Vale Bob Drew (Drew’s Sign It Pty Ltd)

By Shane Drew / July 31, 2017 / No comments


Bob was born Robert George Drew on the 15th of March, 1937 in Moonee Ponds, Victoria, and was the first of three children.


His early schooling was hindered by his poor eyesight. Originally the school deemed him as ineducable until they discovered in his second year of school that he couldn’t actually see. Even when he got glasses, he was told he was going to be blind at an early age. He left school at 13 to find work and see ‘the world’ before he lost his vision.


His poor eyesight was a constant thorn in his side, leading to him trying anything and everything to keep his vision and prevent him going blind . He tried everything from full eye glass lenses to the very early disposable types that eventually damaged the corneas in both his eyes. Several ophthalmologists would use Bob as a subject for their students on the benefits and disadvantages of contact lenses. Bob was so comfortable with contact lenses, he could touch all over his eyes without any difficulty at all. Something that his own family found remarkable. He had any number of eye surgeries from cornea lens transplants, laser welding, Retina surgery and repairs many times over his life.


Fear of losing his sight was a common theme in his life.


He joined a shearing team at 15 but once again his eyes let him down and he was constantly the subject of pranks in the dark by his work mates. This re-enforced a fear of the dark his whole life, right up to his death. His most common and regular purchase was a torch. He was always looking for the brightest and longest beam. He had torches all over the house so one was always at hand.


At 18, Bob was the youngest departmental manager for Foy and Gibsons, a department store in Western Australia. His superiors needed him to get rid of an oversupply of stock, but wouldn’t let him discount the price. It’s then that he showed early entrepreneurial aptitude. Bob decided to do some signs that simply said ‘Sale 3 for 10 shillings’ Each item was only 3 shillings each, but he knew a woman couldn’t resist a ‘sale’. He put them on the stock that he needed to move, and the idea was so successful, even his own mother made sure she purchased some of the sale items. He developed his sales skills from that time on.


Bob was also a milkman in his younger days. Delivering milk at night when you are scared of the dark wasn’t the best career choice, but he liked the hours.  Back then, they would dish it out of the milk can too, but mostly it was glass bottles with foil seals. No homogenization back then and Bob loved being the first to open the bottle and get the cream that had settled on top.


Bob was well known for his ability to tell a story. I’m sure anyone that knew Bob well, could relate a few. He had many. He credited his humour as a direct result of his bad eyesight. Because he wasn’t athletic, he wasn’t an intellect and he wasn’t shy, he used humour to break the ice with great success. He did that right throughout his life. He could laugh at himself very easily. Bob gave many speaking engagements in the 70’s, and he always had a humourous slant if the information lent itself to that style of speaking. People remembered those talks for many years after. He had difficulty reading notes, so nearly every speaking engagement he made was from memory. His ability to tell a story made this a lot easier for him, and although he was often nervous, it rarely came across in his speaking assignments.


He will always be remembered as a hard worker. He sold cars for many years when he was living in Perth. He even starred in a TV commercial for Volkswagen because he was deemed to have the best looking legs in the sales team.


Although he sold many brands of cars and motorbikes in his time, Volkswagen was his true love.


One time, when Bob was selling Holdens, a family of seven approached him to buy a Kingswood station wagon. With the bench seats, and no legal requirement to wear a seat belt at the time, they wanted three in the front and four in the back. Bob took the father aside and suggested he go down the road and checkout the Volkswagen Kombi 8 seat bus before he made any decision to buy the Kingswood.


The following day, the buyer came back and shook Bob’s hand profusely, thanking him for the tip on the Kombi. They had purchased it and wanted to thank Bob for his honesty not aware that Bob’s boss was standing behind him. Once the family left, Bob was sacked on the spot and marched off the premises.


That happened a couple of times in his selling career. But, Bob prided himself for being an honest  salesman. He didn’t sell his soul for the sake of a sale. That also played an important role in his life. Honesty and integrity in his business dealings were key.


An often related story of his was when cars started selling for over $1000. The car salesmen of the day threatened strike action, and it came to a head when the humble Volkswagen Kombi had a price rise that took it from $975 to $1080. Bob was outraged at the time. Who was going to pay that sort of money for a vehicle? He could see his job becoming harder and he wasn’t happy. Bob and Shane only recently reflected on the price of cars now, and all Bob could do was smile. A van of the same era as the $1080 Kombi recently sold for $120,000. Bob was speechless, a pretty rare event in itself.


Bob had such a reputation for selling Volkswagen, by the time he’d moved on to a new career, Volkswagen in Germany honoured him with a promise that, if ever he applied for a job anywhere in the world selling VW’s, he had to be given the job. It was accompanied with a replica VW model in the original colour, and a certificate.


He decided to buy a cleaning business, initially with his brother. Over time, he rediscovered his entrepreneurial skill. The cleaning business grew into one of the largest family owned cleaning businesses in Sydney. As his children got older, he encouraged both to join he and his wife in the mid 70’s, straight from school, and that’s what he enjoyed most – working with his family. When his grandchildren decided to leave school and work with his son in the business, he was elated. It was as if a dream had come true.


By the mid 70’s, Bob decided that small businesses like his would perform better with the aid of computerised accounting. He applied for, and got, a dealership for the Commodore Computer range. In fact, he was dealer #1 in Australia.


It was when he was selling computers, he realised that there was no real software addressing the small one or two man businesses. So, he and and his daughter, Kerry, sat down and designed what came to be the first computerised cashbook for a small business, in Australia. He employed two, sometimes three programmers and the final product was sold worldwide. It was popular with all types of businesses due to its simplicity. Bob then went on and designed a program for invoicing on a small scale, for services and trades that didn’t carry a lot on inventory.


He went on to support a new technology in medical science for computerised medical diagnostics using Commodore computers. The software was called ELISA. It was initially targeted at speeding up blood sampling for pathology departments. It was only as technology improved and it was realised the software could actually be used for detecting breast cancer that Bob realised he didn’t have the resources or background to be of any real contribution, so he withdrew from the project. The developers got support from Apple Computers to move the development over to their brand exclusively. Bob didn’t sell Apple.


The software was renamed CELISIA and went on to become one of the early programs at the leading edge of cancer diagnosis. Bob could see the potential and realised that he couldn’t offer much more to the project. Apple computers took over his vacancy and the project went from strength to strength. The rest, as they say, is history


At the same time, Video players were just starting to become popular, so he decided to cater for that market too. He opened a specialist store just selling TV, Music systems and Video players, plus he added a video rental catalogue from an american supplier. It wasn’t until his first batch of hire video’s arrived did he realise he forgot to ask a very important question. That question was – what did they sell in their catalogue? The answer? Sport, B grade cowboy movies and soft Porn.


Horrified, he searched for more catalogues but it was such new technology, there were very few available. He closed the store.


A few years later, Blockbuster and Civic video started appearing. His idea was just a bit too early.


As the computer business grew, Bob could see an opportunity to offer a personal computer repair business to the public too. The initial business opened in Sydney and within a few years a second repair centre was opened in Brisbane. This grew to being the largest warranty centre for Commodore and Amstrad Computers in Australia, twice the size of their nearest competitor. Bobs mantra of honesty and integrity was a new approach at a time when techspeak was the norm and confusion and misinformation was rampant.


Hard work was never a chore for Bob. He had a work ethic that made people notice. He didn’t expect charity and he didn’t think twice about helping someone in need.


He was also a very generous man. Many times over the years, Bob quietly paid for car repairs for associates who were struggling. He would make a position available for someone he knew was out of work.  He’d help anyone if he knew they needed it and he had the power to do it. Without fanfare and without conditions. Occasionally someone would take advantage of his generosity, but he took that on the chin too.


That’s how he got into the sign business in 1992. One of his sign shop software clients on the Gold Coast was in financial trouble. They were using his accounting software mentioned earlier and complained it was giving them false data. Bob spent three days going through the data with his client to end up breaking the news to the client the data was correct, and that they were actually going bankrupt. He offered to help manage the business until the client was out of bankruptcy and then give the business back. He had no real interest in owning a sign shop, but he was keen to help save the jobs of the staff.


Sadly the owner took advantage of his generosity,  effectively walking away from the business and starting another one in opposition, leaving Bob with a business that he had to salvage and make profitable. A little time later he fell seriously ill, and the family decided to sell the assets to a reputable sub contractor working with them on the coast, and start a new sign shop with the clients that they had already, in Logan City, closer to home.


Bob and his son started again in 1996 and now the family sign business operates along the entire east coast doing major transport signage in the tourism industry. They also worked hard to build affiliations with their colleagues in other states and they enjoy good relationships with many of their industry competitors. Bob was very proud of the families achievements in pulling together. He readily acknowledged the team effort with their suppliers and their clients, and was proud of the fact that the Drew family still work for some of the same clients they had the day the took over the business in 1992. Those clients and suppliers have seen some rocky patches over the years but Bob, and now Shane, have always welcomed dialogue with their suppliers, their reps and their industry colleagues. Bob was a great believer in communication and he worked hard to do the best for everyone who had an investment in his business success. He will be remembered as being one of the nice guys in an industry that can be a little self centered and precious at times. His philosophy was that any client, no matter what size or dollar value they contributed to his business was no less important than any other client. He built all his businesses on that single philosophy.


His earliest signage clients were at his memorial. His off-sider from his milk run days was at his memorial. The day he died he was supposed to be meeting with a valued friend from his computer days. His neighbour was at his memorial. Clients he’d only met recently were at his memorial. Mary, Bob’s wife, found comfort in that.


People that knew Bob intimately, know that he wasn’t motivated by money. He was, in every sense, motivated by family, by friends and by his faith. He’s been a Jehovah’s Witness since 1956. He did struggle with the work / life balance from time to time, as we all do, but his intentions were always honest.


Bob was diagnosed as diabetic around 1988 but didn’t take it or his high blood pressure very seriously until he suffered a small stroke in 2001. The stroke itself was small but the location of it caused huge problems and an edema formed at the back of his skull which allowed cerebral fluid to go up into his skull but not come down. The result was that his brain was crushed by the fluid and he entered a vegetative coma. It was a difficult time for the family but fortuitously neurosurgeons from a larger hospital were visiting and they offered to examine him to see if an operation was possible to relieve the problem. It was a conditional offer but the family accepted it. He recovered quite well from that near miss although he spent many weeks in hospital relearning how to do things he had learned as a toddler.


Bob was a determined person. This worked in his favour as he had to work very hard to get back his independence. No-one, including his family, really understood how mammoth the task was. His health continued to be a problem with quadruple bypass open heart surgery, multiple hospital visits with TIA’s and another stroke in 2015. This time he didn’t recover as well. His memory problems increased due to the level of brain damage and his understanding was limited. He needed more heart surgery but his kidneys weren’t going as well as could be hoped. Sadly, between his heart and kidneys, plus the enormous risks of a stroke and complete kidney failure, a further operation was impossible.


He was a devoted family man and was happiest when surrounded by his family, immediate and extended. He was a man with many friends too. Over recent years, Bob and his son, Shane, have often been mistaken for brothers. It put a spring in his step every time – no so much for Shane though. He loved to gently tease Shane that he must look old for his age. It was always good natured.


Bob was a person that had a strong belief system. A strong moral compass. He will be missed by not only his family, but his clients and suppliers alike. He considered all clients friends, and he had a tremendous respect for colleagues and suppliers too.


Bob died July 17th. He is survived by his wife, Mary, and his daughter Kerry, his son Shane, daughter-in-law Cathy, his grandson Ashley and his granddaughter Tiffani.


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