Kiwi Business Story: Owner Manager Programme – Longveld Limited

Posted by Ben Whittacker-Cook on Oct 6, 2021 10:00:00 AM

Pam Roa is the Managing Director of Longveld Limited, an award-winning manufacturer of primary food processing machinery, systems and equipment, and an expert in custom stainless steel fabrication.

Pam and Les Roa

Location: Hamilton
Business Type:  Manufacturing
Founded:  1992
Number of Employees:  80
Current Business Situation: Most profitable year in 2020 growth margin now more than 40% with strong EBITDA
Relationship with The Icehouse: Owner Manager Programme Alumni

‘Since completing OMP Pam has grown her self-belief and correspondingly her ability to have confidence in her decision making process, creating subtle yet important changes to Longveld’s culture that have seen an uplift in our professionalism across all aspects of our business. Change driven by Pam has led to our company gaining wide respect both locally and nationally, from our team, clients and the wider business community. I am immensely proud of her courage and fortitude to grab the reins from my hands and to own her journey as MD at Longveld.’ Les Roa, Co-founder

Tell us about yourself and your role?

I was raised in Hamilton, studied chemistry and applied chemistry at Waikato and Massey University and entered my first job after varsity at Anchor Products Te Awamutu dairy factory as part of the dairy industry graduate training programme. 

I met my husband Les on site when he did a stainless steel fabrication job for me. We got married and soon after that the small business partnership Les was in turned a bit sour. We decided to start our own trade business in stainless steel fabrication. So Longveld was born from Les’s trade skills, a toolbox and a second hand van, and we are now in our 30th year. 

Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur and why did you choose your type of business?    

I was never an entrepreneur in my mind and I’m not sure I would have started a business on my own. I saw myself as a scientist and was an intensely curious person – still am – but quite risk averse back then. Les is a fitter turner by trade and he did the classic Kiwi thing of turning his trade skill into an SME. I trusted him and followed his lead.

Initially I kept working in my job full-time and helped Les with paperwork, but after I fell pregnant with our first child we started working together in the business. Les looked after production and dealing with clients and staff, and I took on the business management – finance, legal, HR, H&S etc. We called ourselves joint managing director for a while but that didn’t work so Les became MD.  

We went through many iterations of growth, failing and learning, and got to about 100 on the team. Les’s strengths were in solving our customers’ problems with our fabrication expertise and imagining the future, but he had a blind spot with systems, structure and providing clarity for the majority of our team who didn’t work closely with him and who therefore needed a greater sense of direction.

Eventually we had an independent director on our board who encouraged us to think about a new style of leadership. I became MD and Les took on an advisory role to our Operations Manager, but he is now back doing what he loves most, leading our production trade team. 

How does 2021 look for you compared to 2020?    

We’ve had our best year ever. We are a smaller team now at 80, but team trust is up, productivity is up, profitability is up, and we are embarking on a strategy to take us beyond the domestic dairy sector which has been our staple for three decades.  

Going into lockdown last March we had been in a dairy downturn for eight months and Covid helped us because it changed everybody’s understanding of what was normal and our team became incredibly open to new ways of doing things. So we’ve used the last year as an opportunity to break old habits. We also won a major international fabrication project which doubled our turnover. We have been able to drive all the improvements to the bottom line and transform our balance sheet.

Some said to me recently it’s like we’ve been going round and round the cul de sac and now we’re hitting the expressway.   

Longveld Team

What are currently your biggest challenges

Our biggest challenge is in turning a carbon-hungry trade business into an Industry 4.0 savvy workplace capable of pivoting and coping with exponential digital change. We need to figure out how to best apply the capability of our team in a smarter way. A more front of mind challenge for the short to mid-term is dealing with the fact that the price of stainless has doubled in a year and global shipping is displaying cartel-like trends in pricing.

These things are having a big impact on the supply chain and are likely to cause industrial project deferment. Which brings me back to the need to pivot.

What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them? 

I’ve been in the MD role seven years now. Not long after I became MD I did the Icehouse Owner Manager Programme – shout out to OMP33! Most of the content wasn’t new to me but it was really helpful to take a breather every month, get a feel for how much owner managers in different industries have in common, build my confidence in my role, and check in that I was implementing well.

I had been at Les’s shoulder for years but once I got in the hot seat it was a completely different experience. I’ll never forget how it felt to face the degree of decision-making that came at me from day one and OMP helped me cope with that.  

Since then The Icehouse has given me a tribe to belong to and check in with every now and then which I enjoy. Owner managers are a different breed to executive leaders. We know what it feels like to wake up at 3am every morning because we have everything on the line. So, yes, I intend to have a long-term relationship with The Icehouse, regularly checking in at networking events.

How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?

Since my OMP experience we’ve been up and down to be fair, because we’ve been so focused on the NZ dairy sector which has an erratic three year cycle. We’re more diversified now and have finally created a senior leader commercial role dedicated to diversify us globally beyond dairy. We’ve invested heavily in developing our people and building our reputation as a great employer.

We’ve been doing a 4 day week for two and a half years now. At this stage it’s four 10 hour days because it’s hard for trade businesses to cut a day out of the week, but with our continuing productivity gains I’m determined we will work less hours for more pay and work smarter not harder. It’s the way the world is moving and I want to us to lead in this space.

The happy result of these and other changes has been we’ve now lifted GM over 40% with strong EBITDA, instead of languishing around 30% GM and struggling to maintain profitability.

What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?

Entrepreneurs are great visionaries who are excited about the new shiny things ahead, but as your team grows and they don’t all have a direct line to you every day, many on your team are likely to start to get frustrated because they will be disconnected from you and struggling in the backwash.

Most will just want clarity about what the business wants them to do today, and next week, and next month, rather than hear about the 10 exciting avenues you want to explore.

You need to pay attention to structure, systems, and team development using best practice HR, even though this stuff probably isn’t your cup of tea. Seek out a programme like OMP to show you the areas that founding owner managers often don’t pay attention to.

Follow the link for more information on Longveld Limited and its range of products and services. 

Topics: The Icehouse, Owner Manager Programme, Hamilton, Kiwi Business Stories, Manufacturing, Longveld Limited, Pam Roa, Les Roa, OMP 33

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