Keeping Australian manufacturing alive


Laminex Australia executive general manager, Justin Burgess, and head of People and Performance, Laura Staples, tells Manufacturers’ Monthly about their goal to leave the company in a better shape than they found it, following over 85 years as an Australian manufacturer.

Established in Melbourne in 1934, Laminex Australia manufactures high-pressure laminate, compact laminate and wet-area panelling, decorated MDF used for cabinetry doors, raw particleboard and MDF in their various sustainable plants across Australia. As a subsidiary of Fletcher Building, the business has expanded over more than 85 years to become one of the largest employers in their domain.

With an underlying focus on culture, the company is passionate about keeping Australian manufacturing alive.

“Our focus is to really innovate and be quite smart, and to lean in and think about how to compete in a global market,” Laminex Australia executive general manager Justin Burgess said. “I passionately believe we can do that and be successful. I think that creates a unique proposition for us to challenge the status quo and not be afraid to reinvent ourselves, to stay relevant in Australian manufacturing.”

Workplace culture

One of the strategies that Laminex Australia have implemented to secure a competitive edge as an Australian manufacturer was to transform their workplace culture. This has led to achieving a place in the Australian Financial Review’s Best Places to Work in 2021 list, in the Manufacturing and Consumer Goods category.

The HR team at Laminex Australia created and rolled out their own “Sales Experience” board game to teach sales strategy.

“This has been about three or four years in the making, and the transformation journey has really been a result of defining what our culture was going to look like and creating an aspirational state for us to aim towards,” Laminex Australia head of People and Performance Laura Staples said. “Then we implemented a range of employee experiences and various initiatives across the business designed to make it a great place to work.”

In choosing a clear business model and strategy, then embedding that within the team’s growth mindset, the culture became more fluidly articulated and was able to evolve over time. This strategic direction created a natural progression in building the right team, as it became easier to integrate new people into the business.

Additionally, a mantra of “surprise and delight” in the HR team sparked initiatives with an innovative and fun approach.

“We wanted to make sure that we looked at things differently,” Staples said. “Whether it was teaching sales strategy through a board game called ‘Sales Experience’ – which we designed, created and rolled out across 250 sales leaders – through to celebrating our internal thought leadership with our ‘Laminex Learning Bites’ podcast and recognising all the great leaders that we have internally that can teach our employees. We’ve made sure the things that we’ve done celebrate culture and were innovative and unique to our organisation.”

Another innovative employee experience that Laminex Australia introduced was “Laminex Live,” an internal TV show that has been successfully run for two seasons with an external host, following different themes. According to Staples, the last season was centred on better understanding strategy.

“We had Justin on for each episode to talk about each strategic pillar, and then we incorporated stories from across the business in the various segments,” she said. “This either highlighted various people around the business, or we brought in external thought leaders to teach and educate on interesting topics.”

Work From Anywhere

Another element of Laminex Australia’s success, both as a manufacturer and a business, was implementing a flexible work model called Work From Anywhere for non-operational employees. While the COVID-19 pandemic played a role in fast-tracking this model, as it has done for many Australian businesses, Burgess said it resulted in a more stable environment.

“Ultimately, we started to unpack it and it offered a whole heap of other upsides for us,” he said. “It opened up the pool of talent across Australia; we weren’t necessarily thinking of a domicile in Melbourne, which enabled a lot of people to move and be comfortable, which we would not have been able to do in a bricks and mortar workplace. It’s allowed us to explore new online tools of communication, such as Laminex Live, and work as effectively as we can.”

Surround by Laminex, a new product, was featured on “The Block.”

The Work From Anywhere model also meant that employees were able to spend more time with their families, they felt more healthy from being able to prioritise their health, were saving money by eliminating the daily commute to work. These subsets brought more value to the business.

In turn, this has transformed the organisation’s overarching mindset.

“The way people approach challenges and opportunities now are very different to the way we looked at it previously,” Staples said. “That puts us in good stead for all the things that are happening around the world at the moment. We certainly have that anti-fragile mindset where we see any challenge that comes our way as an opportunity to evolve as a business and change for the better.”

Growth above market 

For the future of Laminex Australia, growing above the market is paramount to increasing the value of the business and team as a whole. In the long term, the aim for them is to integrate a bigger focus on research and development and evolve into a building material science business.

“We want to start developing our own technologies and our own market-leading products and services, and become more solutions-based,” Burgess said. “We certainly see our future changing quite rapidly in the next five years. We are still really favoured towards product leadership, but really owning that with unique research and development.”

This product leadership is already being implemented in the manufacturing business. An example is Surround by Laminex – a modern range of pre-primed MDF wall panels which has featured on the TV show “The Block,” which has granted a new opportunity for Laminex Australia to grow.

“I think it’s another great example of our investment in Australian manufacturing and that’s something that is really important all of us as leaders,” Staples said of the opportunity. “Making sure that we continue to evolve as an Australian manufacturer with a rich history, but also a great future ahead of us. If we can leave Laminex Australia in a better position than we found it, that would be an amazing outcome and put it in a great position for future leaders moving forward.”

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