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Hire & Rental Australia

Mark Burton looks back on 5 years as HRIA President

He’s been HRIA President for five years, involved with the Association for 27 years and now, with his tenure as president coming to an end, Mark Burton looks back on the challenges and opportunities that come with leading our National Association.

Reflections from the top

Mark, what did you want to achieve as President when you accepted the role in 2017?

To be honest, I don’t know if I had one particular thing I wanted to achieve when I took on the role of President in 2017. I’d actually been approached four years prior and didn’t feel I was ready but second time around, I knew this was a really good opportunity. I’ve owned a hire business and been involved in the hire industry for 29 years. The industry has been really good to me and my family. We’ve worked bloody hard to get the rewards, and this was an opportunity to give back to an industry and the Association. That was probably a fundamental thing for me, it was an opportunity to give back. I’m also big on family as it means everything to me. I run a family business and I wanted to try and bring that family feel to the association and the board, which I hope I’ve done.

What about memberships — what’s been your goal as President?

Growing our membership base has always been a priority. While there’s a tendency for some of the smaller businesses to get swallowed up by the big players, there’s always new family businesses starting up and we’re here to provide the support they need. I’m really proud that in my time as President, we’ve continued to increase our membership numbers, despite some incredibly challenging times over the past few years for so many in this industry. As a long-term member, I know how much you can get out of being part of the association. Our annual conventions are always a great opportunity to get together, discuss common issues and share information and ideas. I’ve been involved in so many of them over the years, but there’s always something I will get enthused about, take away and implement in my business. That’s the unique thing about this industry… on one hand, we’re competitors but on the other, we’re always happy to help each other and I don’t know if there are a lot of other industries that do that. So, while we may compete for the same jobs, when we get together, we’re sharing ideas and helping each other. That’s what it’s all about, making sure we all do the right thing and we’re all continually driving forward because it’s good for our industry as a whole.

You navigated the Association through, arguably, the biggest disruption we’re ever likely to see in our industry. How did you face the challenges posed by COVID?

COVID was definitely the biggest challenge we have ever faced. The events sector was decimated, particularly in Melbourne, while at a national level, state lockdowns meant we were unable to run our annual convention. This had a huge impact on the association as it removed our biggest opportunity for members from across the country to get together face-to-face. The question was, how would we now connect — and stay connected — with our members, especially in the events sector? I began reaching out to members to have a conversation and let them know, ‘we’re here for you’. It was about listening to their concerns, staying connected and helping them get through it. I was more than happy to give out my mobile number and encouraged people to call and have a conversation. I think that helped a bit. As an association, we did a great job of connecting with our members during COVID. Our focus was on keeping people positive during some pretty dark times plus we lobbied government to make more financial assistance available to the events sector. We eventually pushed through COVID and we’re now on the other side stronger than ever with, perhaps surprisingly, an increased membership base.

Five years on, what have you achieved as President?

I sat down a little while ago and tried to reflect on the last five years and score myself although others will be the judge! I was always big on family and I wanted to make the association feel like we are one big family. That’s also what I wanted to achieve with the Board, creating a safe environment to create conversation and ensure everyone around that boardroom table had equal opportunity to input into the decisions we were making. I also started the Past Presidents lunch, which happens every year at our convention, and it’s one of the things of which I’m most proud because it’s a recognition of where we’ve come from. When I stepped down as SA State President, I felt lost, and I thought others might feel the same. I’d gone from being so involved at the state level to a big void that I had to try and fill. That’s one of the reasons I really wanted to do the Past Presidents lunch, to reconnect and acknowledge, ‘you are important to us’. The lunch is a way for us to get together, even if it’s only once a year, have a chat and keep that friendship and bond going. It also keeps past presidents involved and up to date with the direction our association is headed. As for being President, I never knew I wanted to do it. I was in awe of guys like Neil Wallace and Gary Kerr, and you’d get to see them every so often at meetings and I’d think they were so incredible. I was inspired to be like them, especially with regards to how they ran their businesses. So, I’m honoured and very, very grateful to have had this opportunity.

What would you like to see the HRIA do more of in the future?

As business owners, we’re all struggling to find staff. There are a lot of opportunities within our industry so to be able to come up with some decent training programs where there are recognised certificates at the end of it, is really important. From there, the momentum will start to build and we’ll be able to attract more people to our sector. It’s fantastic that we’ve just started our own training side of the business and can now offer training to our members, young and old. We’ve got Young Professionals and Women in Hire programs running and they’re really starting to gain momentum. And that’s great, because young professionals are the future of our industry and it’s really important to keep it going. As a national organisation, I’d also love to have more events happening in other parts of the country, but there are huge distances and costs that come into play. If we could spread our resources better to get members in other states involved, it would be nice.

How important is this association to our industry?

It’s really important because it gives us a body and one voice, especially when we have to lobby governments. Without the association, we’d all be off on tangents doing our own thing.

So, how do you feel about handing over the Presidential reigns at the AGM?

I hope I don’t get emotional, but I probably will! It’s been an incredible journey and I will always be indebted to members and everyone for the opportunity. I’ll be around for a little while longer as it’s tradition that past Presidents sit on the board for the term of the new President, but it’s important to step back and allow others to get involved. Then it will definitely be time to start focusing on my family. And despite the fact there will be a hole there, I’ll learn how to fill that with my five beautiful grandkids and other things. This has been an awesome industry for us. If I can find the time, I’d also love to continue giving back and maybe start to do some mentoring for some of our young professionals. This will keep me connected because I just don’t want to cut off, even after my past President role ends. I’d like to continue on.

Mark is the Director of Barossa Valley Hire, Barossa Function Hire and Barossa Sand and Metal in South Australia. He concludes his tenure as HRIA President at the AGM on 9 November 2022.

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