By: Fabian Cotter, Photography by: courtesy Volgren Australia

IN A CAREER spanning 20 years, a Volgren Perth employee went from bus spray painter to production manager while managing to moonlight as a musician in a range of coverbands - including a John Farnham tribute band.

“We’re a successful manufacturing business and that’s a good feeling. We’ve made every bus in WA for the PTA, which is a wonderful feeling," said Volgren Perth production manager John Pettit.

After John Pettit left school he undertook an apprenticeship as a painter decorator, but spent little time during the next decade plying that trade. Instead, he pursued a musical career that started in his home state of Western Australia and brought him to New South Wales playing piano and keyboard for coverbands and other groups throughout Sydney, he says.

"It was a good life," Pettit recalled. "There were plenty of gigs and Sydney was a great place to be a musician - but there was limited job security."

That lack of guaranteed work, in combination with a desire to own his own home, led Pettit back to WA in the late 1990s, where he found a job as a spray painter at the WA Government Railways, he explains.

In 1999, Volgren became prime contractor for the Public Transport Authority (PTA) and established a major facility in Perth. It was a moment that would change the course of Pettit’s professional life, he says.

"When Volgren set up I was working at Osborne Motor Bodies and they were actively headhunting from a number of local manufacturers and I jumped on board in January, 2000, as a spray painter." 

Pettit says the first vehicle he worked on was Bus 38 and he did so with four colleagues in what was known as ‘the paint shop’. Within six months he’d been promoted to the position of Team Leader and was running the shop.

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Since moving into a leadership role – he’s been promoted several times since – he has felt the natural pressure that comes with being a central part of one of Australia’s most successful and long-standing bus supply agreements, he says. Pettit deals with that pressure, he says, by concentrating on his main strength.

"My biggest asset is communication. I don’t have a fabrication or engineering background, so I need to be constantly connecting with people, keeping people motivated and working through any problems," Pettit stated.

"It’s all about knowing the right people that can do the job for you."

This goes a good way to explaining how Petitt has become such a vital member of the Volgren team, good people-management skills only get you so far, he says; in a job such as his, results matter more than anything, he explains.

"We understand the quality and standard that PTA require and we bend over backwards to make it happen. We’ve never missed a month of deliveries - ever. 

"We’ve been dealing with the PTA for more than 20 years. We enjoy a great working relationship. The rapport between the two organisations couldn’t be any better; it’s built on respect and honesty," he said.

"If something’s not right, we understand the issue and it’s fixed immediately."

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In 2009 John Pettit became a section leader, helping to run the factory under Volgren’s operations manager. In 2019 he moved into the influential role of production manager and, he said: "It’s been flat out ever since" - the company averages between eight and nine bus deliveries per month, he confirms.

Pettit’s now extremely busy schedule, as well as two decades of achievement in advanced manufacturing, fortunately still means he hasn’t had to leave his love of music behind. He still finds time to play keyboard part-time in a John Farnham tribute band and he’s gratified that he can continue to be involved in his first professional love.

Yet he says when it comes to career pride, his contribution to Volgren’s remarkable accomplishments in Perth is without equal.

"We’re a successful manufacturing business and that’s a good feeling," Pettit said.

"We’ve made every bus in WA for the PTA, which is a wonderful feeling.

"I still feel pumped when I see a Volgren on the streets.

"…and to end up sitting in the production manager’s chair, I feel extremely lucky and privileged."

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