s02e01 – Achieving Manufacturing Success – with Tony Crooke
In today’s episode I am joined by Tony Crooke, Group Marketing Manager for GME. An Australian-owned computer and electronics company, who are considered an industry leader in the RF communication technology space.
With extensive experience in product management and customer service, Tony understands the nuances of marketing and product management within the manufacturing world. Having worked with Australian and international organisations. A fan of the first season of Manufacturing Mastery, the universe presented Tony and I with an opportunity to have a conversation about Australian manufacturing and his experiences, not too long ago. Some of the subjects we delved into:
- Tony’s passion for achieving success, particularly within the scope of launching market-leading products and brands.
- How manufacturers can apply a wide range of factors to attain sustainable success.
- The application of technology as a key element to achieving success, but not the be all and end all.
- Agility in the industry/market and the application of.
- Product management/development
Connect with Tony via LinkedIn
[00:00:00] Graeme Fitzgerald: Welcome to Manufacturing Mastery with Graham Fitzgerald, the podcast. My name’s Graham Fitzgerald, and for over 30 years I’ve led some of Australia’s largest manufacturing organizations riding the highs and lows, the occasional failure and the plentiful successes that inevitably come with being in.
[00:00:26] This podcast is aimed helping you, a progressive Australian manufacturer with practical, current, and real world advice on navigating your pathway to sustainable success in manufacturing. Myself and my special guests will cover everything from how to embed a planning framework into your business, new approaches to innovation, the importance of culture, and how to lead change, and navigating the new normal as an Australian manufac.
[00:00:50] So manufacturers, let’s master it
[00:00:57] in today’s podcast I’m joined by Tony. [00:01:00] Tony Crooke from gme. He’s a listener to manufacturing Mastery from season one and a person who’s passionate about achieving success. Particularly in the launch of market leading products and brands, Tony’s got extensive experience in product management and in customer service.
[00:01:20] He’s someone who understands the nuances of marketing and product management and the key components required to achieve success. Tony’s held a wide range of positions in customer service, sales, marketing product development, Australia with both Australian and international organizations. And today’s podcast theme.
[00:01:43] I’ve titled achieving Manufacturing Success and the themes really come out of thinking about what’s come out of season one. Some work that I did in preparation for a workshop, which I’ve recently facilitated, [00:02:00] focusing on collaborative manufacturing. And my goal is really to, to speak with manufacturers.
[00:02:07] Who are living the dream of achieving success in Australian manufacturing in 2022 and beyond? One of the things that I everybody would recognize is the application of technology is widely understood as a key element required for success in the world today. Technology, however, is not the holy grail in my view for achieving success because there are many different other aspects.
[00:02:34] You know, time or speed is another major factor particularly in a world where innovation is, you know, it’s become a bit of a buzzword. But being agile enough to respond to changes in the market, changes to what competitors do, and changes to the needs that people have, and the application of some of those technologies in different ways and different means.
[00:02:58] So, Now when I found the [00:03:00] opportunity to, to speak with Tony it was a case of, you know, the universe delivering an opportunity to speak with somebody who was exploring how Australian manufacturers can apply the, the wide range of factors required for sustainable success. So in our time together today, I hope we can share some of the the secrets that make achieving success possible and sustainable.
[00:03:27] And as we come toge together hopefully we can share some of those ideas and people can take away some of those things to work into the, into their own businesses. So welcome Tony to Manufacturing Mastery. Thanks for having me, Graham. That’s good. I’m as I said a little early before we were talking you know, I’m really looking forward to this.
[00:03:48] You, I get to learn a bit about a an organization in Australia that you know, Some people might say is an overnight success, 50 to 70 [00:04:00] years in the making. So I look forward to hearing some of that. So maybe can you share with us a bit about your journey, and particularly with respect to your time in GME and, and a bit about who GME is.
[00:04:13] Tony Crooke: Sure, I’d love to. Graham. So, in terms of my career, I started as, as quite a young man across a variety of national customer service and sales roles. And at the time I was working for a large multinational. I worked for a number of large Australian companies, and I guess the takeaway from all of that initial experience in customer service was a really deep connection to the customer.
[00:04:38] And the thing that I developed quite quickly was an appreciation for not only how easy it is to earn a customer’s loyalty, but also how easy it is to lose. And particularly working in customer relations roles, dealing with product faults and ultimately complaints. It was great experience for me to get, as I said, that [00:05:00] direct connection to the customer.
[00:05:02] From there, I, with a little bit of encouragement from a very good manager at the time, made the move into product marketing and it was really there that, I suppose I found my calling and from there I built my career within a, a large multinational company. And I was there for a long time, over 10 years.
[00:05:21] When the opportunity came up to work for a company called GME as a marine product manager, it almost seemed a little bit too good to be true. I’ve had a long term love for the outdoors through fishing and camping and fall driving, and obviously with a background in product management and product development in an electronics company.
[00:05:43] It was the perfect opportunity for me to join this. Now, I have to be honest, at the time I was aware of GME as a business, but I wasn’t a hundred percent sure on exactly what they did. And it was only as I started to to work here. And I’ve been here now for over six years that I [00:06:00] really started to find just how strong this brand is within those niche markets that, that the business plays in this place.
[00:06:06] And so a short bit of history, the company was founded in 1959. The founder. We started by repairing television channels and through a really strong ability to identify niche markets, the business grew and it’s really underpinned by Australian manufacturing. So as far as the family and the shareholders of this business concerned, if we’re unable to manufacture in Australia then, or we simply don’t wanna do it anymore.
[00:06:35] Okay, so the core of our business is all around RF communication products, so uhf cv, radios vhf, marine radios, and we’ve also got a very strong emergency beacon business. So, okay. Emergency position indicating radio beacons or more commonly known ass, and also ps. So now having been here about six and a half years I find [00:07:00] myself as the group marketing manager for gme.
[00:07:02] Yeah. And I often joke that I’ve got a pretty easy job now. It’s great to be the custodian of a very strong brand, but of course, with that,
[00:07:14] Graeme Fitzgerald: Comes a fair bit of risk, comes a responsibility as well, a lot of
[00:07:17] Tony Crooke: responsibility. I’ve got a, I’ve got a very strong and, and old brand that I’m the custodian of, but look, I’m really fortunate in my role particularly that I get to spend so much of my time directly engaging with our customers.
[00:07:31] And that starts obviously with social media and across trade shows throughout extensive dealer network and across a variety of vertical. So, as I mentioned, the, the allure of working here in the first place was my passion for the outdoors. And now some of our biggest markets are, yeah, the fishing and boating industries, the four wheel drive market.
[00:07:53] Agriculture and heavy vehicle, lots of industries that occur outside of the major metro centers. So it gives [00:08:00] me an opportunity to spend a lot of time out of the office and out in what I would call the real world as,
[00:08:05] Graeme Fitzgerald: as I said, living the dream. .
[00:08:07] Tony Crooke: Well, it feels like that sometimes. Yeah, and, and from a business perspective, it really helps me because when we’re sitting in the office and we are trying to define new products or identify new markets that we should be going after, I feel like I’ve got the closest connection to our customers and it really helps when we are developing Australian made products.
[00:08:28] The customers we know want these products because we’re so close to them. So I really do feel quite lucky.
[00:08:34] Graeme Fitzgerald: So, so where did that passion you have for product management and and that working so closely with your customers, how did, how did that come about? Because I’ve, my experience is not, that’s not It doesn’t have to happen like that.
[00:08:53] So what, what, what was your circumstance that you think has led you to have that passion? You have [00:09:00] clearly at the moment?
[00:09:01] Tony Crooke: Look, without being disparaging about some of my experience early on in my career, I did witness examples where, Companies weren’t necessarily responsive to feedback from their customers, and it created angst, and it also created situations where sometimes the customer said, well, I don’t wanna deal with you anymore.
[00:09:24] So for me, particularly as a product manager and as a product owner, It makes life a lot easier if you’re addressing the customer’s requirements before something goes wrong.
[00:09:36] Graeme Fitzgerald: Are you looking to grow your manufacturing business? Need some support to achieve your goals? My manufacturing mastermind group is a great place to start.
[00:09:44] This exclusive group proceeds monthly worksheets and guidance around the five key principles of manufacturing. There’s a monthly live virtual q and a session and a live mentoring call with a mastermind member where we troubleshoot the business challenge of. [00:10:00] Plus this group comes together on a quarterly basis for a one day workshop to ensure accountability in the delivery of your business growth plan.
[00:10:08] Find out more by visiting ram fitzgerald.com au slash mastermind,
[00:10:18] Tony Crooke: and that’s worth feeding into. That product definition at the development stage can make life so much easier and it really makes a customer want to deal with your brand and want to own your. Good,
[00:10:31] Graeme Fitzgerald: so. With your with GME and the products you’re making at the moment. One of the things that came up when I was sort of working through the the collaborative manufacturing thing was this concept of the, the time to market.
[00:10:52] And what, what in the academic world has sort of seen as that was the [00:11:00] buzzword of how do. How do we shorten the time to market for new products and to, like when I was exploring the where the world is going now, I noticed that the, the researchers have sort of started to shift to a different concept of time to volume, which was I guess focused on some of the shortcomings that might be driven from time to market as a, as a measure of success in new product development.
[00:11:29] What’s your, can you share with your thoughts on those concepts and what do you think is critical in the success in GME for you guys with new product development?
[00:11:40] Tony Crooke: Sure, Brad. I think time to market, as you said, definitely a buzz term that you hear thrown around quite often, and. When you consider time to market in its isolation, in some cases, and in my experience, it can result in a product being rushed.
[00:11:56] Yeah. And in some cases brought to market before it’s [00:12:00] truly ready. Yeah. And maybe not being able to then deliver any true innovation or additional benefits to the consumer. You’re trying to hit the next month’s budget, or you know, the quarterly numbers and it might be considered as a perceived short term win for the business.
[00:12:17] Yeah, but you’re not actually moving the commercial dial in any sort of meaningful way. And of course, timing’s always a contributor to the failure or success of a product. And when we talk about the communications industry that we are in, which is underpinned by electronics, it’s obviously a very competitive market.
[00:12:35] We’re dealing with competitors who are, in a lot of cases, very large multinational businesses, but GME strategy. Currently aligns much more closely with that time to volume concept. And in support of that, we’ve implemented a number of processes within our business that ensures we spend that little bit of extra time in the front end scoping and [00:13:00] really developing differentiated products.
[00:13:02] And the reason for that is we know that based on the longer product life cycles that we tend to experience in our industry, having a differentiated. Not necessarily the cheapest, but having some clear benefits to the consumer are gonna deliver us much more sustainable outcomes over the midterm. So I suppose for us having a short term kick in volume, whilst it can be very appealing, it’s not as powerful as having a truly differentiated product that may take a little bit longer to bring to market, but will give us a much more sustainable.
[00:13:39] Graeme Fitzgerald: Okay. And, and in that so you. That, that aligns with some of my thinking, I guess, in how things might work. So how do, do you guys deal with that that temptation in the early phase to Go [00:14:00] from we’ve defined the product and let’s get it happening. Cuz of the excitement that come, how, how do you manage that?
[00:14:07] Is there some things that you’ve developed in your, your processes that allow you to, to get, I guess that, that clarity of sign off on what we’re actually really doing
[00:14:17] Tony Crooke: Absolutely. And the way we handle that in GME is really a truly collaborative approach, underpinned by stage gate international process.
[00:14:28] Yeah. So we run a stage gate process. We have a cross-functional team that we call our project review committee and any idea and all ideas are given air time. Right. We review those ideas and there are different stakeholders from different functions within the business, and we vote on ideas and whether those ideas are, you know, put into action as a, a project that we’re gonna commence immediately, whether they’re put on hold or in some cases an idea could be killed.
[00:14:59] But [00:15:00] very rarely do we kill an idea off before we’ve given the idea. Time to try and develop. So we’ve got a number of, I guess, product concepts or potential markets that we’ve got in a holding area, and they’re reviewed frequently to see if there have been any factors within the market or within technology that have changed.
[00:15:22] That may change the level of priority for those particular ideas. Okay.
[00:15:26] Graeme Fitzgerald: So it’s a bit of a watching brief on those, those different sections. And you know, you never know what’s likely to pop up in the, in the world of capability or your opportunities. That’s right. Yeah. Okay. That’s so with I guess you guys have a long history as you said, you know, sort of the the late fifties onwards to be around that long and be successful over that period of time indicates that there’s a long history of supplying [00:16:00] innovative market leading products.
[00:16:01] Because in the world that you’re working in electronics and that sort of communication space, it is continually evolving. So, Innovation is a, a bit of a buzzword that I sort of cringe when people talk about developing innovative culture and that can you maybe share with us your thoughts on what the difference between continuous improvement and innovation is and what you think might be the critical success factors for actually developing an innovative organization?
[00:16:36] Tony Crooke: Sure. The term innovation does get thrown around quite freely particularly when you’re talking technology and electronics. Yep. But our team here, we really do focus on delivering on the promise rather than just talking about it. So the, where that commences for our business is we have an innovation strategy and a technology strategy that we frequently review.
[00:16:59] So on a quarterly [00:17:00] basis, we have a, a quick check in, and then yearly we have a more formal process. And really that’s to ensure that we’re remaining as closely aligned to the demands and desires of that customer base within our existing arenas, but also any new markets that we’ve identified as potential targets.
[00:17:16] So having an innovation strategy is fantastic. We’ve got to make sure that we’re not losing sight of our core customer base. Right. And this is where continuous improvement in terms of development of, of both products and people is obviously critically important. Yeah. But if we fall into the trap of trying to turn every new development into a.
[00:17:39] I guess you’d call a game changer. You do run a little bit of a risk of, of damaging the solid foundations that have enabled you to invest in innovation in the first place. Yeah, so it’s definitely a balancing act for us between innovation and. First of kind products and really that core product [00:18:00] portfolio that we’ve built the brand on.
[00:18:02] Yeah. And for us, as I said, we, there’s no shortage of ideas within our business and they come from all sorts of areas, product management, engineering, or sales. And sometimes one of the hardest calls that we have to make as a management group is to not develop the new product at a particular point in time.
[00:18:20] Yeah. And that purely comes down to resourcing. So. Choosing to develop a new innovative product that might be more resource intensive. For example, replacing a product that delivers on an existing revenue stream. It can be risky, and we’re at the mercy of things like obsolescence with components becoming end of life, and obviously the external markets changing as we’ve seen over the last couple of years.
[00:18:47] Graeme Fitzgerald: Yeah. So I think if I my interpretation from, from GME and your experience in there, Innovation is a particular strategic issue, but [00:19:00] without having the capacity and the, the focus on continuous improvement, it’s actually a real big risk that you can, you can lose sight of what’s making you successful today and allowing you to have the, the fire power I gets to develop and have those watching briefs that might be sitting in the background.
[00:19:18] So that’s absolutely right. Yeah. That’s that it’s, it’s great to hear how that sits in a real live business and one that’s actually being successful.
[00:19:33] If you are wanting tailored one-to-one coaching for fast results, perhaps my mentoring service is the option you need. This package includes two one-to-one sessions each month and a weekly accountability call, as well as access to the growing network of members in the mastermind group. Find out more by visiting graham fitzgerald.com au slash mentoring, or contact me directly via the form on my website to understand how I can best help you [00:20:00] grow your business.
[00:20:07] One of the things about my podcast is I have I, when I said about developing this was that I wanted to make sure that We provided our, our listeners with an opportunity to take something away from from their, their valuable time that they spend listening to this, that action can imply in their business.
[00:20:27] So as a practitioner with responsibility for achieving those real business results, can you share with us one of your greatest challenges in product management and delivering that success and how you’ve tackled.
[00:20:41] Tony Crooke: That’s a very good question, Graham. There’s there’s no shortage of challenges. I’m sure anyone in, in product management would know.
[00:20:47] I suppose I’ll, I’ll, I’ll focus on something that’s happening right now and has been happening over the last couple years for us, and that is that we source components from all over the world and as many other Australian [00:21:00] manufacturers would’ve experienced, there have been endless supply chain issues over the experience.
[00:21:06] And as a business, we have robust supply chain processes in place. But we are finding ourselves constantly at the mercy of constraints, which are often outside of our control, particularly during these periods of increased demand for high quality made products, which we’ve absolutely seen over the last 24 months.
[00:21:27] So, For your listeners, my strongest recommendation is wherever possible, build and maintain strong relationships with your suppliers. It’s absolutely imperative and being able to effectively and openly communicate with your suppliers and have that implicit trust that you are going to know any critical information before any new issues.
[00:21:53] Particularly if you need to look to ultimate sources, or for us, in the worst case, having to look at redesigning [00:22:00] products to design out components that are under pressure to maintain your production output, that is absolutely invaluable. Right. And for us, as an Australian manufacturer, this is one of our greatest benefits.
[00:22:14] As it allows us to be really agile with our production processes and our scheduling, so when those components are delayed or in some cases are pushed out, we’re dealing with lead times of, you know, in some cases over 60 weeks. Yeah. In order to continually increase our output locally and navigate those shortages at a global level, having your manufacturing in Australia and being able to quickly adapt to those challenge.
[00:22:41] Is, is absolutely critical for us as a business. So you’ve seen
[00:22:45] Graeme Fitzgerald: that as an advan, almost a a, an advantage to actually be a local supplier rather than somebody who might be shipping in from and consolidating products in Australia.
[00:22:59] Tony Crooke: We sure [00:23:00] have Great over the last 12 months alone. 85% of our revenue is now coming from products that we manufacture right here in Sydney.
[00:23:09] This is up from pre pandemic levels of around 70%. Yep. So whilst we’ve definitely had our share of challenges with, you know, labor shortages in Australia, component shortages at a global level, endless logistics issues, we’ve managed to double our top line revenue in three years. And significantly increase the ratio of Australian made product to imported product, which.
[00:23:34] You know, quite remarkable really. But it’s a testament to how powerful Australian companies can be if they get the formula right and do maintain manufacturing in this country.
[00:23:46] Graeme Fitzgerald: I guess that leads me to the, probably what I, I like to sort of consider the the, the real big question. For gme, I understand that, you know, you’ve [00:24:00] developed a, you’ve got a state of art, the art manufacturing facility there in Sydney.
[00:24:04] It’s been upgraded and you’ve built in some new capability. You’ve got customers firmly at the, the center of your strategy. With the changes in global circumstances for me, they seem to offer many different opportunities for those people who aspire to actually achieve success. What do you think has been your greatest lesson over the, I guess, your career and, you know, you’ve got an extensive period of time.
[00:24:34] What’s been your greatest lesson that you could share with people and that’s influencing you today to take advantage of those opportunities as they come up for g.
[00:24:46] Tony Crooke: You gotta invest in your people, right, from, from both a time perspective, but also from development. Be that sharing experience or developing knowledge on new skills.
[00:24:58] I truly believe [00:25:00] that great businesses only become great from having passionate and engaged employees driving them, and that is more important than ever before. We’ve got record low unemployment in this country. Trying to onboard new staff or indeed to find staff to film new positions is harder than it’s ever been in my career.
[00:25:21] And obviously everyone’s driven by those top line metrics and revenue and profit. But you need to ensure as a manager and in some cases as a business owner that that you don’t lose sight of the human nature of management and business. So I encourage everyone to talk to your people, ensure that they know that they’re valued, and that doesn’t necessarily just mean by giving them money.
[00:25:47] You need to ensure that your people have all of the tools that they need to succeed and that they truly do feel valued within the business. My position on this and something that I say to my staff all the time, [00:26:00] they’ll come to me and ask me a question, should we do this? And my response is very simple.
[00:26:05] I ask them, if it was your business, what would you do? Yeah. And nine times outta 10, they’re gonna give you the absolute correct response. Yeah.
[00:26:17] Graeme Fitzgerald: It’s interesting that I have a very, a very similar shared view around which I’ve shared many times when I was facilitating the workshop just recently.
[00:26:31] One of the common things. And there were majority of people were from Asia, was the same issue, was around engagement of their team. They’ve got the best technologies, but if you haven’t got your team engaged and people are coming and going from the organization, it was making their life very difficult.
[00:26:46] So look, Tony, I really thank you for your time. I could talk. For hours around how, what’s making businesses successful in Australia, and sharing different [00:27:00] philosophies and bouncing ideas off each other. So I know that the, the people who are listing busy people who have limited time.
[00:27:09] So I’d really like to thank you for Giving up your time and sharing some of your journey with gme over the last period of time. And I look forward to seeing and hearing further successes in the business. This is probably not a bad place to, to, to finish. Maybe could you just share with people how people are, get in contact with you if they wanted to follow up.
[00:27:36] Tony Crooke: Graham, and look, thank you very much for having me. It’s been a pleasure chatting to you. Yeah. If anyone wants to get in touch you can reach out via the GME website, which is www gme.net.au. Or if you’d like to contact me directly, you can find me on
[00:27:50] Graeme Fitzgerald: LinkedIn. Oh, that’s fantastic, Tony. So thank you for your time and your insights today.
[00:27:56] Have a, have a great day and [00:28:00] I’ll talk to you soon.
[00:28:10] Thank you for being part of this week’s episode. It was great to have you. I’m always keen to hear your thoughts, questions, ideas and suggestions for future topics for the. So please get in touch with my Facebook page, Graeme Fitzgerald Manufacturing Growth Specialist, my LinkedIn page, or via my website, graememfitzgerald.com au.
[00:28:31] That’s Graemefitzgerald.com.au. If you’re enjoying what I’m putting out here, please rate, review, or subscribe to the podcast so more manufacturers can find out about it and we can build our community of Masterminds manufacturing in this great. I’ll talk to you soon.