Herbert Appleroth is a man who doesn’t sleep until he’s crossed the checkered flag. This unyielding attitude towards back-breaking work has seen him rise to the top of the game as the CEO of Ferrari Australasia.
Aided by his passion for all things fast as a child, Appleroth went from sorting bottle tops at age five in his parents’ factory to leading one of the world’s most legendary car makers. D’Marge sits down with Appleroth to chat about the early days, fast cars and sage business advice as our Man About Town.
MH: What do you love about cars?
HA: I think it came from growing up in a household that loved cars. Both mum and dad were passionate car people. Mum loved her nice cars so she certainly loved anything fast. My dad was even worse.
He was always off raising money for charity and mixing that with his passion for cars. He was also a big Jaguar guy.
MH: So mum was co-driver to dad?
HA: On some of the things, yeah. But she was basically left to look after the kids while he went and had fun.
“I owned a Ferrari before I even owned a home.”
MH: How did your own love for cars come about?
HA: I was always brought up around fast cars. I was the kid that used to race to the newsagency. I knew exactly what time the delivery was occurring and I was there ripping the plastic cover off Motor Magazine and Wheels Magazine as they were delivered.
As a kid I saved up every cent of pocket money just on car magazines and I suppose that hasn’t changed. Now I can afford a couple more magazines – actually, now they get delivered to me for free.
Isn’t that a weird thing? Now [that] I can afford them, I get them for free. It would have been easier when I was a kid. My walls in my bedroom were covered with car magazines.
MH: What cars did you have on the wall?
HA: Ferrari F40, Testarossa and Lamborghini Countach. Even Vectors. Back in those days every edition of Wheels Mag and Modern Motor had the centrefold pull-out. Even more classic cars back then which is strange for a boy – we’re talking 250GT Daytonas.
It was mainly about how I loved design before the eco-conscious era and before the wind tunnel took over. Cars were penned to be beautiful.
MH: The passion never waned over the years?
HA: Some of the car magazines left and a couple of good looking girls started to go up on the wall from a certain age, so I still always loved beautiful things.
The noise for me was a big thing. My dad’s cars always had a good sound. I loved going motor racing and my family sponsored a V8 Supercar team back then.
MH: Tell us about your childhood.
HA: I’m a Sydney boy but every weekend we were on a farm because we had a property in Wilberforce in Windsor. From seven years of age I was on a motorbike at the crack of dawn. My parents wouldn’t see me unless I had to fill up the tank or if it was time for dinner. That was it.
I was out riding bikes with mates and creating jumps. Then I raced jet-skis when I was old enough to get my license. I always loved fast boats and cars and it kind of grew from there and then the passion turned into a career.
“I’ve always been a really competitive person…Anything I did I always had to win.”
MH: How does someone become the CEO of Ferrari Australia?
HA: I don’t think there’s one way. First and foremost I had a passion for cars. So I went out of University and I didn’t step straight into a job at Ferrari. I worked my way up in brands like Volkswagen and Audi, I launched Jeep and Chrysler in this country and re-launched Maserati.
Bit by bit I got into more of the exotic thing from a professional point of view but from a personal point of view as a kid, I had a huge passion for Ferrari. I suppose the result of working my absolute tail off from every school holiday in our family business, to working hard straight out of University with no mucking around.
I went straight into the work force and really worked hard to move up pretty quickly. This enabled me to buy my first Ferrari at twenty six. I owned a Ferrari before I even owned a home. So that was my priority in life. It was just a wonderful day and I still remember it vividly.
MH: Where did you get the motivation from such a young age?
HA: It’s a matter of how much you can squeeze in twenty-four hours. I was good at University but again, I got distracted by the party scene and I actually moved to Queensland away from everything. I left all of my friends here in Sydney, changed Universities and then focused completely on my studies and worked my backside off.
The youngest age I could, I was punching above my weight. I was always pushing. Straight out of Uni I was twenty one and I was promoted to be the National Dealer Manager in the first six months. I just wanted to be the head of the next step. To be honest, position was never actually part of it.
I’ve always been a really competitive person so I was competitive in everything I did whether it was in athletics, tennis or swimming. Anything I did I always had to win; it doesn’t matter what I do or where I am.
MH: You were never keen to take on the family business?
HA: I knew I wanted to get in the car business. I could have gone into a lot of other different businesses, particularly the family business but I chose not to. My mother was a fantastic supporter. She really wanted me to do what I wanted to do.
MH: Tell us about your very first job?
HA: I worked for my family business. Our company is the trading company which owned Aeroplane Jelly and I remember being five or six and my father brought home these two massive boxes of bottle tops. These were tops which fitted on our bottles and some bright spark had mixed the 25mm bottle tops with 50mm bottle tops.
If you put it in the machine, you destroy a $5 million machine. So there I was, five or six, separating these tops…I can’t even remember if I got paid. But from then it went to my father giving me a very organised management traineeship throughout my company.
I started at age seven all through my school holidays. Either I was playing tennis or working at the family business. And that also meant putting bottles on a conveyor belt every two and a half seconds.
Whether it was working on the conveyor belt or working in the warehouses every school holidays, I loved it. Absolutely loved it.
MH: You didn’t crave free time like the other kids?
HA: No, not at all. I mean it was a family business and it was what my father was about and I suppose I looked up to my father more than anyone else; I aspired to be like him and that’s what you do. I didn’t know anything different. I love working hard. That’s my DNA. My father was the same, his father was the same.
MH: Are there sacrifices in taking on such a big role at Ferrari?
HA: A lot. I suppose I’m just starting to get to grips with that now. Everything was about career and I’m lucky enough that my wife followed me. In 2005 we moved to Italy and luckily she’s Italian so that made it easier. But for us to uproot ourselves and then go to Japan where she wasn’t so comfortable…I’ve realised that it took for me to have a little girl to know that I’ve got to get rid of this jet-set lifestyle and ‘putting life second’ thing.
We’ve moved back to Australia specifically for that.
MH: Is it a bit more relaxed now?
HA: Career is still important but it became more about how to juggle. Instead of juggling time with my wife or my friends and work, now it’s basically my work and my daughter. And that comes as a sacrifice. I’d love to be at the gym everyday. [But] I eat too late, I’m at too many parties. So physically it has an impact on you. I’ve got to find that 25th and 26th hour of the day and I’ll be right.
MH: We’re talking seven days a week working?
HA: Yeah, easy. Seven days and I don’t stop. I get about 4.5 hours of sleep a night.
“I don’t think it’s a generational thing. If you’re hungry, you’re hungry.”
MH: Moving away from your work ethic, tell us about your very first car.
HA: You don’t want to know.
MH: I do want to know. Hatchback?
HA: Worse. I worked for my family and scraped together $5,200. It was the only thing within my budget and as long as it had wheels…it was a beige Mitsubishi Colt.
MH: That thing would have lasted you a while.
H: That lasted about a year. I did everything I could to modify a Mitsubishi Colt so it was the quickest Mitsubishi Colt. My next car was a race car but it was nothing prestigious. I was around seventeen or eighteen. It was a Toyota Corolla Twin Cam race car. So I’ve had some interesting cars. Then I’ve had everything from AC Cobras to RX-7s. I was a big fan of the BMW M3 growing up; I’ve had four BMW M3s.
MH: This was all before the age of thirty?
HA: Oh yeah. This was before the age of twenty five.
MH: And you spent your first big paycheque on the Ferarri?
HA: A Ferrari 355. It was my biggest debt. Watches were from my secondary budget. It went cars, house, boat and then watches. But mind you, I remember saving up for my first TAG Heuer F1. This was when TAG was the hottest thing. In the 80s it was a huge brand here. The F1 was the aspirational piece. The easy acquisition or success piece was buying a TAG.
MH: What’s your timepiece collection like nowadays?
HA: I probably have forty or fifty watches. I’ve got a few Richard Milles, some Pateks, lots of Franck Mullers and Panerais. I’m a big fan of Cartier special collector pieces. And obviously the sports watches like Rolex. The Ferrari Big Bang is my own personal watch. I’m a massive fan of Jean-Claude Biver who basically recreated Hublot and is now the head of the LV watch division.
MH: If a young guy wanted to follow in your foot steps, would mentorship be their best bet?
HA: I think it would be nice, but I think you have to have that determination yourself anyway. I’ve taken on a couple of younger blokes to try and groom them and unfortunately sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. If they don’t have that same drive and determination as me, they’re going to get burnt out by me. If I’m in 7th gear and they’re only in 2nd gear, your expectations are too much and that’s not fair on them.
MH: So it could be a generational thing?
HA: I don’t think it’s a generational thing. If you’re hungry, you’re hungry. I’m always reading interesting pieces in IT where guys are twenty five and they blow me away. I used to be the youngest guy by far and now I’m just the normal age at my role.
MH: The best business advice you’ve ever received?
HA: It’s actually someone I’ve only met once and it wasn’t a mentor for me at all. Kerry Packer. His famous saying which was always “under promise and over deliver” was for me was the best word of advice I got for inspiration.
I was reading about him and he’s a tough old bloke. And he was always right. Under promise, over deliver. And now it’s called something fancy like ‘Customer Delight’.