Steve Bullock retires after 11 years at the helm

Rheem has gone from strength to strength under Steve’s leadership over the last 11 years, and we know that the industry won’t be the same without him.

Steve and family on the Great Wall in China.

When Steve Bullock started as the General Manager of Rheem NZ 11 years ago, the very first thing he did was remove the three designated carparks for senior management. With his retirement now imminent, it was fitting that one of Steve’s final moves was to rearrange the office to a more open plan environment, with the prime positions given to the people without private offices. 

Rheem has gone from strength to strength under Steve’s leadership over the last 11 years, and we know that the industry won’t be the same without him. 

“It doesn’t matter what a person does for a job or what their background is, you can always learn something from people,” Steve explained. “There’s a need for all of us to really respect every single individual, inside the business and with all our customers. I’ve learnt something from even the most difficult, feisty consumers.” 

Those who have worked with him can confirm that these stories are a great representation of Steve and how he goes about his business. He’s as humble as they come, and his thoughts never linger on himself for long. 

“At the end of the day, I can’t get too involved with all the detail, so the best job I can do is support the staff. It’s the reverse pyramid… I’m at the bottom trying to support the team as best as I can.” 

When we then asked Steve what he’s enjoyed most about the industry over his last 13 years with Rheem, his answer was, unsurprisingly, the people. 

Steve & Rowena at Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet

“What I found personally is that there’s just an amazing camaraderie in the industry. So, although there are obviously plumbers, merchants and suppliers who are competing with each other around the country, there’s an incredible spirit of cooperation to ensure the best for the customer and solve problems together… We love that engagement we have with the industry. 

“People are genuinely friendly, and people are happy to chat to anybody. There’s no kind of hierarchy. From the one-man band plumber to the largest merchant, everyones’ happy to chat and work on solutions together.” 

Steve says the industry conferences have been a real highlight for him. 

“I’ve had the privilege of attending many of the Master Plumbers and merchant conferences in NZ and overseas. These have been amazing experiences and a lot of fun, but the best part is the friends I’ve made on the trips.” 

Steve and family high up in the Andes near Mt Aconcagua

Another aspect of the industry that Steve has loved is its “hands on” nature. A mechanical engineer by trade, Steve spent the early part of his career working in an oil refinery, which, as he put it, was very complex and extremely large – and this provided quite a contrast to his time at Rheem. 

“We’re a true raw material through to finished product manufacturer, but we also deal with a really grassroots, down to earth business that’s never going to be replaced. We’re always going to need hot water in homes.” 

Beyond work, Steve has also found the time to be a family man, keen outdoorsman and dedicated traveller. On two separate occasions, Steve and his wife resigned from their jobs so they could go backpacking for a full year. 

“On the first trip we cycled 9,000kms around Europe… and that was for about six months, and then for the other six months we travelled through India and Nepal and Southeast Asia. 

“The second trip was in the early 90s and we spent some time in Japan and Korea and then travelled through Africa, literally from top to bottom… Back then, we managed to get through the middle of Africa overland. Now it’s almost impossible.” 

Steve & Rowena at the entrance gate to Chomolungma (Everest) Nature Reserve

While these trips took place pre-kids, he and his wife have taken the time to travel even after his three girls were born. 

“With the children, our first backpacking trip was to China for five weeks. This was just before I joined Rheem. We travelled all around some of the highlights of China, including places where there’s no English spoken, and had a great time there. We also took our kids to South America for five weeks… including the Galapagos Islands. We tramped the Inca trail to Machu Picchu and went to the Iguazu falls… Just an amazing experience.” 

At Everest Base Camp (Tibetan side)

On the most recent trip in 2019 with his wife Rowena (just before Covid), they took the train from Chengdu (China) up to Tibet, and then went overland to Kathmandu via Everest Base Camp. It’s clear that Steve doesn’t do things by halves, and I doubt his retirement is going to look much different. With travel on hold for the moment, Steve is looking forward to getting stuck into NZ’s mountain bike trails and Great Walks. He’s already managed to complete a few of these in recent years, but he plans to have ticked them all off before long – and we wouldn’t bet against him. 

“I’m really going to miss the Rheem team and the industry, but hope to keep in touch, and hopefully still get an invite to something along the way,” finished Steve, signing off. 

Good luck Steve – we’ll miss you too!