Catching the boss's vision

Heritage Tiles is a 20-plus year family company that has grown to become one of the countrys biggest importers of ceramic and porcelain tiles. Its thriving on the increasing use of tile in homes and commercial areas, and showcases designs from Italy and more recently from Ras Al-Khaimah in the UAE. 

An expansion programme has led to its own retail operations as well as wholesaling and opening up new channels through professional specifiers such as architects.

So, at first glance, a growing and vibrant company; but the changes for the better over the past few years have been out of all proportion, according to Peter Roberts.

A couple of years back a BNZ contact suggested I should look at a business programme to help grow my business. He felt I would benefit from the Owner Managers Programme (OMP) being run by the ICEHOUSE and I thought well, it wont do me any harm.

Roberts attended the five three-day OMP blocks and says one of the biggest differences is hes no longer flying by the seat of his pants. 

The company is more structured. We saw that we really needed to address governance, and its been a big learning curve in dealing with issues and people.

Feedback from staff suggests that the course had a more profound effect than first suspected on the way Roberts managed the company and himself. Erin Stephenson, Heritage Tiles wholesale manager says; Peter was very driven and more committed than Id ever seen him. Id worked here for six years and thought the result of the OMP course was that he got it; even down to the way he projected himself and moved. It was very clear that he had a working vision of where he wanted the company to go, and how he was going to take it there.

Taking it there, for Roberts, meant encouraging staff to share his vision, and to filter this throughout the company. He chose two of his senior staff, Erin Stephenson and retail manager Stacey Johnston-Smale to participate in a new ICEHOUSE programme that had grown out of the OMP programmes.

Channel manager for the ICEHOUSE, Maria Taylor, says the Owner Managers had embraced the business programme with huge enthusiasm, loved the networking but found it lonely back at the workplace and often difficult to relay the vision to key staff. The new Leading and Managing for Growth programme (three blocks of three days) was set up to allow senior staff access to the same drivers that their bosses had experienced through the more lengthy OMP.

Ive got you down for a programme, a bit like a mini-MBA, Roberts told his two staff. 

Stephenson says whilst she admired the new vigour and vision Peter, both women were hesitant about committing time out of their already heavy workloads.


Erins story

Erins dilemma: It was really inspirational to see someone youve worked with evolving and growing. It made a difference to his approach  more of managing with a looser lead but getting better results. For example, we had a tradition of doing it ourselves and not getting people in to provide bolt-on expertise where we needed it. Peter would try and nut it out himself because it was my company. Weve now started bringing in people when we need them and finding that the money spent is worthwhile because it adds to the business, not subtracts. I thought to myself I want to be like that.

Stephenson says the first day butterflies flew in formation, recognising the stress of being in a room full of people you consider your peers and wanting to succeed. Two blocks later shes exhilarated with the sense of cohesion between the participants. 

Everyone there is getting something out of it and Ive got a real feeling of this is what I needed to do.

With one final block to go, Stephenson says shes stretching her thinking, a task she had struggled with previously. Ive found its not about making wild and rash decisions but moving in a strategic way. I couldnt see beyond where I was, but getting out of the business in a structured way has helped me look at where to go next. Its made learning a blast and Im really looking forward to the next block.

Stephenson, who leads a team of four, says she is now thinking before she reacts and has a new take on what it means to be a leader and manager. 

It has completely motivated me and changed my outlook, she says. And a new understanding and bond between her and Roberts in sharing the visions and value for the company is a bonus.


Staceys story

For Johnston-Smale it was all about timing. Its always a bad time to add [a course] to the project list. However, Id done a couple of ICEHOUSE courses before and I found them motivating and great for networking, so like Erin, I found the time.

Johnston-Smale, as commercial manager for Heritage Tiles, found pushing herself to find time paid off in her confidence in leading her seven staff. She says there have been changes right throughout the company, from a better perspective to more answerability to projects.

With one more block to go, Stephenson and Johnston-Smale are taking on a company project that has been languishing for the past four years. NZBusiness will catch up with the Heritage team when the programme is finished for the answers to; was it worthwhile and what difference did it make?

At the time of writing, both Stephenson and Johnston-Smale were visiting the International Tile Fair in Italy after seeing their supplier in the UAE; ensuring New Zealanders are walking on the latest in tile trends and fashion.   NZB    


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