The environment is changing, says Atlas Copco GM

In our ongoing series talking to the movers and shakers in Australian industry, we talk to Matt Hobden, the newly-minted General Manager of Atlas Copco Australia about where the local industry is heading for compressors and blowers, and what the future holds for one of the worlds’ iconic companies in that field.

Manufacturers Monthly (MM)
: How long have you been in the position?

Matt Hobden: I’ve been in the position for three months. I’ve been with Atlas Copco for 16 years, starting as a sales engineer in different sales roles. My most recent position was regional general manager for the rental business for the Oceanic region – in laymans terms, Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea and the Pacific Islands.

MM: Has your experience from where you started helped in terms of how you approach your current role?

Matt Hobden: My first role here was as a sales engineer and I think that really gave me a good understanding of the sales process. I had a couple of sales roles and then transitioned into a local product manager role so starting to support the sales reps in the field and being a little bit more involved in the management of the business. Product management gave me a good feeling for developing products, promoting products and pricing. I had another role which was engineering manager.

MM: With a technical and sales background, would you say that gives you a unique insight into how the company should function?

Matt Hobden: I think so, and you could include commercial as well too because one of the things that’s changed dramatically in the last 10-15 years locally is the commercial and legal landscape. So 10-15 years ago, you could do a deal on a handshake and now with the changing nature of investment in the country, I think for the better of course, commercial and legal contracts have become a lot more onerous. I think my last position as engineering manager gave me a good understanding of engineering contracts, which I think is absolutely essential now.

MM: What would be some things that you are looking at for the direction of the company and have those ideas been shaped by your experience?

Matt Hobden: We have a changing environment. We see mining and oil and gas transitioning into production so we need to make sure we align our business with that potential. We are also seeing some pent up demand coming from manufacturing and hopefully this will be released if the Australian dollar softens a little bit more and the country becomes more competitive. So we need to make sure we’re aligned with that potential.

MM: How do you intend to enure that Atlas Copco is firmly aligned with the potential in the market?

Matt Hobden: I guess in simple terms it’s looking at where the potential is, making sure we’re structured geographically to take that potential, but I think more importantly back to basics from one perspective and that’s having a real focus on the customer. So we also measure customer satisfaction monthly.

We send out surveys we use the net promoter score system, which we find is a fantastic tool and I think this will really allow us to develop the business in a sustainable way, by making sure we’ve got satisfied customers and we’ve got the right people and processes in place to continue to satisfy our customers.

That’s probably the one key thing which I’ve brought from the rental business. The rental business is totally a service business; very low switching costs so unless you have very satisfied customers they’ll go to your competitor. They can change overnight so its something I intend to bring, that strong customer service culture from the rental business into our sales and service business.

MM: For many years, Atlas Copco was known for its rental business – is the rental side still a big part of the business?

Matt Hobden: It wasn’t our largest business but it was quite significant, because if you take the business 10 years ago, we had more of a general hire focus so we had a product range not as broad as anywhere near as say Coates Hire but similar. We’d offer quite a diverse range of equipment like compressed air, lighting generators, lighting towers, pumps, welders, even hydraulic and air driven construction tools.

But that all changed in 2007, so we had a significant divestment where we divested everything aside from the compressed air to Coates Hire and we had a refocus on the core of compressed air. So the business now does predominantly large compressed air, large power, high volume nitrogen generators and there’s just been a recent acquisition of a nitrogen generator rental business and also steam boilers.

MM: Are there other geographical areas where you’re seeing growth?

Matt Hobden: I think at the moment most of the growth is in the northern part of the country, purely because of the investment in energy and minerals.

MM: Is food manufacturing an area you’re looking to expand into?

Matt Hobden: If I speak broadly, the most interesting segments for us in manufacturing, its the non-trade exposed areas – the segments in the manufacturing industry that are basically producing for local consumption. That’s where we see the strength remaining and probably continuing until we see this gradual depreciation of currency. If you listen to major economic forecasters they think we’ll see a much stronger manufacturing sector when the currency is around 0.65 Australian dollars. It’s still got a way to go but that’s when they see real competitive advantage and competitive advantage returning to the country and to our local manufacturers. At the moment the focus is on sectors that aren’t trade exposed

MM: Are you looking to expand this site itself to other areas?

Matt Hobden: Probably not in Sydney. In the Sydney region we already have quite a good deal of capacity with this location. We probably see ourselves maybe expanding more in the regional areas with additional coverage of the market. So our hubs are quite well established with capacity for growth, but probably the regions is where we can leverage.

The good news for us is if you take the mining sector, the mining business has in the order of 17 locations nationally. So in quite a lot of instances we have remote people from the compressor business in the mining locations with the mining business so we get great leverage in synergies from the other business areas.

Matt Hobden: I would tell them to focus on our people. You need to daily keep your people engaged – that would be the first lot of advice. Maybe if I break it down into three things: the second lot of advice I would say is focus on your customers, make sure you have promoters of your business. The third thing would be, expect change in the environment and make sure you’re continually adjusting the organisation to that changing environment. They’re all quite broad things but that’s the advice I’d give.

Atlas Copco Australia
(02) 9621 9999

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