A chat with Craig Clarke

Published Friday 21 September 2018


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We chat to Craig Clarke, Sales Manager for Tasman Toyota Group in Taranaki about his road from a carpainter to the next CEO of Tasman Toyota Group.   

Tell us about the journey that led you to your current role.

I started working in the vehicle Industry from a young age leaving school early to become a car painter.  My sister’s boyfriend at the time was a car painter and he seemed really well off and owned motorbikes, cars and all of that fun stuff. What I didn’t know is that he was importing cars from Japan and selling them, making heaps of money and painting cars was his side job. Doh!

I completed my trade and  I got into motorsport and motor racing, all of things that young boys do. I got sick of working for somebody else and at age 20 I started my own business, painting vehicles and selling accessories. I ran this for 5 years with 6 staff, during which I had lots of high and low moments. I found out pretty quickly that I couldn’t blame anyone, I had to be responsible for everything and I learnt a lot about my management style during these 5 years.

When a number of  big names in vehicle accessories started up in town I struggled to compete so I decided to sell my business and start a new venture.

A good friend of mine, Daryn Pennington, who is the currently CEO of Max Pennington’s Auto City offered me a position selling vehicles, which I enthusiastically accepted. At Auto City I sold new and used vehicles. I had a good work ethic and enjoyed the customer experience, which lead me to becoming  the Nissan and Suzuki Sales Manager.

In those days there was a lot more happening within the used vehicle arena and that was where the money was, so I decided I needed to move and got offered a position at Tasman Toyota.

Leaving Auto City was really tough but Daryn was extremely supportive of my choice to grow and encouraged me to take on this new opportunity.

I started as a used vehicle salesman in 2005 and I really enjoyed being in the Toyota family with heaps of resources available to you if you’re willing to learn. I actually started off in a lower position than what I was in at Max Pennington’s but I knew with hard work and dedication I would be able to climb and progress within Toyota. I was determined so it wasn’t long before I became the Used Vehicle Manager. From there I went on to become the General Sales Manager of new and used vehicles and then got the opportunity from the major shareholders James Crighton and Lance Wagstaff, to buy into the company, with a progression to replace James as CEO.  

I have been in the vehicle industry for 28 years now and I am very grateful for all the opportunities that have been provided to me and I am excited to see what the future holds.


What are you most excited or passionate about?

I love the outdoors, cars and motorsports (having done a large amount of racing myself). I’m also very passionate about fitness and have completed 2 full Ironman’s and currently am enjoying CrossFit. I have met so many amazing people through competing and learnt so much about myself.  

I feel really good when helping my friends, staff and our customers. I know it’s impossible to make everyone happy but always try with anyone I interact with and I feel I have very good emotional intelligence, a strength that has helped me with my management skills and leadership.

My philosophy has always been to  remember what it was like to be a school kid, apprentice or  a car salesman who wasn’t always treated very nicely by people and to ensure that I treat everyone I encounter with the utmost of respect. You never know if they could be future customers or even your boss one day. Always be kind to people!

What goals do you most want to accomplish?

I strive to have a happy life and positively influence the people that surround me in their life as well.

I’m looking forward to taking over as CEO and being responsible for nearly 80 staff and their happiness. I can’t make everybody happy but I want to think of everyone’s needs and make sure they enjoy coming to work.

Then I’d love to be able to lift the trophy for the best dealership like James did in 2007.

Do you have any key mentors or people who deeply influenced who you are, what you believe in and what you’re committed to in your work and life?  Tell me about them.

I take a little bit of good out of everyone and am influenced by many different people, but there are a few people that come to mind. Firstly my dad has always been that person who can do anything, fix anything and competed at national level for cycling. His love for computers massively helped me. We grew up with the first computer and he taught me a lot about them which has helped throughout my career and life as the world has become more tech savvy.

Daryn and Max Pennington because they took a chance on me and launched my career into the motor industry when I had no prior experience. Without them opening up that door I wouldn’t be where I am today. I've enjoyed everything I have done and been given lots of opportunities to travel within this industry.

James Crighton for taking a chance on me and the opportunities he has provided me throughout my career. James has done a lot for me both personally and career wise and I could not thank him enough for this. I have learnt a lot about running a car dealership business from James.

I have known Mike Hannam since the age of 12, he’s always been a very relatable, a good guy and is always there to listen and offer sound advice. He’s taught me a lot regarding the importance of active listening and engaging in conversations.

And lastly I wouldn’t be where I am today without the loving continuous support and cooperation of my wife Suz as I am often away a lot and work late hours.

What skills have come in handy throughout your career?

People skills:

I enjoy people and I like making people happy. Where there’s a will there’s a way, if you really want to achieve something you will find a way to do it.  

Computer skills:

The world revolves around technology, so you need to get your skills up to date to avoid being left behind.

Problem solving:

An extremely handy skill. For example there was a problem with our valet department and I took it upon myself to improve this department which has in turn become very profitable.

Being passionate:

Having a passion for cars and working across multiple areas within the industry has helped me as a manager so I can help out in a lot of different areas. Essentially this knowledge will help make you irreplaceable.

What’s next?

I received a scholarship from Toyota Finance services New Zealand and I’m finishing off my Advanced Diploma in Leadership with the Institute of Management Australia which I have been working on for the last 3 years. This qualification will provide me with the skills I need to take over as CEO.  In October we do a big Kaizen (Continuous Improvement) presentation and if that goes well I’ll graduate.

It’s been awesome as I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Australia and have made some amazing friends along the way including Glen Rutherford and James Harvey who are now CEOs of Toyota Dealerships.

I hope to eventually buy more shares in Tasman Toyota and ultimately taking over full ownership of Tasman Toyota would be my end goal.

What lessons you would like to share with anyone who is looking at joining the motor industry?

It’s a massive industry, from the outside it looks simple but it is very complicated and the best thing is to have a really good work ethic. Always put  your hand up to learn new things, and be willing and hungry to learn.

Don’t let obstacles get in your way, anything can be taught these days except for the right attitude. A lot of places hire based on the right attitude and not because of skills.

We deal with a range of people on a daily basis, understanding and reading their needs and wants will be a huge asset.

I started as a car painter, now I am an owner in a multimillion dollar business and will potentially have up to 80 staff under me. If I can do it, anyone can do it with the right attitude.