In March 2016 Thomson Reuters Account Manager Pat Dawson retired, 24 years after answering an advertisement for a salesperson at Brookers and Friend Ltd*.
Back in 1991 she was interviewed by Stuart Brooker, Managing Director, and Dougal Cable who was head of the now defunct Customer Services Division.
Pat remembers going to the meeting with a rather slender grasp on the principal business of the company: annotations. (The dictionary she’d consulted to find out what they were hadn’t been much help.)
Annotations, says Pat, were the heart of the business then. Stuart Brooker’s father, Percy, had successfully established himself as the dominant New Zealand provider of the service. While Stuart maintained it he was also branching out.
Looseleaf? What’s that?
If I could sell frozen chickens to supermarkets I could definitely sell two books (looseleafs) a day to law librarians
At the time of her interview Pat recalls the company was undergoing a major growth spurt led by looseleafs : Adams on Criminal Law, McGechan on Procedure, Brookers Family Law, Sale of Liquor, and Resource Management Act .
However she says when she first met Stuart she had no idea what he meant by the term looseleaf and absolutely none about the significance of their titles. He talked about them as “books” and asked if she could sell a couple a day.
Pat says she remembers thinking two was a very small target – a ridiculous figure, and surely she could do better than that!
And then, she says, he told me they sold for $500 each. And she needed to sell $1000 worth per day! That sat her up.
Pat’s previous experience in selling had not fully prepared her for the potential shift. However she assured Stuart that if she could sell frozen chickens to supermarkets she could definitely sell two books a day to law librarians and practice managers.
Brookers – a family business
Brookers, says Pat, was very much a family business and Stuart expected employees to take an interest in, and know about, all aspects of its operation.
For example the first day she went to work she was sent off to the factory in College Street where the looseleafs were assembled. Under Stuart’s tuition she was set the task of putting one together by herself.
Pat says she was all fingers and thumbs. It was even worse when she tried her hand at annotating. She got glue in all directions and remembers Stuart telling her how bloody hopeless she was. (He didn’t mince words.) She also remembers telling him she didn’t want stick bits of paper to other bits of paper and that she wanted to get out and sell!
On the road
Pat did get out. Soon she was a familiar and welcome visitor to law offices big and small, through the Wellington, Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay regions.
She’s driven thousands and thousands of kilometers in company cars. While there’s certainly been her fair share of close scrapes and the odd speeding ticket there have been no major accidents. She remembers the challenge of driving a Mazda 323 over the windy, tight roads in the Wairoa-Gisborne area. It was so light she says, a front wheel drive with very little traction. Once it was full of heavy law books across the back seat or in the boot you had to be very, very careful.
Fortunately given the distances she’s covered, Pat loves driving. Her favourite car is an Aston Martin which she’s driven at the Hampton Downs race track in Auckland. She says she’d love to have one but the cost is a hand brake. BMWs come in second and she’s driven several models at the Manfeild race track in Feilding.
While her skill may have kept her out of trouble over the years it didn’t stop her car from being rear-ended twice in three weeks.
To minimize damage from being rear-ended, get a tow bar installed. That will take the major impact.
That says Pat became office gossip very quickly. The first accident happened in Wellington when a man driving very drunk managed to put hers and his own vehicle off the road. On that occasion she took the driver’s keys and rang the police.
She’d scarcely got her car back from the panel beaters when it happened again Napier. This time it was a woman driver who explained she had been “in a hurry to buy an ironing board cover” . She remembers the woman saying to her that her husband had said she should have walked. Pat says she wholeheartedly agreed with him.
The agreement to supply the Courts
One of the biggest achievements Pat recalls is getting an agreement with the Courts to supply the then Department of Courts with access to our electronic databases in 1999. She’d spent years working on it and because Courts were a significant customer and the technology was still new, there was quite a fuss about it. The photograph below was taken and appeared in Law Talk.
She says we looked like everything was under control but what had actually happened was the exact opposite. The photographer hadn’t turned up for ages because he’d gone to the wrong building. Then when Neil Story, (the managing director who took over after Stuart Brooker retired), picked up the copy of the agreement, the staples came out. Bits of paper went everywhere and everybody scrabbled around to put them back together in the right order. To cap that off, the special company pen Neil had brought along to sign the document flew to pieces when pulled it out of his pocket.
The original caption under the photo read:
“Brookers has signed an agreement with the Department of Courts to supply electronic information to the judiciary. Pictured are Jo Lake. The department’s General Manager, Office of the Chief Executive and Judicial Affairs, and Brooker’s Managing Director Neil Story signing the agreement, with Brookers Market Development Manager Geoff Adlam (left), Account Manager Pat Dawson and the department’s Manager Judicial Libraries Dougal McKechnie (right) looking on. Databases built and maintained by Brooker’s will cover various area of law and will include commentary, legislation and case law.”
From family business to global company
Over the years Pat says that the company has inevitably changed. When she began it was very much a family business. Stuart Brooker, she says, was a generous, caring employer. He made it his business to know everyone’s name and because he was incredibly hospitable there were regular staff celebrations.
Christmas was marked by a special lunch where staff were presented with bottles of wine. There was two for those in the first year of employment and four for everyone else. They were gift wrapped and handed over by him personally. She remembers he always carved the ham, carrying on a tradition started by his father Percy before him.
Friday night drinks were lavish affairs with lots of food. While everybody was welcome to stay for a few hours, when Stuart’s wife got out the vacuum cleaner, they knew it was time to go home. It was Stuart, she says, who instituted the lovely tradition of giving a card with a hand written note of appreciation to every employee on the anniversary of the day they were hired each year, along with the day off.
Nowadays we are part of a global company. With that come challenges she says, like maintaining the personal touch. It is very easy for services to become absorbed into corporate anonymity because they are off shore. Which, she says, has a way of lessening responsibilities through removing the immediacy of accountability – something she’s always been on guard for in herself. It was drilled into her 24 years ago that customers are the heart of everything and she knows it’s as true now, as it was then.
I’ve been with Brookers for 24 years and I’ve known my customers for that time – they’re more like friends now. I’ve sold them looseleafs, then I’ve sold them books, I’ve sold them cds and then I’ve sold them online.
From paper to electronic
Pat’s seen the company change from paper based to electronic. She admits that that the transition has not been without incident. Some call her jinxed. She says, if ever a computer programme was going to stall out, or a lap top would stop working it would do it on her. One of the IT managers had a name for it. He used to call it the “Pat virus” and said it infected everything she touched – her phones, her desktop computer, her lap top – nothing, he said, was safe. Pat agrees and says given her history, it’s a bit ironic, that she’s been given an ipad as a leaving gift!
What Pat’s colleagues say:
Paul Lane – National Sales Manager
Pat Dawson was one of those Account Managers who lived and breathed exceptional customer service. To her the reputation of Thomson Reuters NZ and her own reputation with the customers were the same. If the customer had an issue she owned it and managed it through to resolution. Pat was as much about the relationship and the service as she was about the sale and some of her best sales were made with what must have seemed ‘little selling’ to others around her.
Pat was always willing to share her knowledge and experience with her colleagues and I personally benefited from the many attempts Pat made to explain aspects of this business to me when I first started.
Her many customers (now friends) will miss her as much as we her work mates will.
Haydn Davies – Thomson Reuters NZ Country Manager
Pat is one of those memorable people. Whenever I meet Stuart Brooker he says without fail – Does that blonde girl still work for you?
I understand that because she is, and has always been, absolutely herself. She’s a plain-talking, “what-you-see-is-what-you-get” type of person with no pretense at all. Customers have always appreciated that – her directness, her sincerity, and her service. At least part of her success is that she’s always understood the value of relationships, loyalty and of thinking long term.
Anne Ingram – Account Manager
I worked alongside Pat Dawson for 10 years and it never ceased to amaze me the depth of the relationships she generated with her clients. She met them when they first became lawyers and she’s witnessed all their subsequent milestones like getting married or having children. Now their children are having families of their own! Her clients were everything to Pat – she worked for them; she worried about them; she solved their problems … and she did it both inside and outside of working hours. I saw the emails Pat received on her last day from her clients and there were so many it was hard to keep track of them … but the one thing they all said was ‘thank you and we will miss you Pat’ … and they will. Pat will be a hard act to follow … she cared about her clients, she provided great customer service and went the extra mile for them – and her clients will never forget that.
So long Pat, we’ll miss you
Although Pat may have retired from Thomson Reuters NZ she’s definitely not retired from life. She and her partner have sold their Wellington property and are off to a small orchard in Katikati with 40 avocado trees plus multiple varieties of other fruit trees and a spectacular view of the Tauranga Harbour. Pat will look after a large garden and the orchard along with her partner. She’s also thinking of doing some online selling. That she says will be Models and Hobby gear for her son Gavin who has his own business and imports from all over the world.
Her other son Peter has his own apple orchard in Hawkes Bay but is keen to join the family in Kati Kati and grow avocados too. If he does she hopes to go into a joint venture with him.
*The company has undergone several name changes through the years Pat’s been working for it. When she began it was Brookers and Friend Ltd. It then became Thomson Brookers in 1994, which in turn became Thomson Reuters NZ in 2008.