Knook #4: ICT
How one company built a global integrated security company from New Zealand.
I love coming across those stories of NZ businesses who have been crushing it overseas for a long time, while the majority of Kiwis would have no idea that the product is developed and manufactured right here.
For me, ICT is one of those businesses. In my case, I had even been using ICT’s security swipe technology for close to two years before their Founder and CEO, Hayden Burr, reached out to me.
ICT (aka Integrated Control Technology) as a company design and manufacture integrated security systems for access control (restricting and monitoring people movement), intrusion detection, and building automation (managing a wide range of building functions, such as lighting and HVAC).
On top of that, ICT’s technology allows their products to integrate with existing systems — meaning for building owners, they save money on installation and they don’t have to update any existing infrastructure they have on site.
Perhaps one of the reasons ICT has flown somewhat under the radar here in New Zealand is that up until recently, 85 to 90 percent of their profit was export-based revenue, with most of that focused on Canada and the US. Their list of clients boasts the likes of Ritz Carlton, BNZ, the United Nations, Walmart and the Canadian Mint.
I sat down with Hayden to find out more about the company.
“We founded the company in 2003 with the primary vision of providing innovative security solutions with the end-user in mind. We’re still privately-owned and now into our 16th year, with production based in Auckland.”
Hayden lived in Canada for about 10 years before he and his wife Rachael made the lifestyle choice to come back to New Zealand. As Hayden puts it, “I love surfing and Canada is really cold — both were good reasons to move home.”
I asked Hayden how they got started.
“Having been in a security-based business partnership back in Canada, we spotted a gap in the global security technology market around a total integrated solution. Our main value proposition was that we didn’t focus on one aspect of security, access control and automation, but rather used them in conjunction across what had traditionally been siloed.
“We could use logic control and programmable elements from the automation side in the access control and security allowing the system to really adapt to a myriad of possibilities. In essence, it meant if a customer asked if we could do something, we could always say yes.”
As is quite common in early business journeys, ICT was started by leveraging the mortgage to get enough cash.
“We also had some assistance through the Technology Growth Grants that were available through what was then TechNZ, the predecessor to Callaghan Innovation. I do not think we would have been able to achieve what we have without those grants.
“As a quick side note, it’s worth mentioning that while Callaghan get a hard time in the press, they’ve certainly been good for us and the result has been over 100 New Zealanders employed because of that initial and continual help. From my perspective, it shows that Callaghan’s programme and research and development spend is important.
“Anyway, our first big order was when we were approached by a Toronto company. We were on the bones of our ass but fortunately they were happy to pay us upfront. It meant we could buy the components to fill the order.”
Given Hayden and Rachael’s experience living and working in Canada, it was their first big growth market before starting to focus on NZ’s domestic market. The early adopters back here were previous contacts, but ICT didn’t have a huge focus in NZ until six years ago when they hired an active sales role.
I asked Hayden what his biggest challenge or mistake has been in business thus far.
“I screw up all the time,” laughs Hayden. “We’ve made some poor judgement calls on products etcetera, but you can’t dwell on that.
“As we’ve grown, I’ve had to learn when to say no. Most people don’t tend to like that but oh well. You have to do what’s right for the business.
“You also have to know what you’re good at and what you’re not, both as a company and as a manager. You have to let people do their jobs — you’re running a company so don’t start running a kindergarten. The reality is no one will ever do it as good as you, but some people will do it better.”
A lot of businesses who have been around for a while struggle to maintain the innovative spirit they started with. I asked Hayden how they’ve kept innovation at the heart of the company.
“Part of it is that we’re very end-user focused. That drives you to make things easier to use and to stay attentive to the customer’s needs.
“We’ve also got an unwavering commitment to research and development. This has lead us to have more than 35 percent of our staff dedicated to R&D and ongoing investment in our production facilities.”
I asked Hayden what his future plans for ICT are.
“We’re aiming to be at $100m in 5 years time. There’s a fair few challenges to get there but it’s doable.
“We’re also aiming to grow our footprint, and build awareness of the company. In saying that, the easiest way to grow is to partner with people who already have a global footprint. It improves your sales channels, but obviously it’s white-labelled so it doesn’t necessarily build the brand.”
And any final advice?
“Be humble — remember where you came from.”
Originally published at https://www.knooknz.com on September 5, 2019.