Reluctant entrant takes top prize
Dean Bell initially resisted all efforts to get him to enter last year's 2016 Air New Zealand Cargo ExportNZ Awards.
The chief executive of Waikato Milking Systems remembers ExportNZ contacting him a number of times, encouraging him to put his business into contention.
"They said 'you should enter, you should enter, you should enter'," he said. "I was resistant to it... Some companies are glory-seekers but we are not."
He ignored a few emails until finally he decided to send one on to his marketing and PR team, asking what they thought. They immediately replied and told him it was something Waikato Milking Systems should be part of.
The company went on to take the supreme award and the QBE Insurance Exporter of the Year (export revenue $10 million - $25 million) category.
Waikato Milking Systems designs and manufactures dairy farming technology. It has 30 authorised dealers throughout New Zealand and exports to more than 20 countries around the world.
Bell remembers showing the judges through the business one morning. "I showed them what we were up to and our plans. They said 'if you've got such a strong international growth story, why are you entering this year?' I said 'this business isn't dressed up for awards. It's not polished up to look like an award-worthy company. If you look at the business and feel it's award-worthy, that's fantastic. but if you don't we will change not one single thing in the business."
Despite his initial reluctance, Bell said he was "humbled" to have won. "It could not have come at a better time. It's been much more valuable to us than I would have expected."
The award had helped cement distributors' and customers' view of the company, he said. "It's been on our email footer all year."
It had also helped the company's staff by affirming the direction the business was taking. The business had been through a lot of changes in recent years, Bell said, including around its culture, perception and processes.
The award was independent recognition that those changes were worthwhile. "I think that success has really helped out people. All the work we've been doing over the lst couple of years, to have someone outside recognise those things is pretty good. It's been very positive and we are very grateful to have won it."
But he said the business would not enter again for at least five years. By then, the judges should be able to see significant further growth and success, he said. "Then they will be able to see their confidence in us as worthwhile."
* Stuff Business is the media partner of the Air New Zealand Cargo ExportNZ Awards 2017. Entries close March 17.