Awards keep coming for graphics firm

Winning ways: Admark managing director Laurie Pilling in front of the graphic that won the company gold at the international Specialist Graphic Imaging Association’s Golden Image awards.
Winning ways: Admark managing director Laurie Pilling in front of the graphic that won the company gold at the international Specialist Graphic Imaging Association’s Golden Image awards.

From military man to managing director, the successes keep on coming for Laurie Pilling. Kashka Tunstall reports.

As another year draws to a close, Laurie Pilling can sit back and reflect on a triumphant 12 months.

The office walls of his company, Admark, on Kahikatea Drive, are groaning under the weight of awards.

Every recognition the company has earned in its more than 41-year history seems to be hanging there, a smorgasbord collection from all over the world.

This year Pilling, Admark's managing director and majority shareholder, will be putting up three new international accolades.

That is, if he can find some empty wall space.

"Every year is a good year," says Pilling.

"This is a particularly good year."

Pilling and the Admark team are still riding high after the success of The Hobbit project which saw them apply a 830 square-metre graphic to an Air New Zealand plane featuring characters from Peter Jackson's latest film, which opens to the public at midnight on Wednesday.

It is the biggest graphic ever to be applied to an aircraft in the world.

Along with the tagline "The Airline of Middle Earth", the graphic adorned the Hobbit-themed aircraft which delivered the cast to Wellington for the world premiere last month.

"The Hobbit plane is obviously a highlight for us," Pilling says.

"It's just a magic project . . . it's ended the year pretty well."

Pilling is a methodical speaker, perhaps a result of his 20 years of service as an officer in New Zealand's army.

He spent more than 10 years overseas in Vietnam, Malaya, Singapore, England and Australia with the last decade of his tenure served in New Zealand.

"I had a great military career and really enjoyed that but the New Zealand army is small and you get to a certain level and you find that you're commanding a desk and not commanding troops," he says.

When he retired in the mid 1970s Pilling had reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and was camp commander at Papakura.

In the late 70s Pilling made his move into the business sector and went into a partnership owning the Waingaro Hot Springs, near Ngaruawahia.

"I'm an entrepreneur at heart, I was born that way," he says.

"My thing is leading troops, people, and I decided to try myself in the big world of business.

"The only difference is in the military you're saving lives and make sure people don't get killed, in business you're making a profit, but otherwise everything is the same."

Over the years Pilling has had a hand in a few different ventures - he's owned the Waipa Delta, the Lost World at Waitomo Caves as well as travel and advertising agencies.

He took on an underperforming Admark in the 90s. Visual imaging is an industry he took to quickly.

"I enjoy strategic planning and strategic thinking. It's just something that I have and I think that comes from my military service where I was teaching operational tactics and logistics," he says.

"What I find exciting about Admark is that technology is changing rapidly with the digital age. I can turn a room into a rainforest or a desert by using graphics and I find that exciting."

Admark invests heavily in new technology. A new state-of-the-art printer that customises individual labels is its latest purchase.

It's going to add a whole new branch of business to Admark's portfolio, he says. Pilling admits he's not a techie, though he does have an iPhone close at hand.

But he says that if someone explains what a piece of technology can do, he can envision a use for it in business.

"You can buy technology and new equipment but it's about what people do with those things that's really important and that comes down to leadership."

Last year was Admark's best financial year ever and the three international awards it recently won at the international Specialist Graphic Imaging Association's Golden Image awards in Las Vegas has kept the success streak going.

One was a gold medal in the Point of Purchase/Exhibits category for Waka NZ Maori - a large format digital print used as part of a display showcasing Maori rugby history at Princess Wharf in Auckland during the Rugby World Cup last year.

The company, up against the best companies in the world and competitors at the top level of the industry internationally, also collected the bronze award and received an honourable mention.

What's Admark's award-winning secret?

It's really quite simple, Pilling says.

"We operate at the top of the tree in the corporate market, quality is everything and the staff is absolutely brilliant and always performs."

On the three major printing technologies the company uses, it has won multiple awards in each one on the world stage.

"We're surviving well in the economic climate, we're in good shape and we haven't got too many complaints," Pilling says.

"It's tough out there, there's no question about that, but we've had a few good years . . . there's always business out there, the world doesn't stop."

Pilling is always busy, travelling constantly and eyeing new business opportunities, but he says he doesn't get stressed. Ever.

"Life is too short to have bad days so I don't get stressed and I don't let other people stress me. I give advice and I help but I don't take other people's problems on," he says.

"I am too old to have bad days . . . it's a matter of attitude and it's a matter of priority. I flick through my iPhone or my computer list and see if anything needs immediate attention.

"If the world is not going to stop, it goes down the list."

He's trying to cut down on his international travel - so he can go fishing more often.

Admark is starting a modest expansion of staff numbers but Pilling says it is still hard.

"The most challenging thing is when the market is competitive and generating enough work to keep people fully employed.

"When the market goes flat, there's only so much work to do and people like to be busy and feel like they're achieving something," he says.

"Compared with other companies though, we're doing well."