Peter Nicholls of Prodcution Parts, a member of AMTIL , has been toiling away in the manufacturing game for more than three decades.
And while he does not refuse he has picked a tough industry sector to forge his career, he would not have it any other way.
The father of three worked for a number of manufacturing companies before taking over the reins as Managing Director of Production Parts in 1976, at the tender age of 24.
From the outset the qualified mechanical engineer had a clear vision for Production Parts and jumped head first into the cut and thrust world of manufacturing.
And despite sometimes having the odds stacked against him, Peter Nicholls did his homework when investigating new markets for the business and has managed to grow it from a staff of 20 all those years ago to a staff of 60 today.
Production Parts, started by his late father Arthur Nicholls in 1946, has been through the usual ups and downs that businesses experience over the years.
But Peter Nicholls has forged ahead; setting insistent growth targets for the coming few years, which he believes will propel the company into new overseas markets.
Production Parts has internationally accredited quality standards ISO 9001:2000 as well as systems approvals for companies including BAE Systems, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney and GE Aircraft Engines. Production Parts also has AS 9100 Aerospace Standard quality assurance.
Peter Nicholls and his younger brother Ashley Nicholls, who is Production Parts’ Engineering Director, work as a team to run the business. The pair has not only managed to lead the company through an ideal growth period, they have won more than their fair share of awards.
Production Parts won five awards in 2007 alone including Manufacturer of the Year Small Business Champion Awards and the Endeavour Awards Exporter of the Year Award Winner.
“Those sorts of awards help Production Parts to be recognised in new markets and it is great for our staff,” Peter Nicholls says.
Peter Nicholls says being in charge of a manufacturing business involves some big hours. Aside from his working day in the office Peter Nicholls is also a well known figure in manufacturing circles and is the National Vice President of the Australian Industry Group and member of the Defence Council.
Peter Nicholls’ role also requires him to be the company’s visionary, good friend and mentor. Peter Nicholls needs to stay on top of the constant advancements in technology and has to communicate closely with government departments to make sure he is making full use of any grants available for research and development.
Peter Nicholls says his role is constantly challenging; but highly rewarding.
“To work in management within the manufacturing game you need to be passionate and dedicated and you have really got to live and breathe the business 24/7.”
“Even when you are having some quiet time at home you have got to be thinking about the next marketing plan or how you can increase growth. If you love what you do, you do not mind.”
Peter Nicholls says, while the company is a highly successful operator it is by no means immune to the threats that most in the manufacturing game face.
Peter Nicholls says, while staff turnover is not particularly high, finding qualified staff is a big challenge.
But Peter Nicholls has quietly plotted a path to success over the years, transforming the business from one that was heavily involved in metal works early on into a technologically advanced manufacturer that races on a global scale.
“The business has experienced the highs and lows that all businesses experience depending on the economic environment, but things are definitely looking up in the coming years,” Peter Nicholls says.
In fact, the sky is the limit for Production Parts, which has the most advanced aerospace, defence and general engineering workshops in the country.
And it just so happens to be based in Victoria, which is home to the large aerospace sector in the country. Collectively, Victorian aerospace manufacturers supply design services and manufactured components to commercial and military customers across the globe.
Victorian Government figures show that the state has more than 150 firms and 5000 workers in the lucrative aerospace sector, making up 40% of the national aerospace manufacturing industry.
Figures also show that Victoria’s aerospace sector has high concentration of aerospace manufacturing in the country, with an annual state turnover of more than $600m and exports of $250m.
These figures show that Production Parts is servicing a thriving industry, but they also show that competition is fierce. Despite this, Peter Nicholls has managed to grow the business by 50% during calendar year 2007.
And company forecasts for this year (SUBS: 2008) already indicate further growth of 36%, which could well spell the creation of additional jobs.
Peter Nicholls has also managed to seal a deal that saw the company join with a dozen other Victorian aerospace manufacturing companies to secure half of the lucrative US Joint Strike Fighter contracts awarded to Australia.
Peter Nicholls’ role also involves keeping a close eye on the Australian Stock Exchange, when balancing the company books.
“Given we are big exporters the value of the Australian dollar is highly critical to our business. The higher it goes above a dollar, the less competitive we become.”
And staying abreast of constantly evolving technology is the other main challenge for Peter Nicholls, who turns to Japan and Europe to source his company’s equipment.
And a large portion of his job involves meeting and negotiating with current and potential new clients, including those overseas. In fact, Peter Nicholls spends about three months of the year overseas making contact with new and existing clients.
“Face-to-face contact is essential in this business. Even with the modern forms of technology out there, nothing beats meeting someone in person. And the bottom line is that you would not do business with someone without knowing the names of their kids and what schools they go to, even if they are on the other side of the world.”
Peter Nicholls says more growth is on the cards. Currently, the company operates across three factory sites in the Melbourne suburb of Airport West, but he revealed that expansion and relocation would not be far down the track.
“I do not believe we will still be on this site in five years’ time. We are popping at the seams here as it is, so the time will come when we will have to relocate.”
Peter Nicholls says currently, 60% of the Production Parts’ clients are in export markets, including the US, France, the UK and Malaysia.
“We are looking at further growth in 2008 within the wider European market in the defence and aerospace sector. We believe there are more possibilities out there,” Peter Nicholls says.
“When you operate in defence and aero you are up against global competition you have always got to make sure you have got an ideal advantage.”