As Frazer-Nash’s Australian business celebrates its 10th year, we’re looking at some of the highlights of the past decade...
Launching a first international presence
After decades of success in the UK, Frazer-Nash decided to take the plunge and commit to its first international presence in 2010. But where to go? The management school concept of “psychic distance” was an important factor, being the perceived differences between the home country and the new location, regardless of differences in time or distance. Equally important were markets where Frazer-Nash’s experience could add real value to local clients. It all pointed to Australia, with its strong cultural and commercial connections and an increasing focus on major naval programmes. Adelaide was chosen as the launching point for the endeavour and over 2010 a small founding team relocated from the UK to start the hard work of connecting Australia’s market needs with Frazer-Nash’s global capability.
Building a thriving consultancy business is challenging work. Establishing relationships founded on trust and developing services highly relevant to the local market takes time. Trust and relevance come from the people in the business, so in the first part of this series we asked a number of that founding team to cast their minds back and tell us about those early days in 2010.
Stories from the founding team
When Group Business Manager, Phil Harris, arrived to set up Frazer-Nash’s Australia office in 2010, the company was based at just four desks out of an office in Osborne, Adelaide. “The office was right at the end of the road, out on its own with views of the ship yard,” recalls Business Manager Ben Southgate, who joined Phil on secondment from the UK a few weeks later: “You could see the Air Warfare Destroyer being built in front of you.” Senior Consultant, Linton Smith, and IT Infrastructure Engineer, Dan Hughes, two of Frazer-Nash’s first Australian recruits, remember the area slightly less fondly. “Osborne was 70km away, driving along the partly constructed Southern expressway made it amazing fun” says Dan; Linton adds: “We were based at the north end of the building, looking out over the salt flats. It was murky and industrial. Now we have the whole floor of a building in a booming area in the middle of Adelaide. We can even see the Adelaide Hills!”
“Initially, our work was primarily focused around one or two projects”, describes Ben. “We delivered small pieces of work on the Royal Australian Navy’s Air Warfare Destroyer, including reliability, availability, maintainability (RAM) and safety case work.” “We were starting from a blank sheet, so it took time to build momentum,” says Phil, “the Naval/marine space took off first. One of our important initial milestones was to get on to defence frameworks, including DMOSS (the Defence Materiel Organisation Support Services Panel) and RPDE (Rapid Prototyping, Development and Evaluation Program).”
Initially, there was a back and forth flow of people from the UK to deliver Frazer-Nash’s work in Australia, with a number of people on secondments or short-term trips. But the company was soon able to grow its Australian employee base, while still having a reach back to the expertise available in the UK business. “Where we didn’t have all the skills locally our UK people went out to help, upskilling our teams in Australia” says Phil. “A number of people came to Australia for a couple of weeks, to help on specific projects, which really helped to develop the links between Australia and our UK business.”
This reach back to the UK offered both individuals and clients a number of benefits, suggests Phil: “Our Australian teams had the opportunity to learn from world experts based at our UK offices, while they built their own skills and expertise.” The ultimate goal, however, was for the Australian business to become self-sufficient. Phil continues: “There was (and still is) a lot of interaction between the Australian and UK teams. The business was set up so it ‘felt’ like Frazer-Nash, and was genuinely linked to the UK business. But the goal was for the Australian business to be self-sufficient, with input from both sides.”
With secondees forming a large part of the early workforce, there was a certain amount of red tape to overcome. Engineering Manager, Ian Watson, who came out from the UK business in 2011 and who, like Ben, has made Australia his home, describes: “A UK colleague had come out to do a study. We arrived in Adelaide and our high-ranking defence client and his entourage came to meet us. As we started the meeting, a large team of customs and border force officials came in to check our visas, to make sure we were working legitimately! Fortunately, all was well.”
The Frazer-Nash team spent 16 months in Osborne, growing to occupy around a dozen desks, before moving to Adelaide’s Central Business District in 2012. Dan recalls the challenge of making sure the office was ready: “I’d never had to deal with an office fit out before, coordinating the various trades involved and interfacing between what the company wanted, and what the contractors were doing. We had to make sure that it was set up ready so people could just come in and start work.” But everyone pitched in with the office move. “It was great having our own sign on the door,” says Phil.
A slightly quicker process saw the opening of Frazer-Nash’s next office, in Melbourne. Ian recalls: “We signed the biggest contract we’d won in those early years, to provide assurance of the build of the Navy’s flagship Landing Helicopter Docks. We needed to deliver the project in Melbourne, but we got a bit carried away in the bid, and committed that we’d open an office there. When we won, we had to get a Melbourne office within a week. We hired an office, and flew people down from Adelaide to staff it for the initial work. So in a matter of days, we had a Melbourne office and a Melbourne-based team soon followed.”
Phil spent seven years building up the business, looking after the technical and business elements, and managing the bottom line: “It was a lot of hard work for everyone, but very rewarding.” Senior Business Manager, Tim Myall, who spent three years delivering work for Frazer-Nash clients from his Sydney base says: “It was like working for a start-up, but with the back-up of proven procedures and processes from the business in the UK.” Phil agrees: “There’s an entrepreneurial atmosphere, with everyone mucking in. People get the opportunity to get a real breadth of experience.”
The early work pays off
Many things were learnt in those early years, including the fact that getting a really great business off the ground 10,000 miles from your colleagues was more of a challenge than anyone imagined. But the entrepreneurial approach helped deliver success after success. Adelaide-based Jonathan Armstrong, Director of Frazer-Nash’s International Business, calls out the recognition due to that founding team: “That early work really paid off. The foundations of technical excellence and professionalism were laid early. Coupled with the necessary entrepreneurial attitude to overcome challenges, the founding team endowed the business with the right behaviours from the outset. On behalf of the wider Frazer-Nash business I thank them all for the hard work, and for the positive attitude that has led to the thriving team of 70 staff we have today, spread across four city centre offices in Adelaide, Canberra, Melbourne and Sydney. I also thank all our clients, who have equally shaped the business, especially those who backed us in the early days before we had built our reputation for excellence.”
In our next instalment, we’ll look at some of the projects Frazer-Nash’s Australian business has delivered during the past ten years.