Allied Telesyn Research’s plans for a doubling the size of its Christchurch research and development facility are testimony to the success of a local knowledge-intensive operation working as part of an international group.
The establishment is one of five R&D facilities worldwide for one of the largest networking specialists in the world, centred in the US and Japan. The local company works on switches and on routers above level 3 of the ISO stack.
Last month it moved into a new building, but already has plans well advanced for an addition that will more than double its size and staffing (see story). ATR expects by the end of next year to be employing 250 people, from about 100 today.
But managing director Geoff Peck has no ready-made recipe for success in the knowledge economy. The chief strength of the company is that “we’re a group of people that have been together for a long time,” he says. This brings mutual trust, so people can confidently delegate work and be assured it will be done. Everyone is familiar with everyone else’s style of working and this makes for efficiency and certainty.
He is the first to admit that he has no management consultancy skills. “I’m an engineer”, he says, like many others in the company.
“There is a multiplier factor when a team of you has been working together for 15 years, as opposed to an average eight-month stay for employees in Silicon Valley start-ups. This [company] is an interesting place to work, but I don’t really know what the X-factor [for success] is. It’s hard to analyse yourself.”
What is now Allied Telesyn’s New Zealand team began in the DSIR in the early 80s, so its skills were originally nurtured by government - always a moot point when considering knowledge economy encouragement. The team was responsible for setting up a DSIR network in the days when networking computers was a sophisticated task, not the building-block operation it is today. It successfully commercialised its networking technology. As a commercial operation, it was “a square peg in a round hole” in the DSIR, and even more so in the crown research institute structure that succeeded it, Peck says.
Staff and intellectual property transferred to a Christchurch company, Network Dynamics, then went successively through British (Securicor) and US (Teletrend) ownership, before being taken over last year by US/Japanese group Allied Telesysn Inc/Allied Telesis KK.
The international company recognised the excellence of the Christchurch-based company’s people, says Peck. And New Zealand carried the attractions of being English-speaking and a low-cost place to maintain a workforce by international standards. But having proven skills was the chief advantage.
ATR has not significantly had to face the problem of having its skilled people move on to other companies or emigrate, he says. “We have lost perhaps four people in the last two years.” The new workforce, particularly recent graduates, might have more of a thirst for an OE, but there are plenty of opportunities around the world within the Alllied Telesyn group, Peck says.
Will the atmosphere of collegiality be diluted by recruitment of a large number of new staff? “A lot of beer and pizzas have been consumed discussing that problem,” he says. The strategy adopted was to ensure the first 30 people recruited had experience in the industry, and they were “the sort of people who would fit in with the group”. These can then support the new graduates and keep them focused. Recruiting such experienced staff has proved easier than the company expected.
The Japanese part of the company recently listed on the Nikkei stock exchange, and the US company plans a listing on the Nasdaq. Whether ATR will be included in that is still unclear, but Peck considers it likely. He declines, though, to comment on the possibility of that traditional incentive, stock options, for staff locally.