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A Family That's All In

Monday 20 February, 2023
Allin Towbars was established in 1946 by Noel Allin in his own backyard, and its core business was manufacturing
Entrepreneur Penni Donato & Kylie Walden
Company Allin Towbars
Business type Automotive - Manufacturing & Installation
Founded 1946
Head office Adelaide, South Australia
Contact details https://www.allintowbars.com.au/


"It has been a hard slog to get to this point. With all the work we have put in to see it doing well especially given this is a male-dominated industry - and our business is being run by females. It has been very rewarding"

- Penni Donato & Kylie Walden

In 1983 Ron & Carol Gynell became co-owners and in 2005 became full shareholders of the business. Their daughters Penni Donato and Kylie Walden had been in the business informally since they were ten years old. In 2001 after returning from her honeymoon, Kylie was asked by her father to join the company as Payroll and Accounts Manager. She worked her way up within the business over the years and experienced a lot of challenges in between. 

Penni joined the business in 2007 after their father became ill. Penni was the only one within her family with management experience, so she resigned from her position as a Gaming Analyst Manager at Aristocrat and stepped in to help. At the same time, Kylie’s husband joined the business. After two years of being ill, their father stepped back into the business, and a General Manager was hired so Penni could step away and study food science and technology and eventually started her own business in food safety. Unfortunately, their father passed, and Penni stepped back into the business in 2014 as part owner along with Kylie and their two other sisters.  

When it comes to their passion, family is at the forefront of Penni and Kylie's minds. “With the size of our business, it means we can be more involved with our team. We know everyone very well, encourage family involvement, and look after them as though they were family members. We look after their well-being, and some really rely on us for that. We are also passionate about being Australian Made! We manufacture locally, we have a group of highly skilled artisans that are part of our company, and we love investing in their skills and seeing them thrive and to see them seek out new opportunities”.

Kylie adds, “It has been a hard slog to get to this point. With all the work we have put in to see it doing well especially given this is a male-dominated industry - and our business is being run by females. It has been very rewarding”.

The owners have experienced their fair share of challenges. “It took a long time to gain respect from staff, customers and suppliers. When dad died, it felt like we were being circled like we were in a shark tank. Everyone just assumed we would sell the business. A lot of people just didn’t want to deal with us. Dad would often allow people to pay him for his service with goods etc. and we decided to run the business properly and a lot of people didn’t like that. All those deals were off the table. That even included issues with staff. Dad was easy going, there were no rules and there were no time cards or accountability. So when we came in and made our changes some of our staff at that time did not respond well and they left. It wasn’t a bad thing, in a lot of ways we needed a clean out”.

In 2017 the business underwent redevelopment and rebranding, with ATB becoming the well-known ALLIN. “It was an exciting time as the property was originally built in 1946 and although bits and pieces had been done, things were not completed well. Tacked on sheds and dad had his friends complete jobs but it wasn’t necessarily done well. We undid and redid everything so we demolished part of the building and built a new workshop, new offices and a ladies toilet.  We would have to go across the road to the pub to go to the bathroom because the mens toilet was so awful! That was pretty major for us and an exciting change”.

It is evident that the sisters have modernised their business in a number of different areas and it is easy to see that comradery in continuing their fathers legacy. “Creating these changes and incorporating policies around behaviour and language and a code of conduct were also important. Cultural change has been significant. We have done lots of work around values and our focus on the human resources side of the business is on going. Every week now we have meetings and we have incorporated workshops including ones for mental health. Providing a safe environment for our staff to discuss their issues whether work related or personal is something we are proud of and can see how that is of benefit to our team”.

“When we rebranded we gave the business a professional identity so that has been the major win and now having the respect from businesses like ARB and Redarc shows us that we have come a long way”.

For the first time in the business' history, a university qualified Mechanical Engineer was employed. Whilst we had some skilled people around here, dad would use external consultants to assist on projects. Having employed university qualified employees has been a game changer for us. As a result it allowed us to retire some old outdated equipment and machinery to some more efficient, quality driven CNC machinery. It has also been a game changer for our culture. Whilst the business had been successful for almost 70 years, it had some ‘old-school’ processes and ways and desperately needed a professional and structured approach to the daily operation if it was going to survive and thrive.  Now, we have structured and documented processes that means we’re doing a high quality job overall”.

Another win for the sisters has been acquiring a license to conduct towbar static testing for any businesses in accordance with the AS 4177 and ADR 62 standards, a licence and facility one of the few towbar manufacturers have.  

As part of their passion for culture Penni says “We offer a lot of upskilling for staff, apprenticeships for auto-electricians, fabrication, welding and the point of difference is that we offer that to anybody, no matter what age they are. If there is someone that wants to learn, has the right attitude and wants to give it a go then we will offer it to them. Even I have completed my MBA and having those qualifications in the workplace is something we pride ourselves on.  We have a wall in the workplace where we list all our achievements and qualifications”.

“We are more of a one-stop shop now. Our business provides our clients an array of services that they wont receive elsewhere. Everything can be done with us because we also manufacture. That tailor made service sets us apart. Again it's a game changer in our industry. We can fix things on the spot because we also have a workshop” states Kylie.

When it comes to success the sisters become quite animated. “Never stop working at it. Being honest and sincere are key. Standing by what you say you are going to do is high on the value list for us. Our staff also uphold these standards and values and we reward them in a number of different ways to ensure this is sustainable. Customer service is our number one priority“.

“Our family story is also important. Being true to your team, showing them who you truly are, yes there is a place for being a business owner and a boss but that heavy handed old school approach just doesn’t work and isn’t good for the culture. Transparency is something we are especially mindful of and we discuss the wins and also the opportunities”.

Describing what they have love most about running a family business, Penni and Kylie reflect and giggle about their old directors meetings however it isn’t long before they are overcome with emotion. Their sister Sam passed away and while she was unwell they came together as a family to support her and her children. “When we look at Sam’s journey, she would never have been able to live as long without the support of our family business. Financially she was secure and I could look after her and still receive an income and as a family we all did what we had to do but we could all live and survive and not stress about that. We don’t know how people do it when they don’t have that financial support. We were very fortunate to have those resources available to us and to have a family business where we could take time off when we needed to, to have the support of everyone, to take our sister for a getaway or drop everything and go to the hospital when we needed to. We don’t believe that any of that would have been possible without this family business and for that we are grateful”. 

“We are a very close family so no matter who it is or what is going on that is our priority and having the flexibility to be there to care for our loved ones is a gift.  As a result our staff feel that care as well”.

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