Letting go is hard - but necessary to grow

JAMIE SMALL
Last updated 09:33 26/07/2014

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Small Business

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Peter Webb faced a hard decision, a decision he says most small business owners don't even consider.

It was 18 months ago when Webb, chief executive and owner of Independent Verification Services, relinquished control of day-to-day operations and brought on a general manager.

IVS does export certification, timber testing, import inspections and training on behalf of the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI).

"We're stepping over that threshold that small business hits, around that $3 million turnover mark. We recognised we needed to make some changes to do that."

So he hired Rob Pritchard, who previously ran economic development agency Opportunity Hamilton, and prior to that was chief financial officer to the Gallagher Group.

"There is a hurdle that many businesses hit and never get past, because the owner-entrepreneur can't let go control," says Webb.

The running of IVS has been split in two: the "business as usual" operational management Pritchard takes care of, and the strategic project management, which is Webb's domain.

It gave him the time to drive some important industry rule changes with MPI.

Webb says it also freed him up to spend time with key clients.

"We've recognised that the previous structure was going to inhibit growth. It's always a difficult call when you make that decision to invest in more senior staff like that, because initially it's a cost."

Growth has been strong for IVS. Founded in 2004, the company saw an average of 43 per cent annual revenue growth in its first five years.

"But as you get bigger, those numbers get harder to achieve," says Webb.

Average growth for the past three years has been 33 per cent, and the current forecast is for 25 per cent growth this year.

Managing risk is Webb's way of doing business. He isn't afraid to grab opportunities.

He keeps a "risk register" of all the factors that affect his business.

"By understanding risk it allows you to actually take risk."

Understanding risks led him to diversify the business into four areas, in case one revenue stream dried up.

Revenue is currently evenly spread between training, export certification, timber testing and inspecting imported vehicles.

Webb says constantly adapting services is the key to staying competitive. It's about "working smarter, rather than harder".

"We try and be innovative in how we deliver our services," he says.

"Particularly some of the areas we're involved in, such as the timber and log certification . . . they've been done the same way for the past 20 years. It hasn't evolved at all, really. So bringing technology into it is quite a breath of fresh air for some of the exporters."

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Webb wants IVS to be around long-term, and to continue to be successful.

"To do that you've got to keep evolving. The world's changing. Very fast."

He said customer service was also highly important to his business model.

"If you don't add value for your client, you won't last . . . And we treasure our customers. They're gold."

He tells that to his employees in every Monday morning meeting.

"Without customers, they don't have a job and we don't have a business.

"And really, with the technology available now, the only thing that differentiates the business is customer service. In the modern world that's all you've got to sell."

For the last year, the IVS has employed two IT students part-time to develop web-based inspection systems internally rather than relying on external contractors.

The systems reduce paper usage and improve efficiency, for example speeding up the ship-loading process when inspecting timber.

The company's next plan for adaptation is to open a testing laboratory in Brisbane.

- Waikato

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