Welcome to my regular series entitled "My Light Bulb Moment". This series highlights a "blinding flash of insight" business, cultural and sports leaders have had in their career, and how this changed their lives forever.

From time to time I have a flash of insight or a great idea that springs from nowhere. Initially I get really excited, buy domain names and develop marketing plans, then think that if it was such a great idea, someone else must have done it already before me. My idea just as quickly peters out and I go back to my normal life.

However, imagine if your idea was a genuine world first ...

Former owner and chief executive of PEC (New Zealand) Ltd, John Williams, was the son of Marton inventor and engineering pioneer Reg Williams. From a firm that started out making two-inch smoke bombs for the war effort in 1939, PEC went on to design and manufacture a wide range of products for the oil industry by the time John joined the company.

However, John's introduction to two experts involved at the very early stage in the design of electronic products changed all that. With their help, and a highly innovative culture, PEC then developed New Zealand's first solid state, coin-operated petrol pump.


Light Bulb Moment

John recalls his light bulb moment happened when "a Shell Oil executive from London visited our factory in Marton, and told us the coin pump we had designed was better than anything then produced anywhere in the world".

This revelation eliminated once and for all the thinking that "someone must have tried that somewhere before".

"After hearing this remark, we were prepared to tackle anything, and to take on the world," Williams said. "PEC applied this attitude when microprocessors first appeared. We believed that this technology was not a passing fad, but one which would change the world. So we decided to purchase one of Intel's very first development systems (paper tape and all.), and developed the world's first microprocessor-based petrol pump."

As an aside, over 50 per cent of petrol pumps operating in Australia were made in Marton.

PEC's business went from strength to strength. It employed almost 300 staff in New Zealand and overseas, and its worldwide high tech sales exceeded $50 million when it was sold to Gallagher Group in 1999.

John firmly believes New Zealand small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are among the world's most innovative. "Our SMEs don't have a large financial investment in technologies which are now 'old hat', our SMEs always apply the very latest technology, and produce world-leading products."

However, John also believes that unfortunately and all too often our SMEs don't realise they have developed world-class products and they, and New Zealand, miss out on incredible global business and sales opportunities.

For a country who was first to give women the vote and reach the world's highest peak (tied with Nepal), we should be proud of our innovative heritage. As a nation we need to actively support and give our great ideas a go.

If you have your own light bulb moment, please contact me.

Tom O'Neil is an award-winning business speaker, international author of The 1% Principle and Selling Yourself to Employers, and CEO of both CV.CO.NZ and AchievementExpert.com. You can contact Tom direct at tom@cv.co.nz.