11/11/2010 - 00:00

Slow and steady does the job for Reads

11/11/2010 - 00:00

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FOR the past two years Ashley Read has been helping to run the business his parents, Brian and Coral Read, operated for almost five decades.

FOR the past two years Ashley Read has been helping to run the business his parents, Brian and Coral Read, operated for almost five decades.

Electrical engineering business Reads Electrical has been a constant on the Perth business landscape since 1959, and Ashley recalls his father using the household oven to perform part of the engine repairing and servicing – the main service offering of the business – and watching the company slowly grow to now employ 29 staff in an 1,800 square metre workshop in South Fremantle.

Mrs Read is the sole director of Reads Electrical and up until 2008 was its manager. She has worked for the company for 25 years and was most recently managing the growth of the business, having taken over the reins of the business from her husband before he passed away.

Ashley stepped into the role of business development manager in 2008, seven years after his father’s death, after recognising the need for succession planning and knowledge management.

“There wasn’t much of a succession plan back then, like most businesses, we were busy doing the day-to-day stuff; it is hard to plan for these things sometimes,” Mr Read told WA Business News.

“One of the reasons I got involved was looking at staffing, succession planning and knowledge management.

“My role is as a de facto director. While Tony Harrison, our general manager, has run the business very well, it wasn’t fair to leave everything in his hands.

“He just didn’t have time to train other people, or find someone else who could eventually replace him.”

Mr Read said specific to the succession plan was generating an understanding across the business of different roles.

“It has been a matter of looking at Tony’s role, breaking down the task of the general manager and what he does and the value he provides to the business,” he said.

“It is a mistake in so many businesses that roles and responsibilities are tied up in one person.”

Mr Read said it was expecting too much from staff to ask them to track what they are doing as well as perform in a role, so his main objective had been to figure out what each staff member was doing.

“My main objective is to look at the work Tony does and try to distribute some of his tasks. We now have a second person, who has just started this year, but he is someone we would see as good support for Tony,” Mr Read said.

“What we are doing in knowledge management is the same as what we are doing in market diversification; you can’t have too much invested in one market.”

Moving into the family business has been a major career change for Mr Read, who previously worked as an organisational psychologist, consulting to corporate bodies in Western Australia.

He said his experience in human resources and organisational development had helped in his succession planning for Reads.

“The business is 50 years old, there is no reason why we can’t go for another 50 years, but in order to do that we needed to have good management down there,” he said.

“In order to do that you need someone actively involved in succession planning, rather than expecting the people to take on that role in their day to day job as well.

“The fact the business has been around for a long time is reflected in the fact we have had people like Tony who have stayed around for extraordinary lengths of time.”

Mr Read said the business had always been driven by the adage ‘slow and steady wins the race’, a saying his father favoured from the beginning.

This rang particularly true in terms of the employment of staff, with the business reluctant to take on too many inexperienced staff just to foster growth.

“We have been very careful in who we hire, which in some ways inhibits growth, but it ensures its longevity as well; it is a balance,” Mr Read said.

Reads is a conservative business when it comes to hiring staff and growth, but Mr Read said that had resulted in strong, long-term customer relationships.

“One of the reasons we have been around for 50 years is we are not big risk takers. We have seen the benefits of concentrating on what we do well and staying in one location,” he said.

“People like to know their problems are going to be solved by someone reliable. Because of the way it is run, it has portrayed the image there is a lot of reliability there.

“We were lucky, a lot of the growth has been organic. It has probably been slow by many people’s standards, but it has been steady.”

 

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