Tom and Margo Hartley

Tom and Margo Hartley: "We saw the lam walk and the blind see"


Links between a sheetmetal business and Christian outreach may seem rather tenuous, but Margo and Tom Hartley have been forging them for many years. Belief and business are not in separate boxes for the Hartleys; and caring for employees and for the wider community have been a natural flow-on of their faith.

Their family business, Hilton Manufacturing, began in 1976 in a tin shed in Dandenong. At that time there were two employees; now there are 180, and the company’s products are highly diversified, supplying the trucking, caravan, bus, healthcare and defence industries.

Tom and Margo, and their son Todd, who now manages Hilton Manufacturing, were thrilled when it was honoured at the Premier Regional Business Awards of the Greater Dandenong Chamber of Commerce earlier this year. Hilton received both the Corporate and Social Responsibility Award and the ‘Best of the Best’ award for the most progressive company over the past 20 years.

Margo proved to be a most reluctant interviewee, protesting that you don’t talk about things – you just do them.

It took a lot of persuasion to prise out details, but it quickly became apparent that Hilton employees are regarded as extended family. Since many stay a long time, they must enjoy the relationship! After 10 years their reward is a gold watch, after 20 years they are given a trip anywhere in Australia, and after 30 years they are receive a cash gift. The Hartleys’ policy has been to try to employ local people and to have placements for those with disabilities. Some troubled young men have not only been given jobs, but the company has also found them furniture and accommodation; several have been given dental work “to improve their confidence”, as Margo explained, and one who was taking drugs and prone to sleep in would be wakened for work by his supervisor!

Throughout the company’s lifetime Margo has been in charge of the payroll, which she said is a very good way to know all the employees.

Five years ago, wanting to increase community outreach, Hilton Manufacturing undertook the running of a Winter Wonderland dinner at Sandown Race Course to raise money for a Resuscitation Cot for Dandenong Hospital. The cost of a cot, which would save babies’ lives, was $35,000. The dinner, with generous support from friends and local businesses, raised $70,000. Margo and Tom were delighted, as the extra money could be given to another project which had touched their hearts.

“Our Public Relations group at St James’ Dandenong had been making up toiletry bags for the Maternity and Psychiatric wards at the hospital for quite a few years,” Margo said, “and one of the nursing staff told us she was going to serve on a Mercy Ship in Sierra Leone. This is a hospital ship staffed by 450 volunteers from 40 different countries, which brings hope and healing to the poorest of the poor in West Africa. We decided to give Mercy Ships the extra profit.”

Subsequently Margo and Tom spent time on the Mercy Ship and now do speaking engagements for the organisation as well as continuing to fund raise for it. They were deeply moved by the experience of being on the ship.

“The volunteers pay their own fares and weekly board. The treatment for patients is free,” Margo said. “People came aboard with huge tumours on their faces; with bow legs and cataracts… We saw the lame walk and the blind see.”

Another community outreach by Hilton is sponsorship of Greater Dandenong Sings, a choral group a little like the Choir of Hard Knocks, for the unemployed, disabled and lonely. The Dandenong choir performed at last year’s fund-raising dinner, which yielded $75,000 for Mercy Ships and hospital equipment to help jaundiced babies.

Such events have become a part of life for Margo and Tom. The next one is to be a High Tea held at Bishopscourt on 29 October on behalf of Nungalinya College in Darwin. The Hartleys serve on the Diocese of Melbourne Indigenous Outreach Committee, which raises funds and awareness for the College. A gala dinner organised by the committee, for which Hilton made the table decorations, raised $30,000 for air conditioning, bedding and a stove for the student hostel.

Twelve years ago Margo organised the first ‘The Glory of Christmas’ pageant at St James’. (For this, Hilton made the camel!) These pageants have now become community events, increasing to two Sunday performances and a Monday one for primary schools, with over 1000 people – many of them non church-goers – attending.

This is a stunning outcome, but according to Margo, you don’t need to be special yourself to achieve special results.

“I believe God calls ordinary people and equips them to do extraordinary things,” she said quietly.


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