Fisher & Paykel, long regarded as one of New Zealand's most innovative companies through its use of information technology, has retrenched its long-serving IT manager, Bruce Caldwell, trimmed back the numbers of divisional managerial staff and linked IT back to business operations.
Not that you'd know it through the company's corporate affairs department, whose manager, Richard Blundell, first said he didn't know anything about it, then refused to comment about anything on the grounds of being bound by the Privacy Act.
What F&P is doing seems to be not well known to stockbrokers. CSC First Boston analyst Sandra Urlich said she'd rather not comment. "They [F&P] keep things very close to their chest." It was apparent that she had little idea of what was happening.
Merrill Lynch analyst David Errington, based in Melbourne, had much more to say.
"Their earnings are very heavily driven by their health-care products, which have been doing exceptionally well. It's a pretty difficult environment for their whiteware— the healthcare products exceed that by about 20%.
"F&P's profit after tax this year was about $36 million. They've had flat earnings for the past three years."
There's a view among the stockbrokers that Fisher & Paykel is a little "un-
commercial" — that it has been driven by the engineering side.
CEO Gary Paykel is understood to have restructured the company in a major way, dissolving most of the service operations and bringing a focus back to the main operating units. Non-core operations are being shed.
Caldwell is perhaps one of the best known IT managers in the business, after 12 years with Fisher & Paykel. His job is gone under the new regime, though he will spend the next six months dealing with issues like year 2000 compliance.
"Over the years we've done a lot of innovative things supporting growth," he says. "F&P is now cutting costs.
"We've gone through a generation of innovation, and a lot of the challenge has been to underpin the business. IT has been a part of the maturation of the company."
As a long-serving IS manager, Caldwell has seen it all. Computerworld asked him what were the best technology changes he had seen at F&P.
"Our challenges were the technology of our products, and IT coming in underneath the design. We've had early enterprise systems with just-in-time delivery. To an extent, they were unique for their time."