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Hamilton Ross Group are leading suppliers of Agricultural, Construction, Garden Power, Groundcare and Forestry & Arb machinery and Animal Health products across Central Scotland.

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Family Matters: Q&A with Eric Gardiner, Managing Director & Tommy Smith, Group Parts Manager (Part 1)


Upon reaching their forty-year anniversary milestone, both Eric Gardiner, Managing Director, and Tommy Smith, Group Parts Manager, reflect on their shared history within the company, and the secret ingredients to making the family business a successful one.

Tommy Smith (left) & Eric Gardiner (right) on their 40-year anniversary (2023)

  • What first attracted you to Hamilton Brothers?

Tommy – In the early eighties, I was still at school, doing my Highers. It was a job in the village, so no travel, I could walk to work in five minutes, and it wasn’t a job in the mining industry, which was big in Ayrshire at that point. What also attracted me was the stability of the industry – you always need agriculture, so there was always going to be some kind of job for you in it, provided you didn’t do anything stupid.

Eric – It was an opportunity to join the family company, and the opportunity to grow with the company was there if I was capable. Prior to that, I lived in England for ten years. I was working for Lloyds, as a broker in petrochemicals. And before that, I worked in the hotel industry, first in France for two years, and then as a chef in the Savoy for a year and a half.

“What also attracted me was the stability of the industry – you always need agriculture, so there was always going to be some kind of job for you in it.”

  • Can you tell us about the family history?

Eric – Originally, it was two brothers, and they were called Hamilton. They started out in Marshalls Lane, in Paisley, selling bicycles, cars, and lorries. Then they split up, and Hugh Hamilton kept the Rootes franchise, which moved to Ralston and became the head office. Bessie Gardiner, his wife and my aunt, took over the business and subsequently appointed a Managing Director called Norrie Burnside, who ran the company until the eighties.

At the time, the Group was composed of four hotels located in England and Scotland, five car garages, and four agricultural garages. Norrie had someone who ran the hotels, and someone who ran the agricultural division, while he was running the car division with his son. The company became 100% family-owned in 1986, and George Spark then took over the role of Managing Director until 1993.

Hamilton Brothers Staff Party (1954)

Bessie Gardiner outside Paisley Town Hall (1960s)

  • Can you tell us about your career progression?

Tommy – At the beginning, there were only two people in Parts, myself and Ian Innes. Later, in the early 2000s, when Ian became Group Parts Manager, I became Parts Manager at Tarbolton. In 2017, I was offered the role of Group Parts Manager.

Eric – When I joined the company, first of all I did some Accounts training, and then I worked in the Parts department for Ross of Lanark for a year and a half, then I worked in car sales for a year, and then I worked in car service for three months. By then, Tarbolton was failing, and I was told, “You better go and run it!”. That was around 1986, and I stayed there until June 1993, when I came to work in Bishopton. In September of the same year, I took on the role of Managing Director – so that’s almost thirty years now.

Old Hamilton Brothers Bishopton depot (1993)

Eric Gardiner being handed the Merit Performance Award (1995)

  • What’s your favourite memory?

Tommy – It would be in the late nineties, when we renovated the retail area at Tarbolton. At the time, we had a small retail area at the front of the shop in Tarbolton, and the store was behind it. Hamilton of Larkhall in Galston had a farm shop, and we were quite keen to try something similar, but there was a lot of back and forth with management. So, we started ripping down the old plaster boards, and moving things about, when the then manager came running through, “We have to put a hold on it, Eric says!”. It was like a building site! Thankfully, it went ahead, and that was a major change in the depot.

Eric – I’ve had a lot of good times, some of them I can’t share with you! I’ve done quite a lot of travel over the years, I’ve been to fantastic parts of the world with Massey Ferguson, Kubota, and Valtra – glitzy trips to South Africa, San Francisco, Monte-Carlo, Disneyland, Thailand, Japan… You get sent on nice sales incentive trips – it’s like a free holiday, but it’s always a five-star free holiday!

  • Who inspired you?

Eric – I’ve got to say, my predecessor, George Spark. He was an Aberdonian and came into the company as a mechanic, and worked his way up to Managing Director. He ran a very tight ship, and the company was in very good shape when I joined, due to his drive. I was his protégé, the same way that Jamie’s mine! Bryce (Smith) as well, in all fairness, because although I’m ten years younger than him, he still helped me a lot along the way, in my earlier years.

Tommy – Initially, probably closer to home. My dad was very supportive, but at the same time he did push you, and he instilled in both myself and my brother a strong work ethic – it was just a case of “get on with it, get out” type of mentality. I can probably count on two hands the number of days off I’ve had in forty years!

“The management colleagues we’ve got are very good, very open – never afraid to answer a question if you ask it, which I think is very beneficial to everybody involved.”

  • What’s so special about working for Hamilton Brothers?

Tommy – I’ve developed great friendships over the years. Going through the business, you look at your peers, and you lean heavily on who you work with, and the management colleagues we’ve got are very good, very open – never afraid to answer a question if you ask it, which I think is very beneficial to everybody involved, not just at my level. It’s very seldom that the man sitting here will tell you to go away, that he’s not got time. He’ll answer every question anybody asks him, usually bluntly honestly!

  • Do you have any regrets?

Eric – Yes, I’ve made mistakes, but I don’t look over my shoulder, I just try to keep moving forward. I never hold a grudge, I just have my say at the time and move on – because if you have regrets and they weigh you down, then it’ll slow you down, and drag you down.

Tommy – Hindsight is a wonderful thing. I think that depends on the make up of the person – I’ve never been one for looking back and say I wish I’d done that, or I wish I’d done this. It’s not the way I choose to live my life, personally. And I don’t think the running of the company would have been the same, if the men at the top had been looking over their shoulder all the time.

The current staff and Directors at the Hamilton Ross Group thank Eric & Tommy for their forty-year-long and ongoing dedication to the business.

Read Part 2 of our Q&A with Eric & Tommy.

If you or someone you know has an interest in a career with the Hamilton Ross Group, please send your CV to [email protected] or visit our Indeed page.

Posted by Hamilton Ross Group

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