Some say he’s a master of the hole-in-none, and that he sticks pins in his eyes for dinner. All we know is he’s called Tobes.
Meet Paul Tobin, a director of Driveline. From Jersey to Whangaparoa, and servicing Audi Quattros in Europe to working with Peter Montgomery during the America’s Cup, Paul Tobin’s story is a fascinating case of forging a successful new life at the opposite end of the world.
Born on the Channel Island of Jersey
Paul was born on Jersey, the largest of the Channel Islands, which sits between England and France.
Jersey is a self-governing dependency of the United Kingdom, with a mix of British and French cultures. It is known for its beaches, cliffside walking trails, inland valleys and historic castles.
Although it is regarded as part of the UK, it is in fact geographically closer to France than England. Jersey sits in the Bay of St Malo, 22 km off the French coast and 137 km south of the English coast. Curiously, the shortest distance in a straight line from England to France is about 34 km.
Paul trained as an Audi technician and has fond memories of working on the cutting edge of that era’s automotive technology… Audi’s revolutionary four wheel drive system, turbos, and electronic fuel injection systems that revolutionised cars and the sport of rallying.
Paul says he was there at the time when Ford Escorts dominated rallying and then the Audi Quattro came in and blitzed everybody. It was such a dominant performer that rules were brought in forcing Audi Quattros to carry heavy weights in the boot to slow them down and give the 2WD competitors a fighting chance.
Ahhh, those were the days!
From Audis to Austins
Paul emigrated to New Zealand in 1987 and was shocked to discover an almost complete absence of the European cars he was used to working on, and in their place lots of Austins and Hillman Hunters thanks to Muldoon’s import restrictions. It was like going back 20 years in time, he says.
From servicing to selling
Paul decided he didn’t fancy working on old cars so he took a different career path, which moved him into car sales.
The Voice of the America’s Cup
Paul’s first job was working with Peter John (PJ) Montgomery, the sports broadcaster of America’s Cup fame. PJ had a Honda dealership in Silverdale, so Paul’s job was selling new Honda cars.
His sales responsibilities grew substantially as PJ’s time was increasingly diverted to America’s Cup matters. Paul remembers PJ being away from the dealership almost full time doing lunchtime speaking work and other America’s Cup engagements.
Peter Montgomery, the car dealer with the gift of the gab, got so wound up in the America’s Cup that, “He was just like, now I can make much more money out of talking about yachting,” says Paul, so he sold the dealership and the rest is history.
Hammering it out as an auctioneer
PJ’s sale of the Honda dealership prompted a move to Hammer Car Auctions, which Paul describes as a great fun job.
“I had a blast at that place; it was pretty full on but it was a good fun place to work and the auctioneering was really good fun.”
What Paul enjoyed most about auctioneering was that it kept him on his toes…
“It was just good fun. It was quite a buzz. We’d have 120 people there at points. You’re not totally in control but you have to control the whole thing. When you’re going through the numbers taking bids, then you might pause for a conversation with somebody in the crowd to encourage them to bid and you’ve gotta remember where you were at, what number you were at, and all that sort of thing. It takes quite a bit of doing. It’s not as easy as it as it looks.”
No CV embellishment required!
Paul describes the most unlikely fluke that landed him the auctioneering job, which he was absolutely not qualified or experienced for…
“The only reason I got that job was because they thought I’d already done auctioning. I worked for a very, very short period of time for a company called Snowden Thornton, who were general auctioneers, so they assumed I was an auctioneer there, but I actually wasn’t.
“So they hired me and then on my first day they said I was running the auction tonight. And I’m like, ‘What? Look, I’ve never done it before my life.’ And they said I was now because I was the only one there so I had to run it. It was a very steep learning curve!”
After quite a few years at Hammer, Paul got the calling to join Kia. Adam Poulopoulos had secured the New Zealand rights to import and sell Kia vehicles, and Paul joined to help set up the dealer network and then take responsibility for direct sales.
At that early stage the company comprised of a handful of cars and an office in Auckland CBD’s Federal Street. Paul helped launch the Kia brand in New Zealand, a large part of which involved setting up the dealer network.
With that accomplished, Paul assumed responsibility for direct sales. He sold Kias into most councils in New Zealand, who were attracted to the brand because it was a really cheap alternative four-wheel drive. He even even sold some to the Royal New Zealand Air Force.
After five years with Kia the daily commute from Whangaparoa to the Airport Oaks commercial district, where Kia had relocated to, began to wear thin.
Paul had dealt with Lance (affectionately known as Lancelot) during his Kia career whenever Lance financed a client into a Kia. One day they were talking and Lance said, “Why don’t you come and work for me?”
Lance was in the throes of setting up Driveline and Paul joined as a business consultant and founding member of the team.
The company grew from three staff to nine quite quickly, and when Lance was away Paul would run the business in his absence. He obviously proved his worth because Paul is now a fellow director and shareholder of Driveline.
From 9 to 3 thanks to the GFC
In the early days Driveline was located in Newmarket. Then the GFC hit and like many businesses, Driveline’s business took a big hit.
Paul says they had to get out of Newmarket where they were paying an astronomical rent, and readjust the head count to match the new level of business. That saw the team reduce from 9 people to just 3 – Lance, Paul and Laurie – and a move to Albany. Paul describes it as a tough time.
“It was a lot tougher than the Covid thing. It really decimated a lot of people, but we kept out head above water and came out the other side.”
From strength to strength
After regrouping in Albany, Driveline has grown and moved once more, this time just down the road to bigger premises in Bush Road.
The head count has increased in line with the business’ growth and now numbers 16. Most are in Auckland and others are spread throughout the country.
“It’s been a bit of an up and down journey, but thankfully more up than down. It’s been quite a long time too, 20 years and we’re still excited about the future.”
From humble beginnings to impressive numbers
Paul says that Driveline now finances around 130 new vehicles a month, and on top of that a significant number of ex-lease and used vehicles. With 66% of that being repeat business, Driveline must be doing something right!
Doesn’t like the limelight
Paul enjoys the business of business and is happy to leave the limelight to Lance. When I ask about his hobbies and interests, he instantly retorts, “I don’t have a personal life.” Which we both know isn’t true, but despite the joke it still takes a bit of persuasion to get him to open up a little.
Paul had to give up running after doing his knee in, but his most memorable event prior to that was Auckland Marathon in 2019. Paul ran it to raise money for the Catwalk Trust, a charity that funds research to fix paralysis following spinal cord injury. Paul’s marathon time? A very respectable 4h 8m.
Being a big believer in keeping fit and active, Paul had to find something to fill in the running void after he did his knee in. He’s now hiked the Pinnacles in the Coromandel and the Tongariro Crossing, amongst others.
Paul’s most recent hike was in the O’Reilly rainforest at Lamington National Park in Queensland. No dangerous animals, just lots of birds and zillions of possums were spotted. Paul says you’d find more snakes on Takapuna beach than he saw on his hike, LOL.
Paul’s other passion is golf. He’s a long-time member of Pupuke Golf Club in Campbell’s Bay, his home course. But he describes himself as more of a social golfer than a competitive golfer.
“I enjoy the social side of it. I’ve got a lot of mates that I that I play with.”
When asked what he likes most about Pupuke Golf Club, he says,
“It’s a very, very challenging golf course but a very, very social golf club. There’s a great group of members there, they’re very social, and the competitions are always good. I like playing on Saturday because we have a couple of beers afterwards and it’s always very social and there’s always lots of people there having a good yarn.”
Pins in his eyes for dinner
When asked about cooking, Paul says,
“I cook but I’d much rather go to a nice restaurant somewhere and have somebody else cook something nice for me. I get no pleasure out of cooking whatsoever; I’d rather stick pins in my eyes!”
Paul is the proud father of two lovely children and one baby granddaughter. Let’s hope they’re better cooks than him!
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