I was one of the many fortunate people to have Rob Bartley as part of my life's journey and, as a very large group, we joined with his family to farewell him after he sadly passed away last week.
While many more were closer to him than I, in the short time that I spent with him he had a profound and positive impact on me.
Shortly after relocating our family to Whanganui I learned of this businessman who was the stuff of legend – not only because of his successes as an entrepreneur but also from the work he did in the business sector and community generally.
He was described to me as a man who "could dip his hand into a bucket of dirt and pull out a diamond" – quite a reputation.
So, I was a bit nervous when, on the second day of a new job, the phone rang and, almost indistinguishable over the rumble of a V8 engine, a voice said "It is Rob Bartley here, welcome to Whanganui, I need you to please [do about 5 things] and I will be in tomorrow to meet you and see how you are getting on".
Fortunately, I managed to do the things he asked for well and began an all too brief period of assisting him and his children (Angela, Brendon and John) all make their marks.
He was a decision maker, with an astuteness I have only seen on one or two other occasions in a 30+ year career and he was also a mentor.
I recall, working with him and John through a challenge back in the days when they owned Viper Machinery on Wilson St.
Rob directly determined the root cause of an issue and in a split second then told us how to implement the solution – he said "it's okay to make mistakes so long as you learn and fix the system so it doesn't happen again".
A week later I was back at Viper and heard John say the exact thing to a staff member.
You only needed to meet Rob once to know the kind of guy he was – he was kind and generous with his time and knowledge.
He put people first and gave and gave and gave some more. To say he was inspirational is under selling him, but I took inspiration from seeing him in action.
A story highlighted at the celebration of Rob's life on Monday brought back a vivid memory from a trip with him to Canada in 2008 to visit the AliArc operation over there.
After a day of getting to know the operation and touring the site with Brian Tapa and Dave Harrald (now the general manager over there) I recall asking "where is Rob?", "probably cleaning up" said Brian.
After a short search I found him doing just that, cleaning a work station, broom in hand. The memory, while vivid, was more informative of the man and why he was so successful.
The things Rob did so much better than others was going that little bit further but also having the humility to treat his staff as he would himself but also that no one was / is "bigger than the broom".
The other thing that I will remember of Rob is his great sense of humour. Again in Canada, while visiting a remote island cabin owned by his business partner Jerry Arnold, Rob had me convinced there was a black bear which regularly swam over and visited the island – with a specific fascination for the outhouse.
So, on the first morning I was treated to a lesser-known skill of Rob's – bear impersonation. Suffice to say I will never forget that morning!
He was also a font of encouragement for me and others and it is a great sadness that I never had the opportunity to properly thank him for his regular support and, in particular, of these articles. His favourites were the ones where we feature local businesses.
He noted to me on more than one occasion that there are so many aspects of the local business sector that need to be acknowledged and that , even if in a small way, the columns are a delivery device for that good message. I am glad that he thought so.
In the times that we worked together over the years, Rob's professionalism, instincts, business nous, and skill encouraged me to be better and opened my eyes to opportunity. Opportunity - which he had a gift for spotting and turning into positive results for his businesses, but moreso for Whanganui as a whole.
If I could have one last opportunity to speak with Rob it would be to say a simple "thank you for everything" and I am sorry that I have not said it sooner.
Kua hinga tētahi totara nui (a mighty totara has fallen).