DEMAND by users of automation systems for better service, quality and value inspired Andrew Downs to set up his Adelaide-based business, Sage Automation .
In the 10 years since the electrical tradesman set up Sage in his backyard, the business now turns over $30 million a year and employs 145 staff. Sage supplies automation systems and manufacturing intelligence to companies in the automotive, infrastructure, manufacturing, food and beverage, wine and water industries.
“I’ve always had a passion for automation systems,” said Downs. “Early on in my working life I realised that automation systems were not what they should be. Quality work was lacking, as well as service support. Adding to customers’ frustrations was the fact that they were being overcharged.”
Two major challenges facing Downs in the early days were lack of business experience and access to finance.
He subsequently joined The Executive Connection, an international group that provides learning, mentoring and development for business owners and managers.
“It was a great way to learn about how business leaders run their businesses,” said Downs. “I also took the advice of peers about the best ways to finance growth.”
A bank product called debtor finance enabled Sage to fund expansion.
In the first year, the company turned over less than a million dollars. However, revenue steadily increased.
“Success was due to timing, luck and the willingness to accept advice,” said Downs. “You need an exploring attitude to grow a business, to be alert and see what others are doing.”
Overseas alliances and a commitment to quality are other examples of process innovations by Sage.
“Everything we do focuses on the systems and procedures we have in place,” said Downs.” We need to maintain quality and keep improving it.”
Sage is the only Australian member of the Control and Information Systems Integrators Association (CSIA), based in the United States, which provides best management practices. Sage is aiming for CSIA accreditation.
“Our goal is to be benchmarked against the best integrators in the world,” said Downs. In terms of staff and revenue, Sage ranks in the top five percent of companies belonging to the CSIA.
The company has also formed a partnership with US integrator Advanced Automation Associates, adapting its project management software.
“This investment, which has so far exceeded $500,000, is paying dividends in the way we conduct our business,” said Downs. “We’ve implemented a fully integrated accounting, project costing and reporting software platform, providing real-time visibility. To further strengthen our business, we are now implementing resource management software.”
Downs has built a strong staff culture within Sage, with priority given to customer service and providing value for money. Staff share his commitment to quality and customer service. Consequently, staff turnover is less than five percent a year.