Small Business: Company culture - Halfdan Hansen

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Halfdan Hansen, owner of Jens Hansen, Gold & Silversmith, based in Nelson

Halfdan Hansen. Photo / Matt Munro, Lonely Planet Traveller Magazine
Halfdan Hansen. Photo / Matt Munro, Lonely Planet Traveller Magazine

Halfdan's father, Jens Hansen, was the creator of "The One Ring" for Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movie trilogies. The internationally acclaimed artisan jewellery workshop's repertoire includes made-to-order diamond engagement rings and wedding jewellery and replicas of the movie ring.

What sort of company culture did you start out with?

My parents moved from Auckland to Nelson in 1968 so we had already been in business here more than 35 years by the time I took over. As a second generation owner, I was conscious of the importance of maintaining the existing company values and culture and initially saw my role more as one of stewardship. My Dad was a gregarious and genuinely larger than life character. His style was informal and fun and the approach to business was somewhat relaxed, to say the least. My parents hosted crazy parties in the 70s, and Jens had an open door at the studio; like-minded artists from far flung places were known to randomly drop in for a fag and a whiskey with him.

How has the company culture evolved over the years?

Well, we don't smoke in the workplace any more, of course. In the 10 years or so since the Lord of the Rings phenomena hit NZ Inc. our business has more than quadrupled across the board, and we have had to become more professional and procedural. We are still an artisan workshop with eclectic music playing all day, but we now have modern technology - such as CRM, real-time POS systems and cloud based e-commerce - which underpins the business.

This has been necessary just to keep up, but throughout it all we continue to have respect for each other as individuals and we value the team's diversity of experience, gender, nationality and background. Our company culture is a composite of all of us. Jeweller Ray Mitchell was one of Dad's contemporaries and still works here, and is a reminder to keep it "old skool".

We got some fresh blood last year in the form of second generation South African goldsmith, Zane Colegate, who says our workplace is a lot safer than the Minimart where he used to work nights, which had the odd armed hold up!

How does your company culture work?

Simple things like: a sit down team smoko at 10am and 3pm - home baking is shared, and everyone is encouraged to 'down tools' unless the phone rings or a customer needs help in the store. We also keep up a tradition of Friday night drinks and people take turns to choose the background -(i)tunes that help keep the place humming all day long. The workshop is still as it was in Dad's day - even some of the coffee cups are the originals! Our place is described as genuinely quirky and rustic. It has been tempting to rip it all out over the years, but we love it the way it is.

Do clients notice it?

Our customers tell us there is a nice vibe and that our studio workshop has its own personality quite unlike a regular retail store. They love seeing our goldsmiths hammer away making jewellery in the back - it is all pretty raw.

Has it been difficult to keep it as it was in the beginning as you have grown?

So far it has been straightforward to maintain our culture because we have been able to significantly grow the business from the original shop. We recently moved administration into an office space over the road, because we couldn't all fit anymore. This has physically split the team and is what worries us most about the move. However, by being mindful of this, we hope it won't become an issue. Of course we still pop back for smoko, and are considering walkie-talkies between the two sites, which could be a laugh.

Is it important who you hire and their fit with the company's culture?

Definitely. With such a small workspace - until very recently up to eight or nine people sharing 55 sq m- it was imperative that people could survive living in each other's pockets and get on with each other. Co-operation and being prepared to lend a hand is vital. As part of our recruitment process, potential new staff fill out a comprehensive survey (an extended DISC profile), which helps us understand their personality, their fit in the mix, and how they prefer to interact with others.

How does your culture motivate staff?

We have a flat structure where we all work side-by-side and staff say this promotes collaboration towards a common goal rather than internal competition. We are also conscious that people want to keep growing, and actively support a training culture to develop our knowledge and skills; all our sales staff complete Diamond Council of America courses while some have attended diamond grading courses, and gone to Australia for management training. We are one of the few modern jewellery businesses to still offer trade apprenticeships.


Next week: So often, small business owners tell me about the support they have had from family to get their new companies off the ground. Sometimes it's financial but often it's them rolling up their sleeves and getting in there and doing the donkey work too when numbers are tight in the early days. Tell me of the times your family - wife, mother, brother, father - have stepped in to save your bacon. It's an opportunity to say thanks for everything.

- NZ Herald

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