Business Masterclass with Ian Wright - video transcript

Julian Simmonds - Well Ian, we better start at the beginning. Yours is a third generation family business. You've been going since 1909. There's a lot of longevity there. Can you just tell us a little bit about the business, where you started and where you are now?

Ian Wright - I guess the business has changed a lot since I started there. I started there in 1980. I did my apprenticeship with another company in Brisbane building fibreglass boats. I thought it was good to get away from the family for a while.

So when I started there we were building boats not unlike Noah's Ark. Hardwood planks, copper nails, and today we're building boats out of carbon fibre, resin infusion and we're moving into other areas as well. So the business changed and what we build has changed dramatically since then.

Julian Simmonds - So it would be fair to say then that a key to the longevity of your business has been innovation. You've certainly kept up with the new ways of doing it. I know that when you were first building City Cats it was certainly a new and innovative thing then. So, can you perhaps tell us a little bit about how important innovation has been to your business and how you've gone about approaching that?

Ian Wright - I was always - I was brought up in the '60s and I came from a sailing background, a big sailing family and Ben Lexcen, as everybody knows, who designed Australia II worked for my uncle, his name was Bob Miller back in those days. He designed these revolutionary 18 foot skiffs that completely changed the skiff sailing world and he changed the sailing world in a lot of ways too.

So I was always brought up with this whole idea of new ideas and different ways of doing things that might be better and I had a lot of ideas too that weren’t better, they were worse but they had some good ones as well. So I always had that influence and I remember as a kid building model boats and we would just change things all the time and again sailing dinghies, we just changed things all the time until we found things that went better and went faster.

So I guess we've always been looking for new and better ways of doing things and they didn’t always come from our industry. We've always read widely and always follow what's happening in aviation because they sort of really lead the world in what's happening with products and innovation. So always have a little bit of an eye in that direction as to what they're doing next.  

Julian Simmonds - Yeah well there's quite a bit of good advice there. So trial and error a little bit…

Ian Wright - Absolutely.

Julian Simmonds - Also don’t be afraid to look outside your industry for good ideas. Well I guess that there might be a few others in this situation. So perhaps tell us what's it like working with family, closely with family, that can have its benefits and its challenges, coming as I know from a small business background, how have you found it and what are your tips?

Ian Wright - It's a bit of a life sentence sometimes. It was very hard initially. My brother and I didn’t always get along. These days it's pretty good. There's lots of friendly banter from time to time as you do get with brothers. So you can tell him he's doing something silly and that's not really a problem. I don’t have to worry about being told I'm sexist or anything else when I talk to my brother like that. So it's good these days but it hasn’t always been - it's been a hard road over the years. I guess that that happened the previous generation, my uncle couldn’t work with my grandfather so he left the business and started his own. There's always been a history of that and it is always hard with family.

Julian Simmonds - So I guess you've got to be committed to it and you've got to keep the lines of communication open. Is that the key?

Ian Wright - Yes, you've got to be committed to it and I guess - something that came out in one of our management meetings recently. We have a financial controller who's been with us for about three years. She used to work with our accountants. She said - you know, we were talking about business stuff and my brother and I just got side tracked talking about boats because, I guess we're very passionate about it. She said, that's why I came here, you guys are passionate about what you do so just listen to you talking about boats because that’s what you do and that's what you love. So I thought oh that's probably right I suppose. That's a big part of it, we do like what we do most of the time.

Julian Simmonds - So it probably isn’t the easiest industry, boat building. Can I ask probably what are your top couple of challenges and how have you overcome them over the years? Is there a couple that stick out in your mind?

Ian Wright - Well there's always the challenge of new technology and new processes.

Julian Simmonds - Are you digital, Ian?

Ian Wright - Ah, I believe we are. That's not really my area, we're actually about to launch our new website. We've reconstructed it. My brother and Leanne, our financial controller, they like doing that. I'd rather go out in the shed and build things or design things or work out how to build them differently. That's what I like doing. We all have our niches and the parts of the business we like working in.

Julian Simmonds - Great and so, tell me how - I always like ask these questions of the various speakers, you've got it a little bit easier because you do have family but you've got other employees as well. It's always challenging, I think, for small businesses to find good employees and that's most important to their business so how have you gone about finding the right people?

Ian Wright - We have probably three quarters of our staff have been with us a very long time. We had another staff member the other day came up for his 25 years with us. They've been with us for almost a generation some of them. We've got some younger guys coming through as well. We don’t really turn over our staff very much at all.

Julian Simmonds - Why do you think they stay so long? Is it the work environment? Have you got certain perks that are key?

Ian Wright - I don't know whether it's the perks, I think they enjoy the work. 

Julian Simmonds - Trips around the bay in the new boats? They get to test the boats?

Ian Wright - We try and sneak out in the City Cat occasionally.

Julian Simmonds - Cover your ears Llew.

Ian Wright - They like what they're doing. The type of projects that we do they find interesting and they're passionate about what they do. They're the sort of people we want working for us. So I think that's the main reason. Some of them, they've started - they've done their apprenticeships with us, and then we encourage them if they want to, to go and travel overseas. We've even helped them find jobs overseas and then sometimes they come back and they can bring new ideas back and they come back older and more mature with a different attitude. Some of those guys will go on and lead the business in the future possibly.

Julian Simmonds - Okay and I guess to finish things off, Ian, can you look into your crystal ball and tell us what's next for the future for the business? Full steam ahead or all sails up?

Ian Wright - It's always hard to predict the future and we've never had grandiose business plans. Ours have always been pretty simple, it's pretty much just be here this time next year. So I guess at this point we're looking down the track a little. Waiting to see what happens with the local area plan and that sort of thing in Bulimba as to how much longer we'll be on that site, where we'll go from here. Who may take over the business from us because there isn't another generation of Wrights coming on who's going to be doing it but there are other people who possibly will. So I can't really say where we'll be in 10 years' time but I'm sure we will be there doing something.

Julian Simmonds - Good and just to round things off, for all the businesses in the room who have heard your story, if you had one or two top tips for them, what would it be? Now I'm putting you on the spot. Top tips, advice.

Ian Wright - I guess, be passionate about what you do. Don’t be doing it for the money, do it because you like what you do.

Julian Simmonds - Good advice, you be passionate that'll shine through.

Go back to the Business Masterclass with Ian Wright video.

08 June 2018