Keep stocks low, debtors tight
Since he was a child Hamish Gordon wanted to run his own business.
That aim came true in mid-2009 when he and non executive director Hugh Spence set up their jointly-owned Natural Sugars New Zealand in Auckland which imports and exports sugar brands and edible oils.
The $30 million-turnover company sells a lot of product to manufacturers but also in the food service and retail area. It has its own oils and sugar brands - Harvest and Cane Fields and has the rights for La Espanola olive oil.
What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?
Although I attained a business degree at university, nothing could prepare me for the everyday challenges the business world has put in front of me.
We had very fast growth in the first two years and the largest obstacle over this time was a lack of systems to cope with this growth.
We started Natural Sugars in the middle of the financial crisis which resulted in the New Zealand dollar and the commodities that we trade being extremely volatile; sometimes we would see the market change 10-to-12 per cent in one day, which resulted in many sleepless nights.
Another major obstacle was trying to balance family life with work. My first son was born within two months of starting at Natural Sugars so sleep deprivation was also a challenge!
Name one thing you've learnt while in business and from whom?
Keep stocks low (as possible) and debtors tight. If you get these two right, cashflow will be maximised which will reduce funding costs, increase profits, reduce risk and also give us the ability to jump on any opportunities that may arise. My business partner, Hugh Spence, who has had a long prosperous career running businesses taught me this early on.
What are your business and personal goals?
Although we are in the business of commodity-based products . . . we believe there is plenty of room for innovation. Over the past year we have been working on new sugar packaging as we believe the New Zealand market is outdated. We have just entered the retail market with Cane Fields 750-gram ziplock resealable sugar bags which mean you won't have to decant your sugar into another container when you get home, you can simply use and reseal it.
We have a short-term goal to reach NZ$40m turnover within the next two years with $10m of that being retail.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?
One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is that certainty does not exist. People can come up with all sorts of excuses to avoid taking opportunities or risk but at the end of the day you only have one life; would you rather look back wishing you had taken a chance or knowing you had taken one. No matter the outcome you will be surprised how many doors open up once you give something a good nudge.
What would you do if you weren't running your own business?
Play a lot more sport and spend more time outdoors. I . . . need to be busy all the time . . . Some people would call it highly strung but I think that's a bit harsh.
What is one thing readers would be surprised to learn about you?
At the age of 25 I decided to do my skydiving licence. Unfortunately, this was short-lived . . . From the moment I jumped out of the plane I lost both instructors, completed numerous backward flips, managed to pull my ripcord and the parachute then came out with line twists. After untwisting the parachute lines, . . . I failed to flare, hitting the ground at about 50 to 60kmh. I now feel the impact of that mistake every day.