A bright light in Australian manufacturing
Words by: WE-EF
While manufacturing in Australia is struggling or dying, WE-EF LIGHTING Australia/New Zealand has bucked the trend. Not only is it celebrating a quarter of a century in operation, it’s growing. The high calibre of its products is an important part of the story, but the real secret lies in its ‘soft’ infrastructure – in its people and the relationships they have built and sustained over those 25 years with an extended family of sales partners and specifiers.
“WE-EF LIGHTING, like all companies, is simply a group of people. What we do is share common beliefs and values and we have been fortunate to find employees and sales partners who share the same beliefs and values. This has allowed us to all move in the same direction, with the same goals and result of which has been success. It has been, and always will be, about our people,” – states Ian Cerfontyne, Managing Director of WE-EF LIGHTING Australia/New Zealand.
In a time when most companies struggle to hold on to staff for more than a year or two, WE-EF is unusual in that many of its staff have shared in its journey of growth from the company’s earliest days.
Trevor Marchant has witnessed the WE-EF family grow from when he joined as the third member of the company almost 23 years ago ‘doing a little bit of everything’. From starting in the warehouse at the original Oakleigh site, Marchant has seen many changes, including the company’s move to their current Braeside premises and its uptake of LED. Back then, Trevor worked in assembly, and he describes the shift in technology as a tremendous period of innovation and learning.
Althea Papalexatos is another team member who has been with the company almost since the very beginning. Althea joined WE-EF straight out of university almost 22 years ago with qualifications in Business Marketing and Economics. From a newly created administrative position she has garnered unique knowledge of products and now handles internal sales, quotations and web site maintenance, on top of fielding any concerns with projects.
‘When I first started, I was one of four people working in the office,’ she explains. ‘We had one person in the warehouse and four people in assembly. We are now looking at total staff of around 45 with 15 of those being assembly staff.’
One of those 15 vital assembly staff members is team leader Herbert Allet. Herbert had worked as a motor mechanic before moving to Telstra and running a telephone systems business. Thirteen years ago, with a young family, he decided on a career change and began working in assembly at WE-EF. There were seven ‘on the bench’ then. Now there are 14 bench fitters in two assembly rooms. All training is in-house as it is specialised, precision work.
Like Trevor, Herbert remembers the huge change in procedure and care that the company’s move to LED required. To ensure the longevity of the product, assembly needed to happen in ESD (electrostatic discharge) proof rooms with all benches and equipment earthed. WE-EF had invested early in a technology that evolved quickly, but the sensitivity of the products required the first assembly teams to take extraordinary care and pride in their work.
A relative newcomer, lighting designer Andrew Richardson has been with WE-EF a little over five years. Trained as an electrical engineer in building services and infrastructure, he developed an interest in lighting design, particularly street lighting.
‘Luckily and thankfully – that’s no lie! – I was made redundant when the engineering industry slowed down in Brisbane and WE-EF were advertising for a lighting designer not long after,’ Andrew explains ‘and that’s a type of job that is not frequently advertised’.
He then moved to Melbourne for the role and loves the challenges of such a variety of projects, offering design and technical support throughout Australia and New Zealand. ‘Seeing the final results of hard work is very rewarding’.
To be continued.