So the story goes, one of the first tasks Rodney Longhurst and his three young sons took on after he bought Riviera in March 2012 was to roll up their sleeves and trim the ornamental shrubs around the reception area of the Gold Coast manufacturer’s Coomera factory. It’s not something you’d expect from a managing director, but to those in the know it’s typical of the hands-on owner and chairman of Australia’s largest manufacturer of luxury boats.
Longhurst comes across as an intense and focused individual, the tall and almost gangly frame and quiet persona imparting an image more of a back-room toiler than a hard-working and passionate businessman.
But when the 50-year-old speaks of his involvement with Riviera, which he purchased from the receivers in March, 2012, there is no doubting the resolve and commitment he has brought to his role.
“We are absolutely committed to refining and improving the yachts produced by Riviera, starting from the base and working right through the entire process,” he says, with a compelling intensity, no doubt largely a product of his upbringing.
Rodney’s father, John Longhurst is himself a prominent and successful businessman, with a varied background, including founding Sydney-based Pace lawnmowers, Pride Boats, and as the founder and builder of the Dreamworld theme park on the Gold Coast.
Longhurst learned early in life the merits and rewards of hard work. He left school at the age of 15 to help his father build the theme park from scratch.
“It was Dad, my brother Tony (championship waterskier and race car driver) and myself who started building Dreamworld,” recalls Longhurst. “Tony supervised and laid the bricks and I built cabinets to begin with.”
Longhurst completed a carpentry and joinery apprenticeship during this time, but soon ventured out into the business world, eventually developing a chain of backpacker hostels throughout Queensland.
“Dad’s philosophy was always ‘build it different and build it better’ and that’s something I’ve always tried to do throughout my business life, particularly at Riviera,” said Longhurst.
The Longhursts had always been involved in boating, from the time when John Longhurst ran Pride Boats, and Rodney said there was never a time when the family didn’t have a boat for waterskiing or family days out.
And it was through social waterskiing in 1985 that he met long-time friend and business associate, Wes Moxey, who was CEO of Riviera prior to leaving the company in August 2008 and eventually founding Belize Motor Yachts. Moxey has now returned to the Riviera fold to work with his former business partner and close friend – Moxey was Longhurst’s best man at his wedding to Ulrike, his wife of five years. And Longhurst is now also owner of the Belize brand.
After moving out of the budget accommodation business, Longhurst teamed up with Moxey to develop boat servicing business, The Boat Works, at Coomera in 2000. They redeveloped the site into a comprehensive, 9.2-hectare facility. The Boat Works is now owned and operated by the Longhurst family and has been through a huge expansion program in recent years as it strives to be the leading boatyard in Australia, now servicing thousands of boats each year.
While some may have been surprised at Longhurst’s move to acquire Riviera in 2012, he admits to having had a “casual eye” on the company as far back as 1990.
“We looked at Riviera again in 2001,” he says, “But decided not to go ahead with it at the time.”
With the internationally respected and award-winning company hard-hit by the GFC and placed into receivership in May 2009, he revisited the idea of purchasing Riviera.
“Wes and I were watching what was going on and had a couple of meetings with the receivers … then it was, like, ‘this is actually do-able!’ and the final part of the process was pretty fast.
“What drew me back to Riviera was the incredible resilience of the brand to withstand the full might of the GFC and the great opportunity to create and build the finest world-class motor yachts in Australia.”
Longhurst’s faith has helped see Riviera perform strongly in recent times, with full order books, healthy sales figures both locally and overseas and an ever-growing family of boat owners who share Longhurst’s passion for Riviera.
In the more than three years since taking over, Longhurst and Moxey have focused on building Riviera’s future, including business restructuring, investing in new model development and expanding the workforce to around 480 people today.
The company has always had a reputation for the quality of its boats, but Longhurst recognised the need to reassure current and potential Rivera owners that he was committed to not just maintaining, but constantly improving its production standards and reputation for build quality and innovation.
“We understood that there was a lot of uncertainty and we needed to develop some new products, so when Wes came up with the SUV concept he had my full support. We created the 445 model in time for the 2012 Sydney International Boat Show. We did it to set the tone for the future because we knew people would judge us by our first new model.”
Since then the company, along with its expanding SUV range, has gone from strength to strength, expanding its nationwide dealer network, R Marine, and hosting the popular annual Riviera Festival of Boating at its factory, including many social events and boating classes for its owners.
And recently, the company was awarded the 2015 Australian Marine Industry Exporter of the Year.
Longhurst says that ultimately, he respects that Riviera owners will decide how successful the new motor yachts are.
“My vision is that our efforts will result in every Riviera owner being a passionate ambassador for the brand. I want Riviera owners to have the same ultimate boating experience I’d like to have if I bought a new boat. Our craftsmen and women and the in-house and international design team are all striving to create the best yachts in the world.
“While some boat builders have chosen to cut costs and cheapen the boats they produce, we have placed great emphasis on the highest of quality in every aspect of our yacht design and craftsmanship. People are now telling us that we are building some of the best boats they have ever seen, so this is very rewarding for our whole team.
“And we’re also committed to making sure our employees are looked after,” he says, noting that the company now employs 33 apprentices. “We have also embarked on a recruitment drive to find more craftspeople to help us open a fifth production line. So it’s an exciting time for all of us at Riviera.”
Longhurst now spends a big part of his week working with Moxey and the product design team or on the factory floor, continuing the hands-on approach that began with his father and brother when he first joined the workforce.
And what of the shrubbery in the meantime?
“Well, I’m a big believer in presentation so when we moved in, Wes went to work in the factory and I went to work on the factory and facility. I wanted customers and our staff to drive into Riviera and say ‘wow, these people really care!’”