Rob Kneebone took over Ipswich-based ABP Group feeling a sense of responsibility to the family business, but also eager for the chance to work for himself. “Opportunities just present themselves from time to time and you have to act on them,” says Rob. Picking up the reins at the specialty business products manufacturer eight years ago has taken him on a wild ride, but Rob is proud of his contribution to the family legacy — a local business founded on loyalty, consistency and quality.

Invested in Ipswich

Ipswich is Queensland's oldest regional city and one that still celebrates its architectural, natural and cultural heritage. Rob represents the heart and soul of the place; he’s a straight talker and a hard worker, who calls everyone a mate until they prove otherwise. The people Rob employs are a diverse bunch of locals who are also invested in the area. “We’ve got people who have been with us for more than 20 years. We have fathers with sons who also work with us as apprentices, and a husband and wife,” Rob says. “We have people from 12 nationalities working here and we all get along like family. The culture’s great.”

Rather than rushing the business towards expansion without having a solid foundation for growth, Rob’s focus has always been directed at creating stable jobs and delivering quality products. “There are other companies who do what we do. We all provide a product and we all provide that product at a price.” he says bluntly. “But we’re consistent. You know who you’re dealing with, you know what you’re getting. If we say we’re going to deliver something, that’s what will be delivered. It’s our consistency that gives us an edge.”

While this philosophy sounds simple, it’s one that has worked for the ABP Group for decades. The company has not made an effort to market itself. Looking to start promoting ABP Group and build on another 1,000 square metres, Rob sees that “the opportunities are endless” for his business. Over the past 30 years, ABP Group’s sales have been sustained on referrals and its strong reputation, built on the back of extraordinarily longstanding partnerships.

Longstanding partnerships

One loyal partner is PolyVision, a company that manufactures CeramicSteel surfaces for applications such as whiteboards, chalkboards, architectural surfaces and panels, and infrastructure projects. Rob remembers meeting PolyVision’s Johan Maurissen on the factory floor when he was about 7 years old. “We’ve been partnering with PolyVision for about 30 years. It began way before my time, but it continues because they make ridiculously good quality products in Australia. It all comes down to personality and us all having a similar job to do.”

When Rob talks about personality, he’s talking about working with people who espouse the values he holds dear: honesty, integrity and determination. “The decisions that we make as managers affect our people. They put food on tables and send kids to school,” says Rob, unafraid of making a stand on behalf of his employees, fellow business owners and the wider community.

As well as supporting the Currumbin Surf Life Saving Club and other local community initiatives, ABP Group opens up its facilities to local schools and TAFE colleges, offering students and staff work experience and professional development opportunities. “They’re more than welcome to come into our factory to get an idea of new machinery and new practices,” says Rob.

Supporting smaller businesses boosts jobs in regional Australia

“This is how we boost jobs in the region and it’s the best thing we can do. We need more apprentices coming through.” One of the difficulties Rob sees in getting young people into regional jobs is a lack of public transport and he’s a staunch advocate for better services to support local workers. “I’ve been fighting with the Ipswich City Council for a long time,” he says. “All we need is a bus into the area. It’s not just my business, it’s all businesses. Our workforce is getting older and it gets older every year because young people without a driver’s licence can’t get here.”

Rob is passionate about supporting small- to medium-sized businesses throughout Australia and feels that “big business is not the be all and end all for this country”. When people choose to purchase local products and services, Rob says everybody wins. “Being able to employ people and pay them overtime gives them extra cash in their pocket. That money goes to the local fish and chip shop, it goes to the local sporting goods store to buy the kids a new soccer ball, it goes to a café where everyone has breakfast together on Saturday morning and it goes to the local movie theatre. All those sorts of community businesses benefit.”

 

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