Hamish Whyte, managing director, Furnware, talks to Gill South about the owner-manager programme at The Icehouse.
Furnware is a Hastings company founded in 1934. It claims to be the biggest manufacturer of educational furniture in New Zealand, known for its Bodyfurn range. It has gone from being a domestic business to exporting 50 per cent of its business into ten countries including Australia, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and now to schools in Shanghai.
What made you do an owner manager course?
I had heard about the course from business friends that I admired who had done the course telling me to sign up as it was brilliant for them.
What did you take away from your course?
Lots, confidence, structure, planning, knowing that all businesses have very similar challenges and obstacles. I made 22 friends throughout NZ from all types of businesses. It gave me access to very successful business mentors who offered time and help anytime, people to bounce ideas off in confidence.
What did you need help on?
In varying ways most areas of my business, governance, planning and strategy as we're growing rapidly and some wheels got a little wobbly.
What did you learn from other people on the course?
That we were all equal in terms of, "it can be stressful and often lonely at the top". We all had very similar issues or concerns, we laid these on the table and in teams worked through these often from experiences we had experienced, not from a text book. I made some great friends and had real admiration for the companies they had created and owned.
Did you have a panel on the course monitoring you? What did you learn from them?
Yes great business minds. The focus was to cut the crap, to get above the emotion of your business, planning and strategy and execution. At no time was any question a stupid question, it was a very positive atmosphere respecting honesty.
How has it helped your business as it goes international?
It gave me insights from people that had "been there done that" real experiences, and connections in some markets we were researching. It helped with structuring, banking, marketing and websites for a global market.
Did the course help you identify your strengths and weaknesses?
It sure did. It helped with governance and keeping my business plan and business strategy on top of my desk, keeping it a living process. It also helped review and challenge my team, to make change as required and to build on our strengths and people. I've had three of my key people do an Icehouse course following mine, to better understand our business and each other. Their second tier course about leadership and management gave them a greater appreciation of entrepreneurship.
Would you do a course again?
Yes absolutely it's the best thing I've done for myself and Furnware.
Many New Zealand companies, large and small, regard the Chinese market as the Holy Grail. If they can attract interest in their product there, all their worries are over. SMEs, tell us your experiences thus far with the Chinese market. Perhaps you manufacture there, have an office there, would like to have an office there? Email me, Gill South at the link below with your stories.