Gallagher's export DNA

Sir William Gallagher.
Sir William Gallagher.

Few New Zealand exporters have been around longer than the New Zealand International Business Awards - which is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Gallagher's chief executive and chairman Sir William Gallagher reflects on the last five decades.

Gallagher's headquarters on the outskirts of Hamilton is a shiny monument that celebrates the company's success - but being among the best in the world hasn't come without challenges.

The visionary Sir William Gallagher (senior) started the company on a Waikato farm in 1938 - and it has since grown to become a world leader in electric fence systems, and used that success to expand into related areas.

Gallagher won the Governor General's Award in 1983, when the New Zealand International Business Awards (NZIBA) were called the Export Awards. Now in their 50th year, the New Zealand Trade and Enterprise-run awards celebrate the success of New Zealand businesses on the world stage and recognise excellence and innovation.

Sir William Gallagher (junior) started working for his father's company on the shop floor more than 50 years ago - and says there have been some major changes over the decades.

Flashback to one of New Zealand's most memorable years -1987 when the share market crashed - and Sir William remembers it well.

"We were profitable without export incentives and the lower tax rate contributed to some extent, however growth did slow at this time," says Sir William.

It was a time of adjustment after rapid expansion in the 1970s - when the company grew to eight times its size in a three year period alone.

"Organising finance was a skill I learnt very quickly. Now there is assistance with research and development expenditure, which allows early stage companies to have similar advantages in funding growth."

Gallagher first specialised in agricultural electric fencing and took it around the world. It became the world leader initially in electric fencing for domestic livestock, then wildlife, then security for people. The company later expanded to wider security including card access and fuel systems. The group now has more than 1100 staff and products spread across 160 countries.

"We have evolved over the years and the main changes have been growing into markets that are connected," says Sir William of the company's growth strategy.

He says there have been many lessons learned that have become part of the company's DNA - including its branding.

"With a number of acquisitions we had a confusing mixture of brands. One major lesson from New Zealand Trade and Enterprise's Better by Design team was that we would have more of a chance of getting recognition as an international technology brand with one brand, but not with the six or seven different brands we had morphed into," says Sir William.

The company consequently brought the businesses under the one Gallagher brand.

Entries for the NZIBA are open, and close July 8. Find out more about the awards at www.nziba.co.nz

Sir William's Export Tips
Sir William Gallagher has spent 54 years in his family's business - from the shop floor to leading the group today. He shares his advice for exporters.

1. It's important to concentrate on one speciality and take it around the world and try to become the world leader.

2. Target markets and customers using the principle of a rifle, not a shotgun. Be clear that a market is where you find the need and the money to pay for product, remember you are not a charity - you need to be paid.

3. If you have an outstanding product, sell it on its value, not on its price. An example is when we started in the US with agricultural electric fencing, we were very superior in performance but we were going to be five times more expensive than competitors, so our partner advised us to be 10 times more expensive to give us some money for marketing and getting established. We are now the largest provider of electric fencing in the US in dollar terms.

4. Learn from other people's mistakes. As chairman of the Waikato Manufacturer's Association in the 1970s, I saw three members go bankrupt - there were some very clear lessons to learn.

5. Of the 10 clear lessons the most important are: control of the money and know where you are going, pay attention to detail on business arrangements - particularly on the terms of payment, get the sales right - be a bit reactive to sales opportunities and follow down leads. The distributors that found us were usually better and longer lasting that the ones I found.

- NZ Herald

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