What makes one company an export award-winner and international success? Good products, of course. But great staff members actually make it happen.
||Alistair Murray, Managing Director
||Ronstan International Pty Ltd
||Design, development and marketing of sailboat hardware, architectural products and industrial systems
||Sandringham (VIC), Sydney (NSW), Brisbane (QLD), Perth (WA); New Zealand: Auckland; United States: Largo (Florida)
||+61 3 9598 9588
Key Learning Points
Don’t expect success overnight. It takes time to establish and maintain the overseas business relationships that are the basis of successful exporting.
Your power is in your people. Recruit carefully, create a personal and financial stake in the business, and team-build continuously.
A commitment to sharing information, communicating and looking after your staff help keep good staff and a good team spirit.
Run regular company performance briefings for all staff, annual salary reviews, and appraisal meetings. Acknowledge birthdays and service milestones.
Investment in training and in the latest equipment reduces staff frustration with their work. Tell staff members that you want them to feel challenged and to enjoy their work. Encourage staff to pursue study and training by giving them time off and financial support.
The Ronstan International Story
There should be many boating business success stories from a country such as Australia, where every state capital has water frontage. But there are few such successes, so it is worth looking at one company that has been doing very well: Ronstan International. Ronstan manufactures sailboat hardware and related architectural products and industrial systems - such as pulley blocks, cleats and architectural rigging systems.
Ronstan exports 60% of its production through distributors in 33 countries. It says that it is one of the world’s three largest sailboat hardware companies. The Boating Industry Association of Victoria recognised Ronstan as its 2001 Exporter of the Year at the Victorian Marine Week in July.
The Managing Director of Ronstan, Alistair Murray, says that the company’s outstanding export success is the result of high-quality products, which are backed by high-quality service and superior marketing. However, after 25 years of working to establish an international business, Murray knows that export success doesn’t happen overnight.
He says: “From our experience, I would say that it has been an incredibly long road. Success is based on relationships - it is based on the people you meet. You’ve got to go to the trade shows, you’ve got to visit people, you’ve got to travel.”
Ronstan’s staff are the ones who form and maintain its customer relationships - and that makes them the company’s most important asset, according to Murray. “We recruit very carefully. We have selected well, we have team-built well, we have good-quality people. Ultimately, you are going to win or lose on the quality of your people.”
Murray says that a management buy-out of the company in 1999 had a profound effect upon the business. “We have got a team of people that run Ronstan who have been working very closely for a long time. We have got a stake in it, our future depends upon it, we work hard, we enjoy it and we get on well together.”
Murray says that long service and good team spirit are Ronstan’s other great asset. More than 45% of the staff have more than ten years’ service. Why? Because management is committed to sharing information, communicating and looking after its staff. “We like to spend as much time as possible face-to-face with people throughout the company. I make sure I know everybody’s name and I spend a lot of time out on the shop floor circulating.
“What I really concentrate on is communicating. We have a monthly meeting at which we get the whole group together in the factory and we give them a briefing on how the month was, what the sales were, how profit looks, what issues we are facing, difficulties we have got, marketing initiatives. We give them an update on the business and they really do appreciate that.”
No personal anniversary or service milestone is overlooked. Every staff member’s name and photo appears at the front of the company catalogue.
Murray says: “We have an effective salary and appraisal system – there is nothing unique about it. We just encourage people to be open and to communicate. We have a hefty program of capital investment in new equipment. We want people to use good tools and to be challenged by it and to enjoy it. We encourage people to pursue studies and extra training and we support them in both time and financially.”
Murray has toured a lot of factories, but he says that when he takes people on a tour of his, they inevitably tell him that there is something special about Ronstan’s factory. “The people they meet are friendly, open, welcoming and it’s obvious they enjoy what they do.”