Brothers keeping firm grip on family business

Up and racing in a Signature 1900s - boat driving skill is in their blood.
Mark Rothfield
The passing of John Haines Snr some four years ago could’ve sounded the death knell for the family boat building concern he’d built with his two sons, John and Greg.

For the brothers left to run a national dynasty that included Suzuki outboard distribution and the renowned Signature and Seafarer trailerboat brands, it wasn’t an easy act to follow. Economic conditions didn’t help either.
But much to their credit they have kept a steady hand on the wheel. John and Greg weren’t born to be good boat builders but were raised that way.

Their footprints, as young boys, are embedded in the factory floor from the original concrete pour, and both worked their way up without favour, spending time in moulding, time in detailing, time as cleaners sweeping the floor.

Business-wise they are like twins joined at the hip, equals in hierarchy and commonly mentioned in the same breath. It has been John Jnr’s task, working in R and D, to perfect the hull concepts while Greg refined the sales and marketing pitch.

Happy days, going for a cruise with their late father, John Snr.
Mark Rothfield

Signature has been one of the few domestic runabout builders still developing new models, with a new 575F nearing completion and a range of fully enclosed hardtop boats from 5.4 to seven metres due in 2013. Other releases since 2008 include the 543F and RF, 502RF and DF, 575RF, 535 bowrider, 602F and Traveller Vanquish.

They struck a deal with Hyundai Yachts to build Signatures under licence in Korea for their domestic market and northern hemisphere, and they’re also being manufactured in New Zealand by Reflex. The Haines Group picked up the Seafarer marque mostly because they didn’t want to see the moulds go to wrong hands … former owner Lindsay Fry apparently felt the same.

Suzuki approached the Haines Group in 2002, looking to sign a distributor who understood the Australian and New Zealand market. The Haineses, in turn, could see that the four-stroke motors were something out of the box.
‘Has it been fantastic for us? Absolutely,’ says John. ‘Has it been fantastic for Suzuki? Absolutely. We are their biggest marine customer in the world in terms of dollars.’

Greg, left, and John Haines Jnr are Suzuki’s biggest marine customers.
Mark Rothfield

Their commitment includes carrying arguably the best spare parts supply in the industry, at considerable cost.
‘Managing the foreign exchange side of Suzuki takes up most of my day,’ John says. ‘But when I want to get away from my computer screen I walk down through the factory and talk to the guys on the floor.’
Greg has since moved on to Maritimo, working in a marketing role, and under the new working arrangement the two brothers believe they’ve become better mates. John’s two daughters are university bound, and boat building is an unlikely vocation. The family lineage looks set to end with the current generation.

John Jnr isn’t averse to appointing an advisory board in years to come but, for now and the foreseeable future, it’s family business as usual. In the eyes of those who know them, and in their own hearts, the Haines brothers have nothing to prove.

They’ve done the hard yards.