Rapid growth built on team approach


Hamilton engineering company Vertex can say one thousand percent that they’re on a roll.

That’s because they’ve just been named third on the Deloitte Fast 50, after recording astonishing revenue growth of 1144 percent over three years.

That puts them first for manufacturers, and third for all businesses throughout the country.

The company started by Nick Callagher in 2011 now has almost 40 staff, offices in Tauranga and Auckland, and a new main office in Hamilton that gives space to grow further.

Their new headquarters, at Barnett Place in Te Rapa, carry the words “design innovation and engineering excellence” on the front sign and the firm has been there just a month after outgrowing their last premises at Karewa Place.

Inside, they have opened up spaces, redesigning offices, kitchen and eating areas and meeting rooms. Managing director Callagher and his leadership team were determined to create a comfortable environment and it shows. During the Waikato Business News visit, most of the activity is at design computers, while in the workshop behind, half a dozen staff are working on an engineering job. This is not a space for fabrication, though – Vertex is fair and square at the design and process end of the business, as the sign suggests.

If that makes them niche, then they are carving out a seriously big niche, with very few others doing the same thing in New Zealand, and certainly none on their scale.

What’s the recipe? For Callagher, it’s pretty simple: it’s about the people and the team.

“I suppose a good way of putting it is we’re in competition with global manufacturers on a few jobs.

“The whole reason we’ve grown is because of the team. We’ve got a management team in place and we equip our staff for success and so that’s how we’ve grown as a company.”

That includes a personal development programme that sees leadership catch up with each employee three times a year, and it saw the year kick off with a team day, which led to the setup of a business improvement group to come up with ideas towards the firm’s development. 

“What we have done is put people in place in anticipation of the work,” said Callagher. 

“The big thing is that we love what we do, our industry, our innovation, and we are ambitious. And you’ve got to take a bit of risk in business.”

The leadership team is also sustained by the Christian faith. “We believe we are in the right place and with the right purpose,” said general manager Eric Wisse.

Callagher, a design engineer, said he has always loved the process side of the industry.

“I didn’t want to do it without the right people. That’s where a few senior engineers came on board and started it, then Eric came on board and really boosted that. And now I would say we’ve got the best team in Australasia.”

It was their bank manager Colleen Emery who encouraged them to enter Fast 50 – the first time they have entered any competition. They were reluctant but she could obviously recognise strong numbers when she saw them. It would be good for their profile, she told them, so they took the plunge.

That saw them win at the regionals before heading off to the national finals on November 14, for what was to become a nerve-racking evening. Announcements start at No 50, and there are plenty more before the numbers get below 10 and creep slowly lower.

“When your name doesn’t get called out till near the end of the jolly night, you know, there’s enough heart beating going on and adrenaline pumping through your body,” Callagher said.

“I was shattered by the end of the night.

“The time where it hit me, the time where I celebrated is when I came into work in the morning and I grabbed everyone in the company to meet in the foyer – and when I told them, that’s when it hit home and I thought, that is success.

“On the night was great but this is where I really enjoyed it.”

For now all Vertex’s work is in New Zealand, and they have a solid base in dairying. Their rapid growth sees them bidding for five to 10 projects a month, and they work on multi-million dollar projects.

Their diverse work includes projects for bakeries and poultry as well as their dairying mainstay and, increasingly, water and environmental. 

“We are doing an IP project with a customer in the bee industry and it includes environmental engineering that’s going to revolutionise that industry,” Callagher said.

Clients include large companies such as Fonterra, Goodman Fielder and Ingham, and they have further growth aspirations. A year ago they had a staff of 16, by January that will be 40 and growing. 

“We have growth aspirations in terms of the number of large projects that we’ll be able to undertake simultaneously,” said financial operations manager Daniel King.

Wisse said they are hoping to get quickly to having three teams able to do three simultaneous major capital projects.

They are about to recruit for a large North Island project and have also picked up a contract for Westland Milk, which Wisse said is probably one of the two largest engineering projects in New Zealand at the moment. They are setting up a system which will enable different milk products to be kept segregated and traced through the Westland plant. That comes at the conclusion of a two-and-a-half year project doing all the packing, palletising and materials handling at Fonterra’s new $300 million Clandeboye mozzarella plant near Temuka, where they were one of the largest contractors on site. 

Related, but on a different scale, in a job for Tip Top they designed a machine to put the jelly in Jelly Tips and the chocolate in Choc Bars. It sounds a bit like winning the golden ticket to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory, but sadly Callagher lacks the necessary sweet tooth.

They are also moving into water, as it increasingly preoccupies businesses and government organisations, and have recently tendered for UV plants.

Wisse observed that they like to focus on engineering inhouse to meet clients’ needs as opposed to globalised players who offer standardised products designed offshore.

Vertex wants to run counter to that with innovative turnkey solutions.

For now they are working only in New Zealand, but they see Australia as a potential future market. Callagher pointed to the company’s design innovation and engineering excellence logo. “That’s our vision, that’s what we love, it runs through everyone’s veins,” he said.


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