• Gary Wilcox
    Gary Wilcox

How did you get started in the industry? 

School ended for me at 15yo when we mutually agreed I wasn’t smart enough to continue. I needed to get a job (according to mum and dad) and in a rural town the pickings were slim so I could either be a laboratory assistant or a panel beater. I picked the panel beater job because I’d had enough of dissecting frogs at school, besides dad would be happy if I got a job in the building game making wall panels.   

It never occurred to me why my boss had so many cars in his factory, I was just happy that I didn’t have to work in there. So, for 12 months I did what panelbeaters do and worked outdoors doing jobs like wet rubbing a dozen 40-seater school buses, pressure washing brick houses and making 1000’s of concrete bricks for my boss’s new factory (hopefully with less cars in it). 

It wasn’t until the industrial training commission turned up that I found out what a panelbeater really did. If I had of known panelbeaters had to go to school and work in a tin shed I would have chosen to be a lab assistant.   

Anyway, as it turned out I wasn’t half bad at this panel beater thing and I went on to win numerous awards including apprentice of the year for Victoria and nominated for apprentice of the year in Australia across all trades. I was also granted a couple of overseas scholarships, studying street rodding in America and making prototypes for Rolls Royce in the UK.  

What do you do now?  

I bounced around in the industry until 2000 when out of necessity I started a company called Monit to help panel shops address their Workplace Health and Safety (WHS). The early days were tough with very few sales so more often than not I slept in my car when travelling interstate. However, I believed in the idea and had faith the panel industry would eventually catch on to the importance of health and safety. Today Monit is the largest WHS provider to the panel industry and I get to sleep in a comfy bed. Yay. 

Although the panel industry has been my life since leaving school my introvert nature keeps me out of the limelight. In fact I’d make the perfect mystery shopper with our customers. My wife and I also own a missionary which builds infrastructure in third world countries with our latest project being a school in Zambia. I figured if I can’t help myself I may as well try and help someone else. 

What do you most like about the industry? 

Over the years I’ve watched panel shop owners get pushed and pulled in all directions but they’re like a mongrel dog that won’t let go of the bone. Their resilience, adaptability and tenacity are incredibly encouraging and something you just don’t see in other industries. I’m a 50-year veteran of the panel industry so there’s not much I haven’t seen but there’s one thing I will never see and that’s a weak-minded panel shop owner. Hallelujah. 

What do you most dislike about the industry?  

Over the last 24 years we have dealt with all sorts of workplace incidents such as deaths, suicides, attempted murder, sexual assaults and a terrorist attack. Although all these are terrible incidents the hardest thing I face is the deliberate intent of some shop owners to either ignore their workers’ health and safety or at best give it lip service. Playing Russian Roulette with our finances is one thing but playing god with another human’s life is unacceptable in my world. Sorry, I got a bit triggered there.  

Who do you most admire in the industry?  

I tip my hat to pretty much any panel shop owner that’s been around for over a decade because it takes more than just years to do that. At a personal level I had an amazing trade teacher at Wangaratta TAFE, Jim Doyle. He was patient, encouraging and relentless in pushing my skills to a point where I went on to become a trade teacher. Jim’s mentoring brought out talent I never knew I had (nor did anyone else) which opened opportunities to work with people like George Barris, Peter Brock and Jim Shepherd. It also attracted a scholarship to study street rodding in America and a scholarship to make prototype Rolls Royce’s in the UK.  

 Cars! tell us - first car, current car, dream car?  

The first car I owned was a Ford TC Cortina that blew more smoke than a Cuban cigar. My boss at the time, Jim Shepherd from Jim Shepherd and Co, gave it to a mate, John Sheppard from the Holden Dealer Team, to fix. The only smoke it blew after that was from the rear tyres. Sadly though, I’ve become desensitised to cars. I think it’s because I’ve restored and built so many rare multimillion-dollar cars for people around the world that I have lost any interest in owning one. In fact my current car is a 2004 Mazda Bravo ute with over 300,000km on the clock so a dream car for me is just a serviced one.  

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