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Q&A: Matthew Hill

4 March 2022

Q&A: Matthew Hill

Matthew Hill is managing director of Obart Pumps, based in Maidstone, which distributes water pumps for the tool and plant hire, construction, utility and flood defence sectors. Originally a family business, he joined the company in 1986.  

This is a significant time for Obart Pumps, isn’t it? 

Obart is 50 years old this year! My grandfather Herberto Hill founded the business in 1972 as a builders’ merchant. He also manufactured scaffolding and owned a hire company, Campbell Gray, which at its peak had 21 depots in the south of England. My dad, John, bought him out in 1974 and he went to the ARA (American Rental Association) Show in 1975. He saw pumps made by Tsurumi of Japan and bought some for the hire fleet. They were compact and reliable, so he started selling them to hirers through Obart.

When did you get involved? 

My dad took me as a boy to see the Tsurumi factory in 1978 so I have always been interested in pumps. Having got a degree in marketing at Newcastle-upon-Tyne Polytechnic in 1984, I initially stayed up there as a rep selling Dexion racking and shelving. My dad offered me a job at Obart as a rep and I also worked at Campbell Gray for six months in Wiltshire. I sold my first Tsurumi pump to Underdown Plant Hire in Canterbury, and that was a special day. 

And when did you assume the reins? 

I bought Obart from my dad in 1991. I took on a lot of debt and had a massive overdraft, so the day I went into the black in 1996 felt good, as did sales going past the £1m mark for the first time in 2000. Other highlights came in 2018 when Tsurumi gave Obart exclusive distribution rights; and in 2019 – when I employed Pete McMutrie as sales director! Tsurumi bought the business in 2020. We now sell 30,000 pumps a year and I hope that I’ve done my dad and granddad proud. 

Does the 'Obart' name mean anything?

No. It was just the off-the-shelf company my granddad bought to start the business. 

How is business at the moment? Are any markets particularly strong?

Business is booming. We had a drastic drop in turnover for a couple of months in 2020 when the lockdown shut down construction, although we were still operating. Since then it’s been full throttle, with sales to tool hire being particularly good. 

What is the biggest challenge facing the industry? 

Product shortages. Our Tsurumi factory has not been affected by availability of components, which hit other suppliers to the industry, but we suffered a little with getting containers delivered. The supply of engines is going to be problem later in 2022, I hear.  

What’s the most unusual or challenging customer request you’ve ever received?

Bangor University were designing a product for their Real-ice Project that would pump water from under the Arctic polar ice caps to the surface, where it would freeze with the aim of reversing the melting process and help tackle climate change. They contacted us as they needed a pump that was suitable for continuous use in extreme conditions and had heard that Tsurumi were the best. 

Who or what inspires you? 

My dad inspired me. He was a real pioneer and would always try something new, putting equipment on his fleet nobody had before (e.g. scissor lifts, electric and engine driven concrete breakers, wall chasers, mobile toilets). He always had loads of ideas, not always good ones, but he said “an idea is better than no idea”, so I have always tried new things, new ways of working, employed staff from out of the industry, to keep things fresh and original. Like him, I’m always positive and treat my customers how I like to be treated. He used to say, “When they give you their hard-earned money, you must make them feel good about it – a smile, a thank you, a prompt delivery, no dramas.”    

What annoys you? 


What was your favourite school subject?


If things had been different, what other career might you have chosen?

A teacher. We now do a lot of training at Obart, showing people how to maintain and repair pumps, and I love it. 

What’s the best piece of advice that you would pass on to others?

You need a lot of luck to be successful in business and the harder you work, the more luck you get. 

Tell me a surprising fact about yourself or the business.

At one time we were selling more wallpaper strippers than pumps! We offered them in the 1980s and 1990s. Also, I have attended 36 consecutive annual hire industry events without missing one, from Hirex to the Executive Hire Show, which must be a record. 

Do you follow a particular sport and/or team? 

I have supported Chelsea FC since 1970. I’ve had season ticket since 1996.

What are your tastes in music? 

Mainly indie music, but also New Wave. Groups like Depeche Mode, The Smiths, New Order.

What new skill would you like to learn?

To play a musical instrument, probably the guitar.

On what topic could you give a 30-minute presentation with no preparation? 

Beer! I like supporting microbreweries. 

What’s the secret of success? 


Finally, what would you do if you won the lottery?

Buy an island. I love being surrounded by water, which is appropriate seeing as I work with pumps. It’s very calming. I’m also a Cancerian which is a water sign. 



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