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STEVE Markwell, whose automotive career spanned nearly five decades across senior positions at GM-Holden, Nissan Australia, Lada Cars, The Australian newspaper, as well as Holden Special Vehicles (HSV) in Queensland, has died.

Mr Markwell, who was known universally through the industry as one of the most genuinely pleasant people you would ever hope to work with, was in his mid-80s.

He joined GMH in 1964 and became one of the leading lights in the Holden sales ranks when Holden dominated the market in the 1970’s and 1980’s.

Before joining Holden Mr Markwell spent six years as a patrol officer in Papua New Guinea. The stories he told Holden colleagues of his experiences in those years in the jungles of New Guinea were dire and any encounters or battles he was to later face in handling 500 GMH dealers were a walk-in-the-park by comparison.

He commenced his career at the GMH Dandenong sales analysis department in 1964 and rapidly worked his way through various sales management roles to the much-revered head office position of dealer organisation manager where the 500-strong Holden dealer network came under his responsibility. 

Vale: Steve Markwell

The combination of John Loveridge as director of sales and Mr Markwell as his right-hand man conducting all aspects of the dealer organisation, produced possibly the most unified and best factory-to-dealer relationships ever seen in the Australian motor industry.

Mr Markwell was always prepared to tackle new assignments over the course of his automotive career. 

He held the position of sales director at Nissan, headed up Lada in Australia, had a stint as sales manager of a large Melbourne Holden dealership and in 1994 joined HSV as sales manager in Brisbane and later a key member of the Leadership Group.  

John Crennan, a career Holden man, says that his first direct working relationship with Mr Markwell was when he was appointed a district manager in the Wimmera area. Mr Markwell was his boss as country sales manager in charge of the six reps on the road calling on all Holden dealers in rural Victoria and the Riverina.  

Mr Crennan said: “Steve was my clear-cut, best-ever boss over the course of my career. Steve’s management style never varied. He was warm, calm, positive and always full of encouragement and good humour. 

“His disposition did not change regardless of whether he was having a yarn with a cleaner in the office or the directors in the boardroom and everyone in between. Work colleagues and dealers always talked of Steve’s finest operating attribute – a straight shooter,” Mr Crennan said. 

Another GMH colleague Brian Mynott also met Mr Markwell at Holden in 1964 and was his first manager in the sales analysis operation and subsequently worked with him through their Holden careers in national sales and marketing positions in Holden’s head office at Fishermen’s Bend.

“Steve was, and remained over many years, a fine example of a mentor, a leader and friend. He was always positive, interactive and encouraging to all he worked with and had contact with. 

“Steve played a very big part in my development which led to a 42 year career with Holden. He was one of the best and will be sadly missed.

On his watch as sales director at Nissan Australia, Mr Markwell had the challenge of selling the cars made at Nissan Australia’s Clayton plant in Melbourne including the Pulsar, Pintara and Skyline in addition to imports from Japan that included the very successful Nissan Patrol which, together with its shared Ford Maverick, came close to outselling the dominant Toyota LandCruiser.

During this time, the supply director of GMH, Ivan Deveson, who had close contact with Nissan chiefs in Tokyo through Holden-Nissan model sharing, left Holden and offered himself up to Nissan headquarters in Japan as the man to run Nissan Australia.

Mr Deveson proved to have a larger-than-life, assertive-style of manager who fed off a high-octane public profile and the pair frequently clashed, especially over the style of communications from head office to dealers. 

So in 1988 Mr Markwell moved on from Nissan to take up the role of general manager of Lada Motor Cars Australia which had been set up by the massive Paris-based international grains trading company, Louis Dreyfus to launch the Lada Samara in this market.

The Lada Samara cost $11,000 and the three-door, four-cylinder, 1.3 litre hatchback was the cheapest car on the market with a sales target of 500 cars a month.

Mr Markwell used his Holden relationship with racing legend Peter Brock, who had by then split with Holden, to put Brock’s name on one model, the Samara Peter Brock Special, prepared by Brock’s workshop hoping that the “motoring cachet” of being associated with the racing driver would push additional sales. 

Mr Markwell lamented to associates at the time that the quality of the cars coming out of the factory was so poor that he was spending locally $1500 on a car costing $11,000 just to rectify obvious faults with huge warranty costs on top of that. It was a tough assignment.

In the early 1990s Steve worked as sales manager for The Australian newspaper’s automotive section which was produced as a joint enterprise for News Limited by John Mellor’s Newsroom. 

Under Mr Markwell’s advertising sales guidance, the section was averaging 10 broadsheet pages a week with some issues of up to 28 pages a week. The section went on to become the foundation for the GoAutoNews newsletter. 

Then, in the mid-1990s, Mr Markwell moved to Queensland where he became state manager for HSV.  

Mr Markwell is survived by his wife Robin and his four children Murray, Leanne, Rodney and Andrea.

By John Mellor and John Crennan