Industry Q & A: Jason Oliver, CEO at Black Widow Enterprises

What are your primary roles and responsibilities in your job? Give us a day in your working life.

I am responsible for all the daily operations and running of Black Widow. Being a smaller company (we employ 40 people) the role is very hands on. My previous role was operations manager so I still work with the team leaders on the shopfloor level to continue our LEAN manufacturing and continuous improvement activities. We have also just employed 5 new Engineers in the past 6 months to increase new product development and I have a very hands on and active role in that.  

Since moving into the CEO role, I have focused on implementing the same sort of systematic and continuous improvement approach to the admin side of the business. Right now I am managing the implementation of an ERP system going live July 1. Setting, measuring and analysing KPIs in the business is a daily part of establishing and managing the business.

As part of my role, I also attend a lot of trade shows and store visits, I have just got back from a week in Dubai attending Automechanika. BW has also recently opened a retail outlet and are about to open a second branch in Ballarat so a lot of planning and driving the setup of all that. 

How did you get to where you are today? Give us a bullet point career path. 

I started working at BW after school and weekends with Dad when I was 16. At this time I was studying Hospitality in the direction of becoming a chef. When dad started the business, I was choosing my year 12 subjects and changed direction to select business studies. I started studying Business at University and continued to work at BW on days off and weekends. During Uni, a part of the course was to do work placement for a year. I worked in the accounting department of ExxonMobil, learning the structures and systems used in big business. In my final year of study I worked part time at a chartered accounting firm. When I finished my studies, my options were to continue to work at the chartered firm or start full time at Black Widow, I chose to start at BW.

When I started, I felt the biggest opportunity to improve within the company was the production side of the business. The plan was to work out there for 6 months and slowly start integrating into the admin side of the business. 4 years later I was still on the factory floor. I had been working hard to develop a strong culture and good team that could continue to drive LEAN. At this stage I was starting to spend more time overseas and interstate and within the admin side of the business. 2 years ago I took over the running of the admin side of the business and took on the CEO role.

What training/education did you need for your job?

I have completed my Bachelor of Business at RMIT and my MBA at Deakin. As I work at a family business, these studies were not a prerequisite but I considered these studies to give me the skills needed to run a company of our size. They have definitely helped with all aspects of my role as CEO. The MBA covered all aspects of business from Marketing, HR, Operations, Economics etc. Working in my previous roles has also given me the experience to know how a bigger company is run and the systems are managed. As my previous roles were in accounting this has also been essential in running the finance side of the business.    

What tools and/or software do you use on a daily basis? 

For years I resisted the lure of the iphone. When we upgraded our phone plan, I was forced begrudgingly to upgrade. Now I’m never without it. Obviously now there is no disconnect from work with emails dinging all day and night. I also use a Toshiba portege Z830 ultrabook. It is great for travelling as it’s so light and also has an inbuilt sim card for internet so doesn’t need a dongle. 

What is the one thing that you are most proud of in your professional life? 

I guess I am so lucky being so young and being in the position I am to make such change and have such an influence on BW. I have a goal to get the company to a certain turnover and size in the coming years. Having set the foundations so far and seeing the growth achieved has been very fulfilling. Having this recognised by the Endeavour young achiever award recently certainly brings validation and a sense of pride to these achievements.

Biggest daily challenge? 

Finding enough hours in the day to get everything done. 

Biggest career challenge? 

When I first started at BW in the ops role, I was 23 and in charge of much older guys and being the boss's son, I had a lot of resistance. I also have had resistance from my dad on implementing LEAN and management systems as my dad is very old school and likes to focus on the entrepreneurial side of the business so we often clash. I have been able to overcome both of the challenges by working hard, gaining and giving respect and getting results on the board.    

What is your biggest frustration in your job? 

Like most managers, staffing and man management is a daily challenge. I have been working very hard on developing a good team around me and learning to delegate to my managers. This is proving to make this aspect better but I still have curveballs coming up every day that keep me on my toes.  

What is the biggest challenge facing your business? 

With all the growth going on, cashflow is always on the agenda. 

Is there anything else about your job you want Australia to know about? 

One of the most challenging and rewarding things that has happened to me on top of all the things that go on at work is the introduction to my life of my 1 year old son. The lack of sleep has certainly added to the fun of each day. I am very lucky I have such a very supportive wife. 

 

Black Widow design and manufacture high quality 4WD and commercial/fleet vehicle storage solutions. This includes products such as rear storage drawers, cargo barriers and roof racks. Black Widow were established in 1999 and are a family owned business.  

Want to be a part of our Q&A series? Write us at editor@manmonthly.com.au

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