Small business: Vee Kessner - Corporate techniques

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Vee Kessner, the owner of Space Studio, studied for a business degree at the University of Cape Town before studying interior design at design school.

Vee Kessner, owner of Space Studio. Photo / Supplied
Vee Kessner, owner of Space Studio. Photo / Supplied

Parnell-based Space Studio, which employs 10, does interior design and procurement logistics for hospitality, retail and commercial groups. It redesigned the Auckland Hotel Pullman (former Hyatt Regency) and completed the Sheraton Fiji Villas and the Grand Papua New Guinea hotels. Over the past 10 years, Kessner has invested in substantial business systems so that she and her staff can remain in touch when travelling around the Pacific region to projects, and communicate with project teams. The entrepreneur is looking at entering the Indian market.

What sort of business systems do you have?

I have put into place systems that mean the office can do without me or senior staff for a period of time. These include: Investment in an accounting system (exonet) that can be accessed remotely by all senior team members who run the day-to-day generation of invoices and cashflow management; a simple, centralised CRM system; clearly defined design processes and templates for efficiency in delivering design; and standardised procurement process and formats that automate the generation and processing of client(Furniture, Fixtures & Equipment (FF+E) orders.

In general, it's an investment in technology that supports the team and the development of simple processes. It's important for SMEs to do this. So many business owners, like me, work in the business, so it's crucial to ensure that it would survive without us.

Over the past 10 years I have set up systems that allow the business to operate while we are working remotely. Many of us travel around the Pacific and need to be able to communicate with the office and each other. Some staff can be on site for up to three or four months, and we need to keep them in touch with what's going on at the office and with the rest of the project team.

We did a large project recently in Papua New Guinea where the architect was in Sydney, we were based here in Auckland and the project manager was in Papua New Guinea. Access to and upload of project files to centralised project sites simplifies the communication on projects of scale. The biggest challenge with this is having access to the internet on remote sites.

Do you believe in regular staff meetings?

We have a weekly team meeting which covers projects, their challenges, who needs help, any systems that need amending. For us it's about simplicity. I've got it down to three reports at the end of the month that give me a snapshot of where we are at. We talk about key parameters in the business. My staff know the numbers, we look at them every month and they share in the success with a bonus structure and profit-sharing.

Why do you believe in having corporate style office systems?

The fact I have a business background affects my thinking. It's important that we understand the corporate goals and requirements on a project. If it doesn't work for a client's business, it doesn't have much worth.

When working on procurement with the client we are dealing with both the developer and the operator of the hotel. We sit in the middle and have to keep both sides happy. Our ability to manage that is important. We have a central project file online and all relevant parties use that so they are dealing with real-time information.

Does everyone in your industry have the systems you have?

I think the challenge for new small businesses in our sector is the investment required in technology. The other big asset we have is the IP of the people who work in my business. Their knowledge is significant and an investment in itself. I have learned to put my energy where I add the most value, and I respect what they can do better than I can.

Do you give your staff career pathways?

One of the things that I enjoy the most is mentoring young designers coming through the business. Everyone wants to grow and have more responsibility. It's about mentoring that and fostering talent. One of the things I have learned is you should employ people who are better than you. That's where the value will come. When we interview for a position, we do a lot of interviews engaging different people in the company. We might have the first conversation over the phone, to see what they are like in that medium. We test the boundaries, as the fit of a new person in a small team is critical.

What can corporates learn from SMEs?

• Our ability to change quickly. During the financial crisis we could be working on a large project and the finance would stop. You have to be able to react to that.

• Being open to change, with an ability to update systems that are not working efficiently.

• The importance of personal relationships with customers. Value the relationships that your staff have with key clients and suppliers, and recognize the importance of building relationships in general, which can't be underestimated. (These are personal relationships rather than the corporate face.)


Next week we hear from NZ's SMEs involved in manufacturing. What are your challenges and achievements, what are the benefits of manufacturing in NZ? Email me, Gill South, at the link below:

- NZ Herald

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