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Meet Mr Frank Seeley – The business of delivering fresh air

Today we have selected Mr. Frank Seeley AM to take his interview. He is the Executive Chairman of Seeley International.

First of all, how are you and your team doing in these COVID-19 times?

Initially, we were concerned and saw orders canceled in Europe in particular. But they were gradually reinstated and for a few good reasons. Firstly, people almost immediately realized the importance of having fresh, unbreathed air in their homes and buildings. By the end of the 2020 European summer, we had recouped all of those losses, and we saw a similar pattern in the USA. Since COVID first hit, our domestic winters and the summer have been extreme. The shift to people working from home highlighted the winter chill/summer heat problem and brought a new focus on comfort and fresh air – which we provide in spades.

Tell us about you, your career, how you founded this company?

In short, I founded Seeley by having the rug pulled out from under me when I turned a small air-conditioning company into a million-dollar turnover company in 1972. However, success turned the owner’s head, and the proposition he put to me would have only covered my expenses. And when I explained this, he told me I should go out and double the sales.  I realized that he wasn’t only unreasonable but had also become devoid of good business sense. My wife asked me what I would do, and I said we needed to make our own coolers. She agreed. I said we’d need to re-mortgage the house more heavily than we ever had before. She was still on board. When I warned her that we could lose everything, she said she would be happy to live in a tin shed, as long as it was with me!

That’s how my third and final career began.

It was a baptism of fire, but it has become the most enjoyable experience we’ve ever had! In the face of many and mighty business challenges, at times, it’s been terrifying!  But I look back now and thank God for everything that’s happened because even the very worst things that have happened have eventually become part of the most outstanding outcomes, which have blessed us beyond our wildest dreams!

How does your company innovate?

More importantly – why do we innovate? We innovate to survive, and we do it quickly and radically. Innovation isn’t a destination – it is a never-ending journey on which the successful embark, with no thought of ever jumping ship!  There’s a huge future for Australian manufacturing, provided we do three things: we have to Innovate like there’s no tomorrow. We have to Automate like there’s no tomorrow, and we have to Accelerate like there’s no tomorrow.  Ind if we do, Australia can lead the world!  Seeley is a relatively small company, but globally it punches way above its weight – all because it has embraced these three principles for very nearly 50 years.

How the Coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?

Our business is a family business, and all who work here are part of the family, so we cope with any well-adjusted family copes. We accept that people have different needs and are motivated in different ways. Each of our employees gets to enjoy the triumphs with us and is there to endure the disappointments and challenges (such as COVID) because that’s how a family works!

Our company family has been around for years, and people love working here because we are serious about helping and supporting each other. We want to see everyone in our company succeed, both professionally and personally, and that enables our people to do their best at all times to benefit the business.

COVID has also given us a greater sense of purpose and responsibility. Our technology is critical in the context of global health, and that’s a vital message to get out. As the global leader in indirect and direct evaporative cooling, we need to help move people forward in terms of their thinking about what the most healthy choices are for them, their families, and their businesses  – healthy, pristine air to breathe that no one else has contaminated, is one of life’s most critical necessities.

Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?

Disruption to logistics and global economies has been a major challenge. To support our customers, we’ve had to take decisive action on increasing stock levels to deal with global supply delays. We have needed to support our overseas customers with extended payment terms, as they’ve faced logistical issues like containers being delayed in port by up to 10 weeks. These family members rely on receiving and selling our products to meet their payment obligations.

I now know that our Australian customers have a renewed perspective on sovereign capability and our ability to provide secure supply as an Australian manufacturer. This is evidenced in increased sales in heating and cooling products because more of our products are made by us in Australia, enabling us to supply when our competitors had serious and protracted shortages, which heavily impacted their ability to promptly supply heating and cooling markets.

COVID has been a catalyst for focusing on local supply and, in doing so, making even stronger local jobs and economic contributions.

What specific tools, software, and management skills are you using to navigate this crisis?

Like all businesses, we’ve needed to adapt quickly with flexible working locations and remote meetings. COVID has strengthened our company’s emphasis on safety. There has been a general cultural change towards adaptability and empowering local leaders to react to on-the-ground changes in conditions. More visible and regular internal communication has been paramount.

Last but certainly not least, we’ve also strengthened our focus on 360-degree feedback because we know that the morale of those within the business is absolutely critical to our ongoing success.

Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?

By out-innovating, out-automating, and out-accelerating – ALL of them, globally and at ALL times!

The fact is that we are the global leader in two technologies and the Australian leader in all three that we do: Direct and Indirect cooling and ducted gas heating.

We have been the leader in these technologies for almost 50 years. When we started, people laughed at some of our innovations and said that we’d be broke within 6 months. In year 1, we sold 1,000 coolers, and in Year 10, we sold 150,000.  Along the way, a number of our competitors realized they couldn’t compete, so they sold out to us, and three of them have become household names that are known and loved.  We are now exporting to over 100 countries, and our export markets are continuing to grow. People are becoming more concerned with fresh, clean air and getting it in the most efficient manner possible. As long as we continue to do this at a reasonable price and in a better way than anyone else can, we will continue to dominate this ever-growing global market.

We are paying close attention to the clean energy transition and the demands it is generating. Traditionally, our competitors were low labor cost manufacturing companies/countries. In the future, it will be about optimizing high-efficiency HVAC systems and using renewables as the power source, such as our green hydrogen-ready heating appliances. In general, the direction is changing from mass low-tech to efficient “smart-tech.”

Your final thoughts

Onwards and upwards. I am looking forward to the next 50 years!

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