Vale: Laurie Sutton

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LAURIE Sutton, AM, one of Australia’s most successful automotive dealers, passed away Saturday 28th October 2023 after bravely battling brain cancer for the past three years.

Laurie took over the day-to-day running of the Suttons empire, started in 1943 by his late father, Sir Frederick Sutton, working with his father and two brothers in the 1970’s.

As it was originally, Suttons remains very much a family business with Laurie’s sons Craig and Ryan being the family mainstays of the entire Sutton business operations.

Originally one of the first Holden dealerships in Sydney, Suttons Homebush commenced in 1948. Gilbert & Roach was added to handle the expanding range of General Motors Isuzu truck range, however it was not until the mid-1980’s the company took on a competitive passenger car franchise – Toyota at Western Toyota Guildford.

Laurie Sutton

Prior to this, the business saw many years of consolidation and expansion centred around the GMH franchise including a significant leasing portfolio, parts and service operations principally based in Sydney.

Today the Suttons Group is involved with 21 car and truck franchises in Australia.

Brands include Toyota, Nissan, Subaru, Land Rover, Hyundai, Ford, Porsche, Mitsubishi Motors, Jaguar, Volvo, Kia, Isuzu Ute, GWM, Haval, LDV, GMSV, Isuzu Trucks and Kenworth.

Suttons now ranks as the largest privately owned family business in the industry, with this growth and expansion coming from the direct stewardship of Laurie and more recently Craig and Ryan.  

Laurie was directly involved in many activities with GMH. He served on various manufacturer dealer committees over decades.

He was one of the three dealers who initially joined with United Holden Adelaide and Patterson Cheney Melbourne in setting up Peter Brock and revitalizing the Holden Dealer Team in the early 1980’s. 

Suttons support of motor racing was paramount and Laurie had a real interest in all things motor vehicles with the Suttons collection today covering a wide range of performance and basic passenger cars with models from the past 60 years.

Despite the company’s considerable success, Laurie always retained a sense and style of humility and calmness; proud of what his family business had achieved but never one to boast about their achievements.

John Crennan told GoAutoNews Premium: “Working closely with Laurie in the early 80s as State Manager, there was much to be admired about his strong operating style. 

“In his quiet unassuming manner he would never take a backward step in ruffling the feathers of Holden top brass, if he considered those steps appropriate for the success of his five GMH franchises.  

“This included Laurie being ahead of his time in challenging Holden on their competitive franchise policies and not necessarily being sold on the idea of many GMH cooperative advertising programs. 

“With his superb business judgement I, like many, would have wished to be a shareholder in any company he presided over.

“Additionally Laurie and his family were outstanding developers of automotive retail people within the Sydney market having an abundance of successful dealer owner/principals across many franchises over a 40 year period who were originally trained in the Laurie Suttons mould.    

Denys Gillespie told GoAutoNews Premium: “The Suttons’ approach to staff in my mind was legendary. I had the good fortune of the Suttons taking me on as an 18-year-old cadet giving me every opportunity to grow and experience many wonderful opportunities over the next almost 30 years.

“I first met Sir Frederick and Laurie in 1969 when joining Suttons Petersham as a management graduate, completing a three-year training schedule that I can look back on as being the grounding of my motor vehicle business career. 

“Whilst Principal at Suttons Chullora and later York Motors, I was given every opportunity to grow, improve and expand these divisions always under the watchful eye of Laurie and his family. 

“It was indeed a pleasure to work with and be involved with such a supportive family for almost 30 years, much of this time under the very watchful eye of Laurie.

“His contribution to not only the success of Holden until GMH left Australia, but to every other franchisee Suttons became involved with was completed with the deft hand of considerable experience, diligence, likely more conservative than out-going, always with a view to make his business a rewarding and successful place to be a part of.”

Laurie is survived by his wife Di, three children Craig, Ryan and Lauren and 10 grandchildren.

By Denys Gillespie and John Crennan

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