Whangarei Company Rudolphs say they are starting to reap the benefits of the mentoring and advice they have received from the Regional Business Partnership (RBP) programme which is delivered by the region’s economic development agency Northland Inc and the Northland Chamber of Commerce.
The RBP is funded by New Zealand Trade and Enterprise and Callaghan Innovation.
Harbour-based specialists in Abrasive Blasting and Coating, Rudolphs primarily work in marine vessel maintenance (Port Whangarei) and structural engineering from their Ruakaka Site.
Over the last two years owners Wayne and Caroline Erceg have changed the way they run their business, its structure, as well as developing strategic plans for future growth.
Rudolphs are now in a much better position to implement their policy of continuous improvement while at the same time conscientiously striving to achieve excellence in Health and Safety, and Quality Management systems. They are committed to being a leader for the Industry in Northland and in the New Zealand market.
The changes they have made in the last three years, thanks to the RBP, have resulted in solid returns with the Rudolphs team achieving very good financial results while, with their Advisory Board they are now focusing on the strategic opportunities in front of the business in the coming 1-3 years.
What was extremely pleasing was that at the October advisory board meeting Caroline tabled the YTD Profit/Loss (i.e. the half year snapshot to 30 Sept) which showed that sales were 23% up on budget YTD, Gross Profit percentage was also up 2.5 percentage points, and expenses are being well managed – all combined to deliver a Net Profit that was well ahead of all expectations.
“When we signed up for the RBP with Northland Inc, it was initially about training and upskilling our existing staff and; looking at what was available outside the industry to support that process,” says Caroline.
“We’d done a lot of health and safety and industry specific training both internally and externally but it was trying to move some of our senior staff into thinking about the bigger picture as opposed to the day-to-day work.
“We wanted to lift employee aspirations and engagement. We have worked with Jaki George-Tunicliffe from ‘Fusion At Work’ – several staff have also completed Fusion’s Pro-activate Programme,” Caroline says.
“We have also worked closely with Ken Wilson (mentor) ‘ Advantage Business’ on exit and succession planning which we started looking into when we joined the RBP three years ago. That was really the key driver, but the timing had to be right for both of us.
“The fact that the plan was there made it very easy to move and execute when we were ready to proceed. The continued support from Northland Inc. over the years has definitely allowed us to invest in ourselves, our company and our people.”
What was essential for Rudolphs in order to innovate and grow their business was to shine the spotlight on improving their business processes and governance structures.
They began their business with an old-school kiwi approach where the budget or target was in the head. That meant at times developing, implementing and executing new strategies and techniques was challenging. However, being open to mentors and working with consultants has assisted them to get ahead.
”We (Wayne and Caroline) were so entrenched in the day to day running of our business we struggled to take time to step back and focus on the bigger picture,” she says.
“Entering the Northland Business Westpac Awards in 2012 was an exceptionally valuable process even from completing the application. We gained some very valuable feedback, which did also inspire this journey.
“We had a business plan and we didn’t do too badly with that, but it was only ever me who wrote it, no one could be bothered reading or contributing to it,” Caroline says of the early days.
“It was time to develop the culture of our organisation and create pathways to management, and support for our people to really think broader and engage in a more strategic way.
“For instance, we now have staff who are thinking long term which we didn’t have previously. We have supervisors who want to be operation managers someday.”
For Rudolphs though, it wasn’t just about upskilling staff; it was also about instituting better accountability practices, better management, better strategic approach for the future and implement a governance structure.
The company sought input and facilitation from Northland Inc to secure services from recognised and proven people in their areas of expertise to help develop its business structure and governance approach.
“Over the last three years we have implemented recommendations and appointed an Advisory board which has been one of the key things we needed to do. It has definitely helped hugely because the board has given Wayne and I the confidence to know that we are making good sound decisions that are also right,” she says.
The Board also provides a strong framework for the future of Rudolphs Ltd.
“In our current roles within Rudolphs, Wayne and I are now far more accountable which is resulting in our ability to target deadlines, delegate, task and empower others,” she adds.
“Neither of us did formal management reporting except to ourselves. We now meet with our Advisory Board every two months. We prepare a comprehensive management report which cover health and safety, sales, profit and loss performance to budget, our gross and net profit trends, workforce, training and productivity, debtors and creditors, plant and equipment, capex, tax, cash flow forecasts and balance sheet.
“I’m a bit of a teach-yourself girl, but the concept for reporting all matters to the board came out of the training and interaction with Ken (business mentor). That mentoring allowed me to develop a framework the board wanted to see.”
Changing the way Rudolphs functions over the past three years has given a rise in confidence in the company to the point where now they are looking to bring on-board new products for service provision and the aspiration to look outside Northland and New Zealand for the opportunity to grow the business.
“We’re in the process of becoming Certified Installers of Engineered Composite Wraps the first NZ based company to offer this. This is a method to reinstate integrity to corroded or damaged process pressurised equipment in high risk industries. ,” says Caroline.
“We’ve also built a new 750m2 shed at our Ruakaka Site as well as gained the confidence to recruit and appoint a general manager in Fraser Johns.
“What the engagement with the RBP has also done is shown us that we needed to appoint an advisory board with wide and varied business acumen, have a better governance and business structure with accountability and regular reporting practices, Strategic thinking, upskilling and motivational opportunities for all staff,” she assesses.
“It has also given us new confidence to bring on-board new service provision products and ambition to look for business opportunities outside Northland and New Zealand.
“At the same time it has allowed us to devise an exit strategy so that we (Wayne and Caroline) can eventually step back from the day-to-day running of the company in favour of strategic forward thinking for the business,” she says.
Rudolphs say they are grateful to Northland Inc and the Northland Chamber of Commerce for the support to bring in external consultants and provide exposure to mentors which has proven to be exceptionally valuable.