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Alasdair Thompson: Learning from the past and moving on

Divina Paredes | April 17, 2014
The former Employers and Manufacturers Association CEO turns his "demise" from public life into personal success and peace.

"The most important side of the business is finding out how to maximise your sales, you have got to have your product right."

But when he joined EMA, the product it offered was "aged, out of date".

EMA did not have a monthly magazine and a newsletter, and faxed a packet of communications ('two inches') thick to their members every month, he says.

"We had to stop the bleeding, and this meant immediate cuts. No big cuts, just low hanging fruit," he says. "Where can we make savings without hurting our business?"

He identified leases on buildings that EMA did not really need, and chose a contracting service model for its employment relations consultancy and legal services. All employment relations consultants were given opportunity to become self-employed contractors at EMA.

The newly contracted employment relations staff were passionate about their work, they worked more hours and billed more. As he wrote in his book, another advantage was EMA's labour cost became a variable and EMA "seamlessly retained" its relationship with the members.

"We set about clearly defining what a member received at the different categories," he says. "Some got more services and paid more. Before, everybody got the same [services] and they did not get very much.

"In addition, we defined what were the services specific to each and every business that bought it."

The cost reduction was substantial and customer service improved, he says.

In 2000, a year after joining EMA, Thompson won the CEO IT Vision category for "introducing IT and new services to revive the organisation" at the Computerworld Excellence Awards. The award was for his implementation of a CRM system (from Pivotal) that was aimed at creating a service organisation for the 21st century.

Before EMA, Thompson held a succession of roles that included mayor of the Thames-Coromandel District, and director of Health Waikato and Power New Zealand.

He says he was given the opportunity to rebuild the 120-plus-year-old organisation to become a modern, highly relevant organisation promoting the business. "That was what we did," he wrote in his book. "Clean out and rebuild a new organisation with a new well-defined vision, mission and goals, which led to new relevant products and services with a lot of new people along those who were retained. It was quite straightforward but not without a lot of pain."

Thompson says he left EMA in "good shape".

Citing data from publicly filed annual reports, he says income from subscription, sales and members' funds rose from $7.596 million to $16.719 million. During his term, staff training courses rose from 150 per year to 650. When he left, the organisation had no debt, owned all its assets and had reserves of nearly $20 million.


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