Hall of Fame Inductee 2015

Robert Burnett

Born on the 29th of May 1908, Bob Burnett spent the early years of his life at Hinds in mid-Canterbury.

As early as the age of nine he had told the saddler in Hinds that “When I grow up, I’m not going to have a horse and cart – I’m going to buy a truck”.

Bernie commenced business in 1927 at the age of 19 as a motor mechanic in his home town of Hinds. As a side-line to his garage operations, and to help his farmer clients who were having difficulties with cartage of their produce, he purchased a truck and carted grain and wool to Christchurch, back loading drums of kerosene and fuel oil. Soon realising the potential of commercial road transport, in 1934 he moved to Ashburton founding his company.

To ensure adequate work during the winter months he took over the Blackburn Coal Co Ltd. As the reserves of coal in this mine were becoming exhausted, in 1948 he purchased the total shareholding of an adjoining mining company, Mount Somers Miners Ltd. His business was now growing steadily and, at about this time, the company took on the agency for Austin trucks in mid-Canterbury.

It was not long before Bernie was looking for new areas to devote his energy. With his practical ability and keen interest in all things mechanical, he formed a contracting division which grew from humble beginnings with two draglines and a road grader to one of the largest earthmoving companies in the South Island. Further diversifications included pile driving, bridge building, road construction and maintenance and the production of gravel, concrete, shingle and sand.

It was then a natural progression to the formation of an engineering section which apart from repairing and maintaining company vehicles and plant, manufactured a full range of farm products including trailer fuel tanks, buildings, rollers and fence posts. Concrete bridge piles were made and, with increasing use of pre-stressed beams in bridge construction, he set up facilities manufacturing these, as well as production of ready mix concrete.

In spite of the wide variety of company operations, Bernie remained a “transport” man. From a one truck company, the transport operations progressed into one of the largest in the South Island, and in the early 1970’s, was operating in excess of 120 truck and trailer units.

The company was formed into a public company in 1961 and was involved with a merger with the New Zealand interests of the Australian company Brambles Industries Ltd to form the public company Brambles Burnett Ltd. This merger saw them commence to provide New Zealand-wide and International freight forwarding.

In 1980 Brambles Burnett was taken over by Mogal Corporation and Bernie remained on the Board as its Chairman until his retirement in 1981 at the age of 72.

Personally this man had a determination to succeed. He was a born leader with the ability to get the best out of the men who were employed by his company. He was described as an unorthodox businessman but very astute. He had a deep belief in and love for Ashburton, supporting a lot of organisations in the district.

He is remembered as a great leader and a true pioneer in the road transport industry.

Ralph Munn