INTERVIEWS

Managing director, Harvard Engineering


The Royal Award is a great achievement for everybody
We’re very proud. It’s been a testament to a lot of people’s hard work. It was marvellous to have the Duke of Kent here, a very nice chap, and the people really responded to it as well. I think it was great for everyone.

We don’t want to be a stock and distributor kind of business
We’ve outgrown the last factory and we needed to find somewhere bigger. We can’t offer the same service levels if we manufacture offshore, so we now have this 40,000-square-foot factory. We don’t want to be a stock and distributor kind of business, we really enjoy making things and that’s what we do. We’ve only ever sold products that we have made ourselves.

The cost of parts is very significant in materials and the product on the whole. We’ve found that parts are similar prices in China, so the only saving is in the labour element. It’s not worth outsourcing.

It’s natural to search out new markets
I think we’ve been successful because we’re innovators. We’re known for innovation, we’ve won awards for innovation. With that history and that culture, it’s natural to search out new markets and new opportunities. To exploit them as quickly as possible – hopefully quicker than other people.
I think most luminaire manufacturers have got some kind of LED strategy and some are adopting that technology quicker than others. Everybody needs to be doing this because everybody knows LED efficiencies are improving daily, almost.

We’re very lucky
We didn’t recognise the potential of LEDs initially, but as soon as we noticed that they were becoming suitable for general lighting, we developed some products as quickly as we could. In the early days LEDs were inefficient, but that’s not the case anymore. In fact, a lot of this factory is lit by LEDs.

We were lucky to get the timing right. We started things at the right time and made some useful strategic partnerships with some LED suppliers and some customers.

It took us a long time to get it right
We were able to launch two new products into two new markets and they’ve both been very successful. We’ve been very lucky. We’ve been developing LeafNut since 2001. It took us an awful long time to get it right, several false starts and a lot of patience and commitment. And a lot of money. But it’s paying off now and we think we’re the market leaders in this technology.

My confidence has been shaken significantly several times
Talking to customers helped us discover this [wireless streetlighting control] market. My confidence was shaken significantly several times, especially when we kept pouring more of our money into it. But, talking to customers over that period, people said ‘yeah, this is what we’re looking for’, and I believed them. Luckily, they were right. So we got the pricing right and we got the model right.
That’s what’s gone wrong before for so many people, they didn’t produce the whole turnkey solution. That’s what the customers wanted. They didn’t want little bits of a solution; they wanted an out of the box, easy to use, easy to install streetlighting control system. So that’s what we gave them.

We put a lot of effort into making sure we don’t lose the customer
The company has been supported by the customers we look after. One of the founding principles of Harvard was that we would look after customers if we messed up – and we’ve had our fair share of mess-ups. But we put a lot of effort into making sure we don’t lose the customer and we put things right. We make sure people recognise that we put it right and make sure that they’re happy. I think that’s been a major success factor.

When we started out in ’93, it was about picking niches, spotting opportunities and exploiting them as quickly as possible. Since then we’ve invested heavily in research and development. Our engineering team is now 35 people, so nearly 20 per cent of the workforce. And those guys are really at the top of their game.

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