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Moving up a gear

Competitive sport has taught Mimico general manager Chris Gray some important lessons about life and business. By ABI KIBBLE.

WITH YEARS OF MOTORCYCLE racing under his belt, Chris Gray knows a thing or two about optimising performance.
Whether you want to succeed in sport or business, Chris believes that the basic principles are the same. “It’s all about striving for excellence, constantly tweaking and fine-tuning to get the best possible results,” he says.
While an accident led Chris to hang up his helmet and gloves in 2014, his business career has gone from strength to strength spanning 30 years and three countries.
Chris’ first break came when he was 15 years old, with a summer holiday job at an asphalt laboratory in North Wales. A series of technical, hands-on roles followed, before he took up a position as the assistant manager at a quarry in Wales. These early experiences gave Chris an invaluable insight into the quarry industry from the ground up.
While he was always destined for management, Chris says that moving from the shop floor into a supervisory role has been his toughest career move to date.
“It required a total change in mindset,” he explains.
“I went from being ‘one of the lads’ to part of the management team.  As a manager you have a responsibility to put the business first.
“However, a business is only as good as its people, so you have to put them first too. It’s a balancing act.”
An ambition to work in another country, and always looking for a new ‘life experiences’ were the catalyst for Chris and his family to move overseas in 2005. Chris applied for the role of quarry manager at Winstone Aggregates and within four weeks the family had sold everything – house, caravan, cars and motorbikes – and were on a plane to Auckland.
With the exception of a two-year stint in Tasmania they have been here ever since and say they are proud to call New Zealand home.
The Kiwi way of doing business is a big drawcard for Chris.
“We may be a small country but we compete very hard. There are lots of quarries out there despite the small market size, so companies are earning a hard living.
“They literally have to squeeze every drop out of their people and equipment, working at a very high professional level on a shoestring. It’s impressive – especially compared to quarries in the UK and Australia with the same output, that have plants that are nearly double the size.”
Digging deep and squeezing value out of businesses has become Chris’ signature style. He says, “Most businesses – even high performing ones – have one or two hidden levers which you can pull to increase profitability.
These could be cutting costs, or using resources more efficiently. Sometimes you need to think outside the square to find the levers – it’s something I thrive on.”
Chris says his greatest career achievement to date was his time in Tasmania when he was general manager Resources at Hazell Brothers. Despite being given a struggling transport business, within six months Chris had turned it around to the point that they were reinvesting and growing again.
“In this case, the hidden lever was to increase utilisation of trucks to maximise return on investment. I also focused on building relationships and securing new business.”
Equipping the industry
Chris’ career has now taken a different direction with his current role as general manager of Mimico, the leading supplier of plant and equipment to the quarrying and civil sectors. The key purpose of his role is the development and growth of Mimico, and succession planning should managing director Rex Davies decide to take a back seat.
Chris is in no doubt as to why he joined the company.
“I’m passionate about the brands we offer, which are some of the best in the world. Despite its small size, Mimico is the market leader in the quarrying industry, and batting well above its weight in a highly competitive market.”
Already a lean and a high-performing business, the challenge is for Chris to squeeze any more value out. Importing and on-selling is Mimico’s bread and butter, with costs dictated by manufacturers.
“Reducing costs is not an option. Our big point of difference is our customer service promise around parts, service and technical support.”
Doing things the Mimico Way 
Drawing on his skills and experience, Chris helped develop a set of values called the Mimico Way: Equipping your success. These encompass the company’s mission, vision and values, and its commitment to customers and employees.
“Put simply, it’s about putting people first.”
Chris says he’s a firm believer that high performing people create high performing businesses.
“We look for employees with a strong work ethic. We want them to go the extra mile. If they are happy then so are our customers.”
Training and personal development are an integral part of this high performance, and the company has a structured programme in place for all of its employees.
This includes monthly brand refresher training by manufacturers for the workshop, sales and parts teams. The teams are experts in the brands they sell and can pass this knowledge onto customers through training in areas such as maintenance and fault-finding training, which is a huge value-add.
While Mimico is growing rapidly, having almost doubled in size in the past 18 months, it is still very much a family business which treats employees and customers as individuals.
“It reflects my personal value of flexibility in meeting customer and employee needs. This is essential for us to meet our objective of long term sustainable growth.”
While Chris loved the thrill of the race in his motorcycle days, when it comes to achieving excellence in business, he recognises that ultimately, it’s less of a race and more of a journey. It takes time, resilience and determination.
“No matter how well you prepare, sometimes things don’t go your way. You just have to get up, dust yourself off and learn from your experiences,” he says.

This article first appeared in Q&M‘s February – March issue.

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