Even though he was just 23 at the time, when Anthony Steel joined Obieco Industries as Workshop Manager in July of 1993, he made quite the entrance, instantly overhauling the product with the blessings of Robert and Marg O’Brien, the original founders of Obieco.
Founded in 1976 in Uralla, New South Wales, about six hours north of Sydney, the vehicle body manufacturer offers its customers a full turnkey solution that includes design, manufacture and installation.
“People buy Porsches for a reason. They buy Ferraris for a reason. They buy BMWs for a reason,” says Steel, who is now the company’s Managing Director.
Thirty years ago, Steel made the same argument to his then-boss Robert O’Brien, who required some convincing. “But eventually he caved and gave me the opportunity to make a few minor changes, raising the price,” he tells The CEO Magazine.
Next on the agenda was weeding out team members who were not pulling their weight.
“In the first 12 months, I replaced four of the five tradesmen and replaced them with people I could trust,” he recalls.
As time would prove, Steel’s adventurous moves paid off. The addition of several new features and a more user-friendly customer experience helped the manufacturer to stand out.
“It was incredible,” he says.
I see my ideas on every competitor’s truck, wherever it may be.
The company quickly expanded, growing from that initial team of five to a force of 17 in just three years.
“Fast forward 30 years later and I see my ideas on every competitor’s truck, wherever it may be,” he reveals. “Still, we dominate our market space and have for years because of our innovative designs.”
The team looks equipped to continue growing over the next few years, with Obieco investing heavily in developing new talent.
“Every year I put on a minimum of five-plus apprenticeships,” he explains. “This year we’ve put on nine.”
Steel has recently upped this investment to create short promotional films about working at Obieco. “They are short movies encouraging people to come and work in our environment and do what we do.”
Having the right disposition is essential, according to Steel, with Obieco built on a can-do attitude. While he describes the business as a one-stop shop, he stresses that its approach is by no means cookie cutter.
“We certainly do things outside the box,” he confirms.
Supporting this assertion, he cites a recent project in which Obieco built a body with a folding hydraulic landing platform, enabling its client to fast-fuel its helicopters within around 30 seconds.
Each staff member is not just a number, they’re a person and they’re respected and they’re cared for.
Such projects are great for building Obieco’s profile and showcasing its skills, but they also help to make it an exciting place to work, Steel explains.
“It’s good for my team, good for my staff, because it’s so different. It gives them a sense of pride in what they build as well, because that’s not something that a tradesperson would normally make.”
Also crucial to the Obieco culture is Steel’s personal stance on leadership.
“I have an open-door policy. So my door is always open – it’s open now,” he says. “That has worked extremely well. Each staff member is not just a number, they’re a person and they’re respected and they’re cared for. That’s why you get people who have worked here for 20-odd years.”
Supply chain issues
The main issue facing the company as it continues to grow revolves around the supply chain, a challenge that has rocked the manufacturing world in recent years. Steel reveals that two years ago, the situation got so bad that Obieco even resorted to buying parts on eBay to ensure it could deliver.
“The vehicle is finished and it’s wanting one switch. So you’ve got a $100,000 vehicle needing one switch and you can’t get a switch to fit in that hole. It’s just not available,” he says.
We make it possible. I like to think we’re keeping the dream alive.
While customers couldn’t understand the delays initially, they now are comprehending the scale of the issue and are more understanding, he points out.
“It’s still a struggle today, and we’ve had to work within the system,” he admits, adding this is where Obieco’s can-do attitude again comes in handy.
“We make it possible. I like to think we’re keeping the dream alive. Someone has the dream of landing a helicopter on a truck and we say, ‘That’s a great idea. Let’s have a crack at that, shall we?’”