end of 2001 and his replacement, Craig Douglas, soon initiated a restructure.

Vaughan Simon transferred back to Auckland into the role of National Sales Manager, becoming Eamon’s boss and Steve moving to Christchurch whilst also retaining responsibility for Central. However, more change was in the wind.

Shortly after those changes went through, John Bongard approached Eamon to see if he would be interested in a posting as General Manager of Fisher & Paykel in the UK.

Eamon recalls: “With the loss of Jill, I ran the idea past my two daughters who were fine with it and so in February 2002 I transferred across, based in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire, taking over the position from Troy Scragg, who had been appointed GM in Europe. We had a distributor in the Republic of Ireland and that was part of my gig as well.”

In 2003 more change was afoot with Fisher & Paykel in discussions with Whirlpool about a number of topics, including Fisher & Paykel taking over Whirlpool distribution in New Zealand and the decision was made that Leamington would concentrate on Europe with Whirlpool handling Fisher & Paykel distribution through Ireland and the UK.

So it was that Eamon’s position became redundant in October 2003 and he was offered a job back in New Zealand which he declined, opting instead for early retirement at the age of 58 although he completed a six month cookware project for the Queensland office on the way home.

His 25-year career with Fisher & Paykel ended at Easter 2004.


Still busy doing “bugger all”

Not one to just put his feet up, Eamon took a job as a part time salesman at Teale Metal Products, working two days a week for a couple of years before moving on to Storage King part time for another three.

Both were jobs Eamon enjoyed but, in terms of Eamon Kenny’s working life, that takes us to the end of 2011. Since then, he freely admits, he’s “done bugger all”.

Eamon remarried in 2014 and since then he and Pam Robertson have travelled extensively, spending 8-12 weeks a year overseas.

With Pam, adventures around the world and granddaughters in both Brisbane and Auckland, life after Fisher & Paykel is working out just fine.

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