Before he began his career at Volgren, Jim Pittas was a market gardener. Today, you’ll still find him every Saturday selling his family’s famous oxheart tomatoes at the Richmond Good Food Market, but he’s pleased that 70-hour farming weeks are behind him.
“There was no family time; I was working Christmas Day. It was just hard. But then a couple of the guys I knew who were working at Volgren said ‘Hey there’s a position here on the afternoon shift.’
“I said ‘I haven’t got a trade or anything’. They said ‘Mate, you’re a farmer; you’re a jack of all trades.’”
In August of 1999 Jim “jumped on the afternoon shift crew” and began working on the factory floor in the bus finishing area. The first vehicle he worked on (VG-1150) was part of a major new supply agreement of 1000 buses over 10 years for the Public Transport Authority for Western Australia (PTA) – the start of a new era for Volgren.
He immediately found that he loved the work, and the company. His obvious enthusiasm, as well as excellent performance, led to a series of promotions over the next 15 years. In that time he worked with kits from Malaysia, coordinated buses from Melbourne wharfs, was responsible for pre-delivery quality inspections, and ultimately became a supervisor in the field of acceptance.
Jim describes this area of the business as Volgren’s critical link between production and sales and in 2014, while working closely with the company’s sales team, he saw a sales traineeship position become available.
“I spoke to the sales guys and told them I might apply for it. It’d be another feather in the cap and close the loop – I’ve been right around the business, so to speak.
“I applied and lo and behold I got it.”
Just two months into his second major career change in less than 20 years, Jim sold his first bus. He showed the executives at Latrobe Valley Buslines the company’s new Optimus, the bus that would become its flagship vehicle. They liked what they saw – from the bus and from the new salesperson – and Jim had closed his first deal.
“I was over the moon. I’ve still got the plaque commemorating the moment on the office wall. I was hooked… couldn’t wipe the smile off my face. I just wanted go out and see more people and it started from there.”
That’s exactly what Jim did and within six months he’d gone from one sale to 20.
To begin with, he concentrated on school buses and began to make great progress in Gippsland. But the company higher-ups saw how important his previous experience was, and gave him a major account as well: Ventura, Victoria’s largest operator. Later, he landed the CDC Victoria account and today he looks after all of regional Victoria, as well as southern New South Wales, as far north as Batemans Bay.
Jim says approach to sales is relatively straightforward.
“I’m easy to talk to; a good listener. It’s all based around the relationship – always be honest and upfront, never lie and build long-lasting relationships.
“It’s [also] really beneficial having a broad background, and understanding the technical aspects of the build. Because I’ve come from the shop floor, I know how to talk to operators. I know all about the bus and can talk through any issues.”
Jim says his experience gives him technical knowledge that others don’t have, but also empathy. This, combined with his integrity, makes him a good person to have in your corner.
“I’m always here for the customer. You definitely wear two hats [in this job]. My eyes are the customer’s eyes at Volgren and I’ve got my Volgren hat on too.
“It definitely puts you in a difficult spot working with internal teams to ensure customers get the results they want. You’re always in the middle advocating for customers and negotiating with internal teams. You need to be thick skinned. It’s not all beers and skittles. But what counts is getting the right outcome for your customer.”
Of course, the product helps, as well.
“Ever since working on my first bus VG-1150, it’s been great to see them evolve over the years and work with customers [to make them better].
“I know country customers who bought Volgren buses back in the early nineties, retired them ten years ago and still keep them as their back up. The product itself is just outstanding and that gives us a good name out there.”