For many crane hire businesses across the country, Gerhard Baden is synonymous with the large scale introduction of the all terrain into Australia.
In the 1990’s, the market was dominated by truck cranes and it was Baden who sold the concept of all terrains to many crane business owners who have since gone on to be leaders in the industry.
Baden arrived in Australia at the end of 1967. He worked for Massey Ferguson for a short period of time and then moved to work on the Snowy Hydro at Talbingo dam where he was a mechanic working on the big haul trucks operating on the project. In those days they were 75t Wabcos. The project also operated Trojan front end loaders which were the largest front end loaders at the time. It was around this time CAT came into the market with its first 992 wheel loader.
Baden worked on the Snowy project until 1970 when he started at Blackwood Hodge which was the distributor for 32 franchises including Terex, JCB, Manitou, P&H, Kobelco and many others. Baden started off as a fitter and progressed to a leading hand, then foreman, workshop manager and then customer service manager. He left in December 1987 and started his own business in January 1988.
“The business was called GM Baden with GM standing for Gerhard and Maria, my wife. We specialised in earthmoving equipment and crane repairs. We had a lot of support from customers like Boral, Blue Circle, Readymix and Pioneer and of course Brambles. Brambles approached me saying it was in their interests that I succeed in business which was very flattering,” said Baden. “They said this, because product and service support was not at a high level at this time and they actively supported me so I could, in turn, support them.”
- Baden Support Services minimising customer downtime
- Nothing boring about the Baden Crane Borer
- Ben Baden Services putting the customer first
“We had five full time staff including me. We had a boiler maker, a field service technician, a transmission specialist, a woman running the office and I was working on the engines. We were based in Wetherill Park and started off in a unit which measured 200 m2. Customers were driving 50T dump trucks up the road from the Prospect quarry to be serviced by us, they were very different times,” Baden reflected.
After outgrowing a number of factories, Baden bought land and built the current premises on Holbeche Road in Arndell Park in 1990 and opened for business in 1992.
“Back then, it was all vacant land, there was nothing here. The Mayor of Blacktown agreed to open our facility and I thought I had never meet him before. On the day he arrives, I notice his badge and I asked if he was representing the mayor and he said ‘I am the mayor’. It turns out he was Jim Anderson and he had been a customer of mine at Blackwood Hodge for transmissions at the Department of Main Roads in Granville. He knew me more about me than I did. If I’d paid him for the speech he made, he couldn’t have made it any better,” said Baden.
GM Baden opened its new facility for business in 1992 and it is busy servicing construction equipment. The business grows so Baden purchased the block of land next door from Blacktown council.
“A year later I’m appointed as the NSW Distributor for Liebherr earthmoving equipment. The business was at a stage where it needed a parts department and a paint shop, so I built them. We outgrew this and I built the current boiler shop which is 1000 m2, with sound proofed walls and a 25t overhead crane,” said Baden.
In 1995, Baden was appointed as the National Distributor for Liebherr cranes and the business went from strength to strength. Because there really wasn’t an all terrain market, there were no salespeople available and there were no service technicians either says Baden.
“I employed David Greentree to manage the earthmoving sales and I brought in my son in law, Anthony Davis, and together we worked on the all terrain sales. Shortly after, my son Ben began his apprenticeship with us and in 2002 worked for a year in Germany at Liebherr’s manufacturing facility. After that he ran our service department. At that stage, everyone in the market was used to a truck crane and not much was known about all terrain cranes, so a lot of convincing had to be done.
“Initially, we sold a lot of second hand Liebherr cranes because the price for new was out of reach, especially when we were trying to sell a completely new concept. We had an extraordinary relationship with Liebherr Ehingen which is the crane manufacturing factory. The then managing director Frederick Baer supported us heavily. Liebherr had a technical person stationed here for four years to train our technicians because no one knew anything about all terrain cranes. Basically, we created the all terrain market and Liebherr assisted us greatly,” said Baden.
The first five years were hard, says Baden.
“The biggest customer we had was Brambles, but we sold John Gillespie his first all-terrain crane, as we did with the Borgers and Freo Cranes. Borger bought an 80t capacity crane, Gillespie bought a 160t, Freo a used 70t machine and Mick Joyce bought a used 160t as his first all terrain and now look at these businesses today,” said Baden.
“During this period, Brambles were the benchmark, they just bought so many cranes, it was crazy. Brambles bought the largest mobile crane at that time, it was the LTM1800 an 800t capacity crane. We organised an open day here to announce the arrival of the machine and we invited 500 people to the event, and I think 503 turned up.
“This was a massive step for us, no one had ever spent $100K on one day and it was big money. I wasn’t spending somebody else’s money, I was spending mine. Because Brambles were our biggest supporter, we flew their people in from right around the country and it was a huge success”.
The scene was set. The LTM1800 was the largest crane Liebherr had in the country. According to Baden, Liebherr have always been at the forefront of innovation.
“At the time we became their dealer, Liebherr were just bringing out the LTM 1090/2 and LTM 1160/2 model cranes. These were the first in their product line up that had the “telematic”, single telescope cylinder extension system and these models simply blew everything else away and that’s why we were so successful in the beginning.
“I think Brambles bought nine of the 90t models and several of the 160t machines. This set the benchmark for everyone else and because the design had a patent on the technology, nobody could manufacture the same boom technology for a few years, giving us a major head start,” he said.
Other brands including Demag were on the market said Baden.
“Demag were here with Tony Bartlett as their salesman. He had sold quite a few cranes, mainly in the 80t range, but they also sold a couple of 200t capacity cranes. Demag was certainly more established than Liebherr, then we came on the scene and we quickly became number one in all terrain cranes in Australia, due to our focus on product support,” he said.
“We were also the dealer for Liebherr Nenzing product, which specialises in construction machines including crawler cranes and duty cycle crawler cranes, as well as piling and drilling rigs. We helped put them on the map here in Australia. In one deal we sold John Holland nine pieces of equipment including LR 1280’s, LR 1160’s and four LTR 1100’s,” said Baden.
As the National Distributor for Liebherr, Baden built a workshop in Queensland, in Crestmead which is south of Brisbane, he leased facilities in Western Australia, and he was about to buy in Victoria when the relationship changed and Liebherr decided to come ‘factory direct’. That was in 2007.
Baden was the national distributor for Liebherr construction and cranes for 12 years.
“Once the dealership had ended, we still had 15 months of orders and 40 cranes coming. I sold the GM Baden business as a going concern and the new owners took over all the staff.
“In those days it took over a year for a crane to be delivered and because I had sold GM Baden, I had to create Baden Cranes.
“Baden Cranes brought in the cranes and they arrived at the units, which I’d built, adjacent to our workshop. When the cranes had been delivered, we wound down Baden Cranes; it still exists but it’s not operating,” said Baden.
With the GM Baden business sold and Baden running down the last of his deliveries, his son Ben Baden, began his own business selling and repairing mobile cranes.
“When we lost Liebherr, Anthony Davis went to work with Manitowoc and the Grove all terrain product. Ben was working on getting a franchise for his newly created business, but to do this he needed a salesman. Together, Ben and Anthony created The Baden Davis Crane Connection where Anthony manages the sales and Ben looks after the servicing through Ben Baden Services. The Link-Belt national distributorship agreement was made shortly afterwards,” said Baden.
Baden reflects on his time in business and with the Liebherr brand and recognises his success wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the OEM.
“As I’ve said, the first five years were extraordinarily difficult, we certainly didn’t make much money, but we had such a strong partnership with Liebherr, and they made sure we stayed in business. We are talking big dollars. They landed cranes here in good faith with no payments. Normally, this doesn’t happen,” said Baden.
The reason Baden believes that he was so successful was because he believes the first crane is sold by the sales department and every crane thereafter by the service department. It is how well the crane is maintained and kept going, at short notice that matters, he says.
“At the peak of our business, we had $3million worth of spare parts, and over 50 people employed. In our best year, we delivered over 50 machines, said Baden.
With the sale of the business, Baden bought some land in Rose Valley down on the south coast and is now raising Wagyu cattle. He started off with 20 head and at the 30th of June he has 570. It would appear Gerhard Baden has the Midas touch.