A turtle swimming toward South America is carrying a piece of Hawke’s Bay on its back.

Students in Dubai, Hong Kong, Australia, the Pacific Islands and New Zealand sit in comfortable classroom furniture designed by one of Hastings’ longest-established firms.

And a small Hastings firm is involved in the collection and recycling of thousands of litres of unwanted paint sitting in Kiwi sheds, and picking up the plastic wrapping from bales of silage on the nation’s farms.

These Hawke’s Bay companies are not relying on sheep, cattle, fruit or grapes for their success. They just like the Bay’s lifestyle and have the entrepreneurial flair to be able to run their businesses from here.

The province has always had its iconic images of hot dry summers, sheep and beef on rolling pastures, rows of orchards and vineyards, Mission Concerts and Art Deco architecture. The lifestyle those images conjure up has lured more than campervans and shiploads of visitors to visit the region.

They have also lured people who have opted for the Hawke’s Bay lifestyle, often for family reasons, but with a sharp eye for opportunities that don’t rely on the Bay’s primary producers. Often they operate below the region’s commercial radar, quietly building overseas export markets with innovative products.

When they talk about their reasons for basing themselves in the Bay, rather than Auckland or elsewhere, they have common themes. They enjoy living in the Bay; it offers good schooling for young families; the region has a good infrastructure of roading; the Port of Napier is a convenient outlet for exports; and most of the resources they need, including suitable staff, are available locally.

The region’s local government does not part a key role in their success, but those Baybuzz spoke to believed councils would give them any support they needed. Even the proximity of Napier and Hastings, often seen as an impediment because of their past political rivalry, is seen as providing the region with two distinct centres with their own roles to play.

Wrapping up recycling

Innovative Hastings firm 3R Group was founded by Graeme Norton and former Waipawa man Bruce Emerson in 2004. It was the first company to devise a commercial recycling programme that set about recovering an estimated 20 million litres of leftover paint that sit around in New Zealand sheds and workshops. It also developed a way of collecting and recycling the estimated 320,000km of plastic used to wrap bales of silage and the millions of plastic agrichemical containers used on New Zealand farms every year. 

The company’s name is derived from the words “responsible resource recovery”.  Both men had previously worked for All Brite Industries, so had a good understanding of the recycling industry. They considered that there were plenty of businesses picking the low-hanging fruit such as paper and plastic bottles, but no one was addressing some of the more problematic wastes such as old paint and on-farm plastics.

Shortly after the company was founded, 3R began to work with Resene Paints on a six-month trial to develop a recovery programme for old paint and containers in a controlled way. The result of the trial led to the development and rollout of Resene PaintWise. The programme has developed an impressive mobile paint decanting system and paint-can crusher. The PaintWise truck picks up the unwanted paint and packaging from Resene stores and other public outlets nationwide.

So far more than 300,000 paint cans have been collected, 120,000kg of steel cans recycled and more than 60,000 litres of paint have been donated to community groups to be used to cover graffiti.  Now there are plans to introduce the concept into Australia. 3R, in conjunction with Fletcher Building, Golden Bay Cement and Resene, have also developed a product called PaintCrete, which uses waste acrylic and latex paint in concrete to reduce the cement content while extending the life of the concrete.

The Agrecovery rural recycling programme, which collects plastic silage wrap and agrichemical containers, came about when 3R was commissioned to design a solution to on-farm plastics waste by a range of primary sector stakeholders. The Agrecovery Foundation was formed in 2006 to govern the programme which started in April 2007. Like the PaintWise programme, Agrecovery  has 50 nationwide collection sites and a purpose built truck which shreds the plastic  agrichemical containers.

3R director Graeme Norton says Agrecovery and PaintWise are not just recycling programmes; they are examples of product stewardship. Every product has a life cycle and product stewardship ensures that the producers of a product take a whole-of-life attitude also, which means taking responsibility for the eventual disposal of that product. That’s where 3R comes in — at the problem end of a product’s life.  “Putting a cost on the end of the life of a product makes people think about the recycling of it,” he says.

In Europe domestic appliances and other consumer goods have built-in costs or regulations covering their disposal. That cost encourages companies to look at ways of recovering that cost by looking at assembly methods and improving product designs.

Bruce Emerson said that in the case of Resene’s PaintWise programme, the first principle adopted was that everything was recyclable and all the ingredients coming back were handled on that basis. Developing the mobile separation and crushing technology was no easy task with the initial prototype being destroyed in six months. “As there was no precedent to follow worldwide we had to make it up as we went along, so we are now on our fourth version.”

In 2007 3R received the Sustainable Business Network award in Sustainable Design and Innovation for the PaintWise mobile crushing technology. A static version of the crusher has proved so successful that there are plans to sell the technology outside New Zealand. 3R Group also won the Supreme Business of the Year award at last year’s Hawke’s Bay Chamber Westpac business awards.

“We’ve been successful because we have an eye for opportunity, but also because we thoroughly plan what we do and execute that plan with passion,” says Bruce. “The challenge with that is to get everyone to share that same passion.”

“Philosophically, we’re learning we need to be more interconnected than we have been. It’s almost at the point where we’re so remote from activities that we don’t see their effects.

While the field of environmental sustainability is becoming better understood, the difficulty of growing a business and accessing capital should not be underestimated, said Graeme. Ideally he would like to see a system evolve which encourages Hawke’s Bay people to invest more in local businesses and feel they have a greater stake in their community.

3R Group also encourages its staff to become involve in community activities and self-improvement courses, introducing its Good Friday policy which allows staff to apply for up to six days of paid leave a year, on top of their other leave entitlements, for educational study, self-development courses such as Outward Bound, community and voluntary work or public duty such as the Territorial Army, jury duty or other public office requirements.

Bruce and Graeme and their fellow workers have cut firewood for the elderly and planted trees along the Karamu Stream for World Environment Day. They also support community initiatives such as Henare O’Keefe’s Tunutunu campaign to tackle violent crime and plan to do their bit by joining him on his regular community sessions, where the mobile BBQ  is dishing out sausages and meat patties to young people in need.

Graeme and Bruce could run their business from any part of New Zealand but Hawke’s Bay’s lifestyle ensures this is their base. “It would have been challenging 10 years ago to operate from here, but the living conditions here make it an attractive place to be,” [he?] says. “It’s reinforced for me every time the plane touches down at Napier.”

Old firm, new ideas

Another firm whose innovation is reaching out around the world started from modest beginnings in Queen Street West, Hastings, 75 years ago.

Furnware Industries is one of the Bay’s success stories. It began the same week that Jim Wattie set up his fruit-canning business and it has the distinction of having PO Box 1 as its Hastings postal address. “We’re very proud of that,” says managing director Hamish Whyte.

The company shifted from Queen Street to Omahu Road twenty-five years ago and now operates from modern premises in the Omahu Road industrial area, manufacturing school furniture that has made it a leader in its field.

Hamish believes Furnware makes the best school chair in the world and the company’s success with its range of school furniture is based on its extensive research in the classroom. “Everything we manufacture has been researched in the classroom. We measured 20,000 New Zealand kids and we know more about them than anyone.”

Generations of school pupils spent hours on solid plywood and tubular steel chairs, designed for ease of stacking rather than for comfort. Then about four years ago Furnware introduced its Bodyfurn chair, whose pliable seat and backrest are the result of 18 months of trialling in New Zealand classrooms.

Hawke’s Bay schools in particular became “a melting pot of knowledge” says Hamish. Pupils of Peterhead School at Flaxmere tried out prototype models of the Furnware’s desk storage system, resulting in a design which has its books storage in a tilting bin down one side, instead of the clumsy lift-up lid conventional design.

Once the company made its investment in the Bodyfurn range, it realised it had a global product. Now it is by far New Zealand’s biggest school furniture supplier and this year expects to triple its exports. It currently exports about 10 percent of its output but Hamish is confident that figure will rise to closer to 30 per cent this year. In the past two years Furnware has used a distributor in Australia but now has a fulltime representative in Melbourne. Its school furniture is being used in classrooms as far afield as Dubai and Hong Kong, where one school put in an order for $500,000 worth of Furnware products.

Some of that export success comes from New Zealanders who are principals in overseas schools and are familiar with the Furnware brand.

Hamish Whyte said the firm’s research-focused approach is its point of difference. With its roots strongly embedded in Hawke’s Bay, the company has never considered taking its operations elsewhere. “I think we’re very global in Hawke’s Bay,” he says.

Among the benefits of being based in the Bay are the loyalty of local staff and the region’s infrastructure, including the Port of Napier, with which it enjoys “a very good relationship.” Another appeal of Hawke’s Bay is the lifestyle balance, where work and relaxation in an excellent climate provide the best of both worlds.

While local government does not have a direct bearing on Furnware’s manufacturing activities, Hamish says local bodies in the region are willing to help if called upon.  “They’re very approachable”. Other organisations such as the Hawke’s Bay Chamber of Commerce and New Zealand Trade and Enterprise have been useful contacts for the company.

Hamish says Furnware had effectively reinvented itself in the mid-1960s after feeling the firm was “stalling” rather than looking ahead. It introduced a lean manufacturing process with the plastic being manufactured in Auckland and the rest of the components in Hastings. Now about 1000 schools throughout New Zealand have pupils sitting on Bodyfurn chairs, even though they are three times the price of other chairs. “We seriously believe we can be four times our size in five years,” says Hamish. “We’re trying to create classrooms that kids can learn in.”

Even the fluctuations of the New Zealand dollar have not deterred the firm’s export-led approach. “That’s not a reason not to go on,” says Hamish. And despite the worldwide economic gloom, he sees no reason the firm’s market share will not continue to grow, provided it makes prudent decisions on how it invests. “With a fulltime person in Melbourne and another one in the Middle East this year, we’re going for it.”

Right on track

TV viewers have been given updates on Tarly, a female loggerhead turtle currently swimming around 40km a day towards South America.

Tarly is fitted with a KiwiSat 101 Argos PTT tracking device donated by Havelock North-based Sirtrack Wildlife Tracking Solutions, an independent commercial subsidiary of the Government’s LandCare Research. It was set up in 1986 as an initiative of the Ecology Division of the former DSIR.

Tarly’s progress is being mapped on Sirtrack’s website as the once washed-up and dehydrated turtle makes her way to new feeding grounds and adds valuable data for conservationists to the little-known movements of these endangered sea turtles.  Elsewhere, in more than 74 countries around the world, a vast range of more than 550 species of wildlife, from whales to African lions, birds, Arctic foxes, lynx and zebras are being monitored with Sirtrack-manufactured telemetry. In New Zealand and overseas there is also a keen market for collar-mounted transmitters to keep track on pig dogs in the bush.

Tucked away down Goddard Lane, Sirtrack has been built on the experience and expertise of staff who pioneered wildlife tracking development in New Zealand back in the 1970s. Now the company has more than 40 staff, including two in the United States. In 1986 all of its sales were within New Zealand but now up to 85% is exported to Australia, the United States, Europe, UK and Africa. Most of the tracking equipment is bought by researchers and the company’s products include VHF transmitters, GPS collars and satellite transmitters.

The original DSIR ecology department devices were developed to track possums, stoats, rabbits and other introduced pests to understand their behaviour and thus support effective management plans to control their numbers. The company moved on from possums to foxes and bigger creatures, such as kangaroos and camels.  At that stage devices were being bought from the US, but as funding became limited it was decided to save money by importing the raw electronics and making the transmitters here.

By 1986 there was more money to be made selling the devices than doing research with them. While many of Sirtrack’s research customers are government or university-funded, private researchers and conservationists also buy them for game reserves in places like Africa.

In the past, the company has custom-made devices for its clients, but now has moved toward a more standardised range. The huge variety of sizes in the insects, animals, mammals, fish and birds that it has been asked to fit tracking equipment to has called for considerable skill and ingenuity from staff. Transmitters have been glued on insects and crustaceans such as crayfish, implanted in fish and taped or fitted in harnesses or backpacks on birds, including the Australasian gannets that make Cape Kidnappers their breeding ground. Sirtrack provides the hardware for its products while Argos satellites bounce the GPS signal back from collars used for tracking large mammals.

Rowan Calder, Sirtrack’s marketing manager, says the firm competes with about 15 other tracking device manufacturers in the United States and Europe/UK. He said one of the advantages of its location down a side lane in Havelock North is that electronics equipment testing often needs a quieter location than other manufacturing activities.

A South African who worked in the wildlife sector for 14 years after gaining his biology degree, Rowan says Hawke’s Bay’s lifestyle not only appealed to him and his family, but has been a strong drawcard for all of Sirtrack’s staff.

The enterprise has grown spectacularly from a cottage-style industry where the local saddler actually made the leather collars for the electronic devices they sold. Now Sirtrack is a mainstream manufacturing company whose staff have had to adjust to their global marketplace. It is a good example of a Hawke’s Bay-based company which has expanded outside the region to become a global niche supplier.

Causing a Riot

Napier-based RIOT Recruitment’s founding directors, Rohan Bowyer and Ian Beattie, set up their business in Hawke’s Bay after moving with their families from Auckland and seeing the growth potential of the region. The company’s name is an acronym of the four partners – Rohan Bowyer, Ian Beattie and their wives Odette and Tania.

Rohan has a technology background, having worked in Auckland with some of the bigger corporations including Deloitte’s, TelstraClear and Vodafone. He and his wife Odette returned to her Hawke’s Bay roots about four years ago, principally for the lifestyle and schooling advantages the region offers.

He says anyone moving from the corporate scene in Auckland to Hawke’s Bay had to have a degree of flexibility in terms of employment and salary expectations, but at the same time, there is a broader range of opportunities. “You can utilise your knowledge in different ways here,” he says. He became General Manager of Bayleys Real Estate and continues to have a board advisory role with the firm.

Unknown to them both, he and Ian Beattie at one stage worked in different parts of the same building in Auckland, but did not actually meet until they both shifted to Hawke’s Bay and ended up living six doors from each other in Havelock North.  Ian has a background in sales and marketing, both in Auckland and offshore, working in corporations such as Telecom, TelstraClear and Mainfreight. He also moved to the Bay about four years ago, becoming Advertising and Circulation Director for Hawke’s Bay Today.

The formation of RIOT Recruitment in 2007 by Rohan and Ian brought together their commercial backgrounds in a way that enabled them to sit down with firms and understand their businesses. They say recruiting top people for key positions is historically very transactional but simply placing people in a key job and moving on is not their way of working. In fact they will return their fee if the person does not stay in the job for three months and they cannot replace them.

RIOT specialises in recruitment in the traditional management layer and above. It also recruits people in the Financial & Professional Services, Technology, Sales and Marketing, Operations & Logistics and Supply Chain fields. “We build a strong relationship with our clients over a period of time,” says Rohan. Rather than work with one client then possibly their competitor a short time later, they prefer to deal with a smaller client base and help them to grow their business.

While it’s a term that is often over-used, Hawke’s Bay’s lifestyle was the main attraction for the pair, says Rohan. “The region has a wonderful infrastructure in its roading and utilities and great capacity to grow.” The spread of the population between Napier and Hastings may have some disadvantages, but it also means no traffic bottlenecks and a diversity in the two centres. Hastings is the service centre and attracts the bigger businesses while Napier’s strengths lie in its professional and tourism services.

Rohan says that when recruiting key people for firms in Hawke’s Bay, the region’s schooling is an important drawcard. “A lot of people see schooling as essential, particularly if they’ve come back from offshore, larger markets,” he says.

While there is a mix of both local and out of region recruitment, Rohan says highly specialised or top executive positions tend to be filled by people from outside the region. However he says he is constantly surprised at Hawke’s Bay’s “hidden gems” – people who choose to live in the Bay but commute to Auckland or Wellington for their work while they wait for the right job to come up here.

More than half of the job replacements they deal with are not advertised and remain in the shoulder-tapping or database-search categories. And in the current economic climate, there is no shortage of people both from New Zealand and overseas who are quietly putting out their CVs for a wide range of jobs.

Rohan feels that one area of Hawke’s Bay’s economy that remains under-utilised is adventure tourism but he sees infinite capacity for growth and innovation in the region’s traditional primary production sector. While the region is often seen as being a bit off the beaten track, technology was largely overcoming that and allowing people to work where they wanted to live, a trend that would continue to benefit Hawke’s Bay, he said.

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