Bernie Ridgeway led Imdex out of tough circumstances two decades ago and has undertaken more than 20 acquisitions since.
Two decades later, and with retirement imminent from his role as managing director, Mr Ridgeway can reflect on that decision with some satisfaction.
His 20 years at the helm of the mining technology business brought major growth, as evidenced by a big increase in market capitalisation.
The business was valued at less than $10 million in 2000, he said, 13 years after it listed on the ASX, and was close to $450 million at the time of writing.
“That was a pretty gutsy move back then.
“Would I do it today?” Probably not, actually.
“The company was losing money, going nowhere, and needed a fresh approach.
“I’m a great believer in putting your money where your mouth is and getting stuck into it.
“When I got in and found out things were a lot worse than indicated by the publicly available information, it was a bit of a shock to the system.”
One early challenge came only months after he started in the role of chief executive, when the company’s banker called in a loan.
“There was no strategic plan, the company was losing money,” Mr Ridgeway said
“It had a toxic relationship with its bank at the time.”
He said his early steps had included asset sales and renewal at board level.
The next stage of Mr Ridgeway’s strategy was an acquisition spree.
“We made a little more than 20 acquisitions over the period I’ve been here,” he said.
“Both organic and inorganic growth have been really important to this business over that time.”
The most notable deals were with Reflex and Chardec in 2006, and Flexit in 2007, Mr Ridgeway said.
Those decisions helped vertically integrate technology suppliers into the business and consolidate market share.
Most of these deals had involved small or family-owned businesses, so did not require corporate advisers, Mr Ridgeway said.
The expansion helped Imdex increase its technological capabilities, and diversified operations from drilling fluid supply.
Technology also meant it could generate increasing amounts of data from its drilling and subsurface equipment on projects across the world.
Twenty years is a long time to head an ASX-listed company, particularly for a managing director who had not been the founder.
Long-serving chief executives who have left their businesses in recent years include former Panoramic Resources boss Peter Harold (19 years), Ausdrill’s Ron Sayers (31 years), and AFG’s Brett Mckeon (23 years).
“I’ve been here a little over 20 years, it has been an exciting journey,” he said.
“One of the things I won’t miss is the pressure to perform from the board and shareholders; that’s 24-7, it’s a way of life, it’s always with you.
“I think the best is yet to come for Imdex … the technology that’s being developed is going to be in the market.”
Part of what motivated Mr Ridgeway to remain at the business over the years was the potential to drive innovation in the industry.
“We’ve evolved every year since I’ve been here,” he said.
“We’ve done new things, stretched the envelope, we’ve been very innovative.
“That’s the thing I’m going to miss most when I leave here, that excitement around working with really smart people, being really innovative, and changing the way the industry operates.
“That has kept me here.”
Mr Ridgeway said the most important characteristic to run a business was integrity, while he had learned the importance of listening.
“You have to walk the talk and lead by example,” he said.
“I’ve been a very positive person over the journey.
“If you don’t believe, then no-one else can believe, you have to lead from the front.”
Building a team with chemistry was as important as capability, Mr Ridgeway said, and chief executives should be decisive.
“One of the things I would stress going forward, not just in this business, is to be decisive,” he said.
“CEOs need to be decisive … make the decision and move on.
“Don’t take no for an answer, make it happen … be responsible, take control.”