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Digga News

Digging for Success
July, 2012

As Australia’s number one manufacturer of earthmoving attachments, Digga has worked hard to establish its deep roots in the Australian market with strong, perceptive lead ership and an innovative approach, ensuring the company’s success.

Digga’s executive team’s perception and insight were invaluable qualities a few years ago in the lead-up to the global financial crisis. Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Suzie Wright saw the writing on the wall for Australia while on a business trip to the US. “We deal on the global market and our exports are a significant part of our
business,” explains Suzie. “We were travelling in the United States around four months before the GFC hit and we saw the first rumblings. There were stockyards full of equipment everywhere and machinery wasn’t moving. Earthmoving and construction wasn’t functioning and everyone was reeled in. We started to feel the slowdown; it was like someone turned the tap off. “Prior to that, we had three tremendous years of solid growth and the staff had worked their bums off for us. We made a decision to not lay off any staff, but to cut overtime. Everyone kept their jobs. That was before Christmas, and by January a lot of big companies on the Gold Coast were folding.”

With over 200 staff and plans for expansion in the United States, Digga’s plan has well and truly paid off. “I’m mmensely proud of what the company has achieved, and its success has been recognised on a number of levels,” enthuses Suzie. “It has won the Gold Coast Business Excellence Awards twice, it was Regional Exporter of the Year for Queensland, the runner-up in the Premier’s Export Awards, and was the British Exporter of the Year.”

In addition to taking a proactive approach to the GFC fears, Suzie has achieved acquisitive growth for Digga. “We have completed two acquisitions: Universal Augers and Kanga Loaders,” confirms Suzie. “The chief executive of Kanga approached us to buy the business, and at the time I said no, as we had strong cashflows and were about to invest in the US. For 20 years, Kanga was our fourth-largest client; and when they went into distress, we were the third-largest creditor. We would not have got a cent in the dollar from administrators, so it was purely a commercial decision to acquire them. It was a decision that also protected our future supply chain and other creditors.

“However, that act of faith also resulted in the survival of a great Australian icon standing on its own and being at the forefront of innovation. It’s a wonderful success story amidst the doom and gloom sentiment of manufacturing in this country.”

Since she assumed the roles of CEO and managing director eight years ago, Suzie says she has loved developing the company. “A career highlight for me was moving the whole business from six sheds at Staplyton to Yatala in 2006 and 2007. It was a massive undertaking, and I managed the construction of the new 12,500-square-metre building across eight acres.”

While Suzie claims that she has never faced gender discrimination, she does admit that the substantial Yatala move made her face an uncomfortable realisation. “I have certainly dealt with some tough characters in my time. It’s easy to pick a chauvinist and one who doesn’t particularly like doing business with a woman.

Suzie Wright, Digga President/CEO

When we acquired the eight acres in Yatala for our new headquarters, it was a sloping block, and I always had it in my head that we could overlook the factory from the highest point and build our offices there. It gave us the perfect cut and fill to do that. It was everything I had ever imagined.

“However, four years after we built it, I was taking one of our biggest clients out for an inspection who is a great businessman and pioneer in the industry. He said to me, ‘A lot of people in the industry thought you would fail because you took on such a big project to build a factory of that size and to take the risks you took. I’ve got to give it to you, you have proved everybody wrong’. It was then that I realised that there are people out there who want to see you fail, but you have to prove yourself as a CEO, despite gender.”

Notwithstanding these challenges, Suzie has developed a tough supply chain and a number of long-term relationships with suppliers. She claims the most important thing manufacturers can do is open lines of communication. “If you don’t have a strong supply chain and people don’t know where you’re going, they can’t possibly know what it is they can do for you. For many years, we tried to be everything. Through working with suppliers, we have learned that we should focus on our speciality. Digga is a really good machinist, welder, and assembly-line operator. That realisation has allowed us to perfect our areas of expertise through innovation.”

As Digga prepares for the future, Suzie feels that the Australian manufacturing industry is at the mercy of incompetent politicians. “The current government is asleep at the wheel and not doing anything right in terms of supporting manufacturing in this country. To be blunt, the industry has a catastrophic future without a fundamental long-term vision for our country and radical industrial changes.”

According to Suzie, this lack of vision is perfectly demonstrated by WorkCover. “It is fundamentally flawed. It does not make sense to invest in something that doesn’t work and is not professionally run. It is costly, and WorkCover will not fight a case. As the laws are now, employees don’t need to prove they were injured at work.

“Someone with a bad back can lie to me on their employment record. One guy had a prior injury claim in New South Wales and we employed him without that knowledge. He lifted a 12-kilogram pallet and said it injured his back for the rest of his life. WorkCover would not fight the case. The government doesn’t have our back, so how are we supposed to compete against the rest of the world?”

Suzie proposes a radical solution to this perceived problem. “I think WorkCover should be privatised and the responsibility put back on employees to pay for their own insurance, and then put the onus on the companies to ensure a safe workplace. As far as I’m concerned, an employee’s responsibility is to turn up fit and active and be ready to work.”

Suzie will tackle these tough issues and many more as she leads Digga in coming years. “The plan is to continue to be Australia’s number one attachment manufacturer,” states Suzie. “Our investment is now focused on innovation, engineering, and product development. Our aim is to become a world-class assembler, so that we can control the quality and give our clients what they need.

“We will continue to capitalise on opportunities arising in the mining sector. Our Kanga brand has been successful there with a new remote-controlled loader that is being used by major corporations in mines in South America. It has dramatically improved safety and is extremely versatile and efficient. It’s an incredibly exciting time for the company.”

With incisive and insightful leadership, Digga will continue to compete in both the Australian and global markets.

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