Computastyle Signs, a family-owned business founded more than three decades ago, has successfully navigated the transition to a new generation of management.

The company was set up by signwriters Jenny and Stephen Woolley in Matamata in 1979. They adopted the name to reflect their early embrace of computer-generated signage when they moved to Tauranga in 1989.

The company does everything from basic vinyl lettering to full digital printing, including illuminated displays, vehicles and building signage, as well as traditional hand painted signwriting.

"We do everything associated with signage," said Jenny Woolley. She and her husband remain directors and owners of the company, but son Shane now runs the company as general manager.

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Bringing a new generation into a family-run business involved addressing challenging dynamics common in such situations, said Toni Palmer, a business mentor tapped by the family to help manage the process.

"It's impossible for them to take their family hat off and put their business hat on and be impartial," said Ms Palmer. "My role was to make sure each party was able to see the other party's opinion. These guys did it absolutely beautifully."

Shane Woolley had always wanted to join the family business, but his parents insisted he first learn a different trade. He qualified as a builder and then spent some two-and- a-half years overseas, working in the US, France and mostly the UK, where he finished up project managing a major multi-million dollar building project with up to 30 staff under him.

"I managed to join the right company at the right time," said Mr Woolley. However, he and his wife decided to return to New Zealand and he felt the time was right to join the family business. His parents agreed, but insisted he start at the bottom and work his way up.

"I started on the shop floor, learning all parts of the industry," he said. "But I'd been around it all my life so it wasn't foreign to me."

But just six months after Shane joined the business in 2007, his father learned he had cancer. The family agreed that Shane should manage the business while he had treatment. Stephen Woolley is now in remission, but the couple agreed that because Shane had proved to be an excellent manager, he should stay on in the role.

"Shane had international experience of managing a lot of staff on big projects and he wanted to do things differently, so initially we had a bit of conflict with the old school having to give way to new ways," said Mrs Woolley.

Shane Woolley agreed managing the family dynamics was difficult. "But as business partners you learn to work those things out and communicate much better."

Toni Palmer, a director of Tabak Business Systems, advised Computastyle Signs as part of Business Mentors New Zealand, a group that matches local volunteer mentors with businesses needing advice.

"The Woolleys were wonderful to deal with," said Ms Palmer. "They are very goal driven. They listen and they act. They managed to transition the thinking of the business. They've not just worked hard, but worked smarter. That's the key thing in business."

Trustpower job is a sign of the times

Computastyle Signs enjoyed a big jump in production last year which Jenny Woolley credits to son Shane's management approach, the efforts of a great team and, in particular, to the firm securing the nationwide signage contract for Trustpower's rebranding.

The contract saw the company redoing the graphics on 130 vehicles over a weekend, including 35 in Tauranga.

"We had a gang of guys stripping off the old graphics, and another gang applying the new ones," said Mrs Woolley. "The firm produced all of the graphics and we contracted other members of the New Zealand Sign and Display Association to apply the new ones outside Tauranga."

Graeme Purches, Trustpower's community relations manager, said Computastyle Signs had done a great job.

"In addition to rebranding our entire fleet, and organising for other sign folk around the country to undertake work for us under their direction, they have expediently arranged the signage of all of the community vehicles as we upgrade or replace them," he said.

"They get things done when they say they will, the standard of the design and the work is very high, and they are very reliable. We gave them the contract for the rebrand based on our previous experience using them, and the knowledge they ticked all the boxes."

Shane Woolley said the company was hoping to get more projects like Trustpower.

"Although in the past there have been relatively few large-scale, nationwide companies in Tauranga, that trend is changing and Computastyle Signs is keen to work with local companies as they extend their influence throughout New Zealand," he said.

"We do look outside Tauranga and we have had contracts in Auckland with some bigger corporates, and in the Waikato. We will keep on developing our business and perfecting what we do."

Computastyle Signs

Last year won gold, silver and bronze medals in the New Zealand National Sign Awards

Made the finals of the Westpac Tauranga Business Awards in the small business category.