When you first sit down to talk about productivity with Chris Hopkins, Managing Director at Scott Technology Limited, you have a feeling that you are going to hear some enlightened comments on what’s really needed to run a successful business in economically tough times.And, one is not disappointed.
Chris, Director of the Company since 2001, and Managing Director since 2006, cuts straight past any lengthy discussion on unemployment in New Zealand (which on the day of my interview with him hit 6 percent) and talks frankly about the need to work smarter where innovation, enterprise and a good ‘home-grown’ skill base generate positive productivity outputs and a platform of solid revenue flow.
At the February 2009 Half Year point the Company posted a Group sales figure of NZ$13.5 million. Most of this was from export related activity.
The Company’s formal position statement is “Success Breeds Success” but Chris, in a forthright sincere manner, suggests that from his personal perspective this might be better presented as “More For Less”.
As he puts it, his management focus is steadfastly targeting situations where one-plus-one equals three.
To highlight this he points to the new meat industry development where the Scott Group’s Automation Division has successfully commissioned its first commercial robotic lamb-cutting system.
This new facility, located in Southland, allows the carcass-breakdown process to be significantly expanded in terms of actual per-unit output and yet will free-up many staff, formerly engaged on the cutting activity, for multi-tasked alternative duties in other areas of operations.
While lamb-cutting is the focus of this particular facility, similar technologies with application to the beef processing industry are well advanced.
The client companies presented with these advanced processing capabilities are able to secure a significantly expanded per-unit output volume, a considerably sharper per-unit cost framework and, the icing on the cake, ‘to add Benefit Three’, can redeploy staff to other duties.
It is interesting to note that the recent robotic automation achievements developed by the Scott Group are so leading edge and effective from a production output perspective that associated new labour arrangements have yet to be formalized between employer and union organizations.
Chris presents the proposition that as a country we have in past been too preoccupied with the view that if every New Zealander, who wants to work has a job, we are doing well.
He forcefully promotes the fact that every employer needs to look carefully at his workforce and be fully satisfied that each one of his team really is working as smart as possible within the given role.
The Scott Group, which has company origins going back to 1913, has for many years had a mainstream focus on building production plant and equipment for international appliance manufacturers. Success in this area of endeavour has generated opportunities for recent expansionary steps into the mining and agri-product processing fields.
It’s widely recognised that there are five key driver elements that must come into keen focus where material productivity gains are sought.
These revolve around recognition of the need for close consideration of innovation, enterprise, skills, investment and ustilisation of natural resources.
If there was ever a local organisation that can truly hold up a hand in support of all five components it has to be Scott Technology Limited.
But, Scott has to face keen competition internationally across all three sectors of mainstream activity.
In the appliance arena the US, Italian and French expertise is strongly felt. In the mining sector predictably the Australians and Canadians hold leading edge capabilities and where meat processing innovation is seen, Australian and Danish companies confront the local Dunedin challenge.
For the most part the off-shore competition has wider on-the-spot R&D assistance opportunities than what is available within New Zealand to the Scott Group and it is therefore of little surprise that the Company has targeted a team-build of the most capable, smartest in-house workers.
There are currently approximately 180 staff engaged in Company activities across three sites within the country and, an additional number are strategically placed in existing and developing export markets.
The continuing expansion of Group staff expertise and the related innovative achievements secured over recent years have been developed to the point where Scott Technology has registered three patents and has eight pending.
Chris Hopkins says that being able to table these patent positions is an important element in the marketing-mix and it essentially enables the Company, when interacting with foreign clients, to say “we’re serious about what we do and we have something special here to offer you”.
In the half year to February 2009 the Company successfully completed automation systems for customers in China, North America, Australia and in New Zealand. The Group’s European subsidiary, Scott Euro, recently assisted in the winning of a major project in Europe this not only having the potential to provide a new solid work stream for the coming year, but it is a step that could well lead to new related opportunities in Turkey, Poland and Russia.
These results are truly impressive on any international rating scale but when one considers the isolated geographical location of the Scott Group, their achievements are, in reality, off any scale.
If anyone thought that the above gains had been easily made they are wrong. The current economic conditions are presenting material challenges for The Group. But as Chris says “we have great skills, expertise and experience and these are being focused towards capturing new opportunities that will anchor future revenue streams”.
He’s still quietly swinging off his own private “More For Less” platform.
We will be watching how this Company continues to expand it’s productivity base and I’m sure there will be more lessons for other concerns on how best to seize the opportunities, even in tough economic times.
John Scandrett, CEO
Otago Southland Employers Association