Boat buddies

Chris Beattie | VOLUME 27, ISSUE 5

Rodney Longhurst and Wes Moxey share the helm at the revitalised Riviera. We spent a few minutes with the pair in which they recounted their shared past and plans for future changes for Australia’s leading luxury boat builder.

Conventional wisdom has it that mates should never go into business together. At least not if they want to stay mates.

But the friendship of new Riviera owner, Rodney Longhurst and former and now current CEO Wes Moxey seems set to defy that maxim.

The pair go back a long way, to the mid-’80s when they discovered a mutual enjoyment of water skiing and boating in general. The friendship grew and Longhurst became a regular visitor to the Riviera factory, eventually working with Moxey on various boat designs and layouts.

A carpenter and joiner by trade, Longhurst also has a solid boat-building background, his father John having started and run the trailerable marque, Pride Boats in Sydney’s southern suburbs in the 1960s. After selling Pride, the family moved to Queensland and became involved in real estate development, one of the Longhursts’ more notable projects being the Dreamworld theme park. Rodney also ventured into the hospitality industry, owning and running a number of backpacker hostels in the Sunshine State.

On March 8 this year, almost three years after the company was placed in receivership, Longhurst Marine Holdings Pty Ltd announced it had purchased Riviera. As MD of LMH, Rodney became Riviera’s new owner, while his old mate Wes returned to take up the reigns as CEO. But as Longhurst explained, the decision to buy Riviera wasn’t exactly a spur-of-the-moment move.

“Over the years I talked a couple of times about being involved with Riviera with both Wes and Bill (Barry-Cotter, Riviera founder and former CEO). In the late ’90s we discussed having some equity or ownership, but nothing really eventuated and I never really thought it would.

“But then Wes and I started the Gold Coast Marine Centre (recently rebadged The Boat Works) marine service facility together in Coomera in 2000 and that was it from the point of view of our industry involvement.

“But then recently there was a lot of talk about Bill buying it (Riviera) back, so Wes and I talked again. He still had good communications with various people inside Riviera and we decided to have a serious look. We made an offer, it was accepted and here we are!”

Moxey explained the pair’s decision to expand their business relationship.

“We’ve been longtime mates so there was a mutual trust there for a start. We’ve done previous business together and we started talking about buying the company – a casual conversation then quickly turned into a pretty serious discussion.

“It was quick – nine days – from when Rodney said, ‘Let’s get in a car and go to Brisbane to talk to some people about it’, to actually handing the cheque over.

“It was a nervous time. There was obviously a lot of work to do, but we were comfortable knowing what we were getting into and we have no regrets now we’re back into it.”

“There was a lot of fear about foreign ownership or the brand moving across the road,” said Longhurst in a reference to Barry-Cotter taking over the company. “So it’s been good to bring some certainty to the brand.”

The pair have embarked on a major revitalisation of the Riviera factory, production processes and staffing, with Longhurst being very much involved hands-on in shop-floor activities at the factory.

“The culture and attitude at the factory is now very much ‘can do’,” says Longhurst. “Wherever we’ve found challenges, where people have been told they can’t do something this way or that, we’ve said, ‘Let’s find a way’. We’re very solution orientated now.

“We’ve made the business more dynamic so if we have to scale down we can do that and equally we’ll be able to scale back up again as demand comes back to the market.”

Moxey echoed Longhurst’s comments, adding that the pair was determined to restructure the company internally to adjust to a much tougher market and to improve work practices and flexibility in production processes.

We made an offer, it was accepted and here we are!

“I don’t think we’re ever going to see the glory days of 2007 and earlier for a long, long time,” he said. “For us it’s a matter of taking note of the lessons we’ve learnt through the good and bad times, going back to the downturn of 1987 to 1991. It’s about how we recovered from those times and how we need to create flexibility to reflect an uncertain market.”

Longhurst is also quick to reassure the 340 employees and thousands of current Riviera boat owners that manufacturing of the luxury brand will not go offshore.

“We are absolutely committed to Australia continuing to be the headquarters of Riviera,” he said. ¿