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Argus Fire Protection
Having good people and understanding that cash is king in today’s testing business environment are just two reasons why Argus Fire Protection has quadrupled in size under its Managing Director Jacqui Bensemann.
Argus Fire Protection, founded in 1981, is a New Zealand owned and operated company with a well established history and reputation second to none in terms of its service, quality and competitiveness.
Managing Director Jacqui BensemannJacqui has headed the business since 2001 following the sudden death of her father Erle, who was killed while driving at Pukekohe. Erle had purchased the business when it was a small sprinkler contractor, adding fire alarm services.
“He died as a very young 73-year-old with the heart of a 40-year-old. He was a very intelligent man, a great thinker with great ideas. It happened when, for the first time in his life, he had both money and time together,”
Having worked as General Manager for Argus in the two years prior to the tragedy, Jacqui took the reins. A chartered accountant by trade, she had worked in London during the early 1990s before returning home in 1995. Her young family originally settled in Wellington, moving to Auckland when her husband David Leggat secured a job at the New Zealand Herald. He is the current Chief Sports Reporter.
Jacqui says the step up from General Manager to Managing Director was huge, and admits she struggled in the initial years. “With the benefit of hindsight, I required more help and guidance than I thought I did.” Jacqui could see the business had huge potential, but she couldn’t do it all herself. “I had the energy and passion and some great ideas, but didn’t know what to do with them. I tended to go off on all sorts of tangents because there wasn’t someone to help guide me to a more disciplined, focused approach.”
The Board agreed and Pekka Orpana was appointed as an independent director. Pekka transformed Plumbing World into New Zealand’s leader in its field. Jacqui describes the Palmerston North-based businessman as “an outstanding mentor”, who has helped bring out the best in her management style. “My father was more of the old school, autocratic style when he was in charge, whereas I take the more consultative approach, although I’ve learnt to take the hard-nosed approach when needed.”
During her time as Managing Director, Argus has not only seen rapid growth but a change in direction. During the past five years the business mix has changed from being 60% contract work (the setting up of systems) and 40% service to 30% contract and 70% service. “Contract work is great for visibility, but it’s a high-risk, low-margin field and there’s a lot of undercutting going on,” she says.
“Servicing provides a more regular income. We’ve succeeded because we know in order to maintain good service, you need to invest in a solid infrastructure with well trained and qualified people.
It may cost more, but not as much as your reputation if you’re not providing the service needed.”
Jackie’s Top Tips – Do’s & Don’ts
- Invest in the best people you can. If you can’t afford it, still invest in the best people you can. You’re only as good as the people around you and good people transform businesses.
- In times like these, cash is king.
- Branding is important, so look the part. Perception is reality.
- Don’t ignore complaints. They cared enough to say something, so you should listen, particularly if their criticisms are constructive and need to be addressed.
- Don’t ignore the value of a good board.
For more about Argus, visit their website here; www.argusfire.co.nz
Accountant’s Comments – Bruce Sheppard
The main lesson out of the Argus Bensan story in respect of succession planning is this:
If you wish your family to nurture and grow a business post your retirement or demise it takes time, discussion and active sharing of involvement.
Most business owners cannot rely on their children to share their dream, in fact mostly children don’t. To deliver a different outcome, you must, from an early age, actively encourage your children in enterprise, you must share with them your skills and knowledge and you must involve them early in the business and encourage them to at first share, and then assume responsibility. Jacqui’s success is her father’s preparation, her own determination and her seeking of assistance when needed from trusted advisors.
When her father formed the company he shared the ownership with three of his past associates who had been with him through his business life in similar businesses that he had built up and sold. I was fortunate to be admitted into this inner sanctum as the fourth shareholder and became part of the trustees’ advisor and owner group.