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It’s All Relative

Our cover story highlights two successful, privately owned Australian businesses which are driven by family values, Rockend and Raine & Horne. Director of the Australian Centre for Family Business (ACFB), Professor Ken Moores has undertaken more than a decade of research to identify the family business advantages that lie at the heart of their superior performance. On the ACFB website, Professor Moores states, “We have examined in depth how successful family firms engender learning, enabling them to anticipate needs rather than having to react to an emergent crisis.”

You will probably identify with this insight if you own or manage a family business or, as an employee of a family business, you may also recognise the following phases within the organisation.

Professor Moores explains, “Essentially, family business leaders learn their roles in four distinct phases: Learning business, learning our business, learning to lead business and learning to let go. Learning business and learning to let go are predominately centred on the individual’s specific learning needs at different stages of their careers within family and firm circumstances.

“On the other hand, learning our business and learning to lead our business are driven from the firm. These firm-driven needs, influenced by family, then impact on the individual. A feature of all four learning phases is that each was characterised by a paradox and that the successful family firms had found pathways through these paradoxes.”

There are some common themes and experiences shared by both the family-owned businesses we have focused on, and whilst the CEOs of both businesses emphasise that their business is not a ‘traditional family business’ they operate with similar passions – for their industry, their employees and their customers.

Rockend
Where did the name Rockend come from?
“This is the name of a house (now a restaurant) in Punt Road, Gladesville NSW where my great, great, grandmother – Emily Mary Barton – lived for over 40 years. While an amazing person in her own right she is best remembered as the grandmother of Banjo Patterson who lived at Rockend in the 1870s while studying at Sydney Grammar School.”

Tony Maple-Brown

Rockend develops and supports sales, property management and trust accounting software used by real estate agents and body corporate managers. The Rockend brand reflects a slick, technologically advanced company but at the core of the business is a heartfelt commitment to customer service that is reminiscent of a traditional family business. Tony Maple-Brown began the business in 1979. He was an electrical engineer who started tinkering with software and personal computers at their early presence in the business world. Tony saw an opportunity for accounting programs in small business and began developing software to meet this need. Widening his prospects, he applied his solutions to the real estate industry and this became his area of specialisation.

Rock solid values
The business now employees 70 people, with Tony currently focused on the strata sector of the business, and his son, Alister Maple-Brown in the role of National Marketing Manager. CEO, John Goddard joined the business in 2004 and, coming from a background in large corporate organisations, says he saw it as a great opportunity to work in a family oriented business.

Commenting on the core values of the business, Alister highlights customer service and says, “Right from the start Tony saw the value of a long term relationship with a customer and that any opportunity to help a customer was a good opportunity.” Rockend’s mission statement is displayed proudly on the office wall:

Our prime purpose is to develop and support systems that empower property professionals to build their business, grow profits, automate mundane tasks, deliver the best experience for their customers.

“Our churn of customers is so low,” says Alister, “Very rarely do we lose a customer to a competitor.” Among other strategies, this dedication to service has carried the business through many market cycles. “In every cycle we’ve seen decisions deferred due to the market but it has never affected us,” he comments and explains that a drop in real estate sales increases the importance of strong property management.

In the 2007/08 financial year. Rockend grew the business by an increase of 463 customers. The previous year’s growth was 360 customers. This year they are planning to attract more than 460 new customers – an enviable position for any business endeavouring to survive in the current market.

Recognition and Awards
In response to Rockend winning an Australian Service Excellence Award, John was interviewed by the Customer Service Institute of Australia and he acknowledged the fantastic efforts of the Rockend team and described at length the management techniques involved in maintaining a highly motivated team committed to service. He also spoke about measuring customer satisfaction as part of the company’s KPI process.

Interestingly, the words that both Rockend’s clients and staff use to describe the company include: trusting, honest, open, fun, family oriented and committed. So how do they achieve a sense of family in an organisation of 70 people? Alister explains, “Tony is a very caring person and it filters through the business,” then he and John run through a laundry list of attributes that contribute to the caring environment: open management style, not hierarchical, it’s easy to get access to management at any time, the hiring and induction process, the celebration when someone new joins the team, the way people share experiences in meetings and, last but not least, a good kitchen area as the central point of the office!

“We don’t have a HR department or a HR individual – intentionally – that role is shared between us. But we do have well defined policies and practices,” says John. “People are our greatest asset and our long term employees create stability and continuity.”

Products and People

Of course, in order to have great customer service, there must be a great product to support and Rockend products have earned a reputation for being stable, reliable and innovative. Such is Rockend’s commitment to innovation, that competitors struggle to compete. And while the company employs some very clever developers, much of the innovation is driven by talking to customers – all 3000 of them in fact. “What we do is not about technology but the way we use it and the people who use it,” explains Alister.

This people-centred approach is taking the Rockend team on a roadshow where they can have direct contact with customers and give them hands-on assistance in making better use of the software. Particularly in this tough market, it’s important that users of the software understand everything they can about increasing efficiencies and improving the bottom line. The commitment extended by Rockend to help their customers achieve peak performance is almost like family helping family

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