Andrew Young is Design Manager at Parallaxx in Auckland. Working with New Zealand’s biggest construction and engineering companies, the business provides technology-based traffic management planning-design solutions, industry training, responsive and detailed auditing and trustworthy consultancy to organisations requiring temporary traffic management services.
Business Type: Transport
Number of employees: 74
Current Business Situation: Accelerated growth and expansion pre and post-COVID-19
Relationship with The Icehouse: Owner Manager Programme Alumni and Xero Scholarship recipient
‘I am constantly amazed at the family-first atmosphere at this company – people here look after one another. I have immense gratitude for the grace I’ve been shown in the difficult times of my life, and will look for my opportunity to pay it forward to someone else in the future. Knowing I’m in a place where people care about me and where I care about the folks I work with, makes every day feel fun and rewarding. Our leaders accept the fact that people have present value, not just future potential.’ Bea Dahino, Area Manager, Philippines
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I’d been an area engineer, contract manager and operations engineer in New Zealand and Australia for more than ten years and I’d seen a lot of the work that was happening in the industry with different companies and just thought; ‘I can do this and do it really well’.
So I floated around with the idea of starting my own business and just doing it all by myself. At the time, I just couldn't quite make it work because Hannah, my wife, (and the HR & Wellbeing Manager at Parallaxx), and I had just bought a house and had a mortgage. We just couldn't take the risk of potentially having zero income.
Why did you choose your type of business?
Dave (Tilton, Chief Executive), Neil (Oliver, Lead Consultant) and I are the owners of the company and also the three directors. We each have specific roles within the company and I’m the Design Manager. Each role suits what we really want to do and what we’re good at in terms of our expertise and qualifications.
All three of us have been in the industry for quite a few years. Neil and I met each other through previous project work – one of my first full-time traffic management roles was approving plans for the Auckland Motorway system.
Dave was a contractor, so we’d worked together a lot. We all went out for lunch one day, and Dave told us that was going to go out on his own. Unfortunately, this was just before I was leaving for Australia. After 18 months we came back to NZ, and all got talking again.
I mentioned to Dave that I was thinking of investing in a business and he suggested that if I had my own company, he’d be able to offer me work. We were all working so closely together that on Boxing Day in 2016 we chatted about merging all the companies together, and that’s how Parallaxx came to be.
How have you and your business been impacted by COVID-19?
We've been quite successful this year, and despite all that’s happened in the world, it’s been one of our best ever years. We’ve seen 81% growth from 2019 to 2020, but it’s not been without its challenges.
We thought we had about a week to set up an action plan, but within 24 hours we all went into lockdown. Logistically, it was very difficult as we had to figure out how to get every staff member and their computers home – not just in New Zealand but in our sister office in the Philippines. So one of the first things I wrote in my notebook was; ‘survive COVID’.
During the initial lockdown we had a downturn with negative profit but we bounced back fairly quickly (the following month, in May). We are fortunate that we're operating in an industry where traditionally, when the economy takes a downturn, people turn to infrastructure and government support to boost the economy, generate jobs, and so on, and that’s exactly what happened.
What are currently your biggest challenges?
We’re seeing around $6 million turnover, which is up significantly from the $1 million when we first started in 2017. We’ve added 23 people to the company in the last 12 months, so we’re managing fast, scalable growth.
We’ve grown so much – increasing from nine staff globally in 2017 to 74 in 2020. So it’s more around company expansion and having to keep the in-house training and service quality up to the highest standards while bringing in so many new people.
We have designers, developers and administrators in the Philippines, and they’ve all been working from home for the past nine months and it’s not like working from home in NZ for them. They have different challenges around finding working space that is quiet and suitable for allowing people to focus on their work that we may not face so much here in NZ.
We take communication very seriously at Parallaxx and it’s critical that the team know exactly what’s going on – especially with offices in different countries. Each year we have a strategy weekend and anyone in the company is invited to join the directors and senior management team because we think it’s important to get them involved. If they see how the strategy is put together then we can get more buy-in to our overall vision. We have a great company culture here, and we’re very proud of it – but you have to work at it.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?
I did Owner Manager Programme 48, which kicked off in September 2019 and wrapped up in March 2020. Our celebration dinner was the final weekend before COVID struck in NZ, so OMP will always be etched in my mind!
We found out about The Icehouse after Hannah did a course in 2016 at which Andy Hamilton (former CEO at The Icehouse) was speaking. They got chatting and she mentioned the work I was doing and helped us arrange a lunch catch-up. Come to think of it, Andy might have been the instigator in suggesting we merge the businesses!
Hannah’s fantastic in that she’s always looking out for things to help the business. She sent me a link to OMP in mid-2019 and I thought ‘that looks really good’. She also spotted that Xero were offering scholarships to help pay for the programme and she said ‘why don’t you apply?’.
It was one of the best decisions I ever made, but it nearly didn’t happen because at the time I was thinking I was too busy to take time away from the business. But Dave and I got our applications in just in time. I was interviewed by The Icehouse and Xero, and the whole process was pretty quick. I was lucky enough to win the scholarship – it was great news, not only from a business point of view but because Dave and I are quite competitive!
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
I was a bit unsure on what to expect from OMP. I wasn’t hugely confident in my abilities, so maybe there was a bit of imposter syndrome racing around inside. And because I'd never run a company before and was mixing with 24 other business owners I went into it feeling quite intimidated – running on the assumption that they must know more than me because I thought I knew nothing!
The content, Liz (Wotherspoon) and Chris (Woods) as facilitators, and Raewyn (Goodwin) as liaison were all amazing, and just being able to spend time with people in a similar situation was a revelation – sharing all their positive and negative experiences.
One of the best takeaways around OMP is that you can also have valuable and meaningful conversations and I was able to tap into the guest presenters’ networks. Derek Young helped me with some banking advice, and Greg Byers at Frank (who is now our accountant) was so competent and un-pushy and not like any accountant I’d ever come across!
Liz was on our judging panel for a recent Parallaxx innovation event, and I am really keen for both Dave and Neil to attend OMP in the near future.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are considering the Owner Manager Programme?
It’s liberating, and I’d recommend OMP to anyone. It turns out that we actually have very good business instincts. Things would come up on OMP and I’d be thinking to myself; ‘we’re doing that’, ‘we can do that’, ‘we can take this and turn it into that’.
Running a business is a hugely personal thing, so it was also a great confidence-builder from an individual perspective – affirmation that we’re on the right track as an organisation.
Follow the link for more information about Parallaxx and its range and services.