SEALITE CEO Chris Proctor had breakfast guests giggling today (Wednesday) when he recounted the time he failed to heed his own product’s warning.
He spoke at the 29 July Greater Dandenong Chamber of Commerce Premier Regional Business Awards event about the marine navigation aid company’s beginnings in a Mentone garage in 1983.
He also shared the time he crashed an 11-tonne boat into an underwater boiler marked by a Sealite buoy, putting a hole in the hull.
“We were so excited that it was our product in the water that we forgot it was a hazard marker,” Mr Proctor said.
His father was an electronics hobbyist who took inspiration from lights at a Beaumaris aquaculture farm.
He told the farmer he could design a better product and spent the next 15 years making them in a shed.
They now have 120 staff across a factory in Somerville and sites in the US and UK.
Mr Proctor took over the business about five years ago and his father moved into semi-retirement – albeit unsuccessfully.
“We had a retirement party and everything and we brought out a cake – and he showed up on the Monday,” he laughed.
Mr Proctor completed a Bachelor of Science in 2002 and added a Masters in Marketing.
He put his skills to full use when a potential French client wanted to meet at the company premises.
He asked his lawyer to borrow a conference room at his Collins Street office, hung a Sealite sign on the door and told the customer their facility was too far away, so they kept an office in Melbourne.
“We were literally in a tin shed at that stage,” he laughed.
The company has expanded into aviation lighting and Mr Proctor now has his eyes on bases in Asia and the Middle East.
The Premier Regional Business Awards are designed to profile and highlight successful businesses in the region.
They’re now in their 25th and final year so this year’s breakfast events will highlight successful businesses from the awards’ past and newcomers with a bright future.
A gala dinner next March will cap off the celebratory year.
Carl Bizon spoke about former winner TriMas, known as Horizon Global since 1 July.
He’s responsible for 1207 employees across nine countries and a $200 million turnover.
The company makes about 4000 tow bars a day at its Keysborough, where it employs 350 people.
“Who would have thought that a company in Dandenong would be putting a tow bar on a Maserati SUV in Turin, Italy?” Mr Bizon said.
Horizon Global started in Dandenong 65 years ago when Eric Hayman couldn’t find the towbar he wanted, designed his own and started selling them as Hayman Reese.
Mr Bizon spent $40 million to bring separate sites together as one headquarters in Keysborough.
He said businesses needed to dedicate themselves to staying in the region.
“It’s a big decision when everyone is leaving the country,” he said.
“It’s the best thing we ever did.”
Youth Enterprise Award nominee Emily Whitehead, 19, from Somerville, is studying tourism at Chisholm Institute.
Emily’s teacher Vera Pyne said she passed her Certificate III with flying colours on Tuesday and would start her Certificate IV in coming weeks.
Ms Pyne said Emily was willing to learn and grow, achieved at least 90 per cent in all of her assignments and was punctual despite her part-time job involving late hours.
“She always says good morning with a smile – followed by a yawn,” she laughed.
Emily said she dreamed of managing a travel agency in five years’ time but would also happily work in a hotel or resort.
“I just want to get into the industry,” she said.
Guest speaker Professor Geoff Brooks spoke about the future directions of manufacturing.
He’s responsible for co-ordinating and developing manufacturing-related research and education across Swinburne University of Technology. His expertise is in the metallurgy field.
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