This week on the Defence Connect Podcast, Rojone managing director Livia Brady takes us through the ins and outs of running a successful business in the defence industry sector.
Formally established by Brady’s mother in the 1981, Rojone has gone from selling cable assemblies to unique voice interactive GPS vehicle tracking systems, through to high performance commercial and military components.
Brady discusses how the business has grown with the advancement of technology in the field, equipping Defence with communication technologies, how she has learnt to run a successful SME, how small businesses can learn to add value to major primes and the future of manufacturing in Australia’s defence industry.
Enjoy the podcast,
The Defence Connect team.
Listen to previous episodes of the Defence Connect podcast:
Episode 189: PODCAST: Year in review – Steve Kuper, Defence Connect
Episode 188: PODCAST: ‘Deftech’ and the counter-drone industry – Oleg Vornik, DroneShield
Episode 187: PODCAST: Leveraging Indigenous talent in the defence workforce – Craig Williams, Navantia Australia, and Brendan Dumbrell and Hayden Surrao, JLB-Yaran
Episode 186: PODCAST: Interconnectivity between Navy services and the defence industry – Greg Laxton, Fleet Support Unit Australia
Episode 185: PODCAST: Embracing storytelling into your day-to-day life as a professional in defence industry – Chris Huet, Understood Consulting Services
Episode 184: PODCAST: Strengthening Australia’s defence capability – Sir Roger Carr, BAE Systems
Episode 183: PODCAST: Extreme ownership – John Gretton ‘Jocko’ Willink
Episode 182: PODCAST: Supporting the defence workforce – Richard Price, Defence SA
Episode 181: PODCAST: Priorities for the defence industry – Matt Keogh, shadow defence industry minister
Episode 180: PODCAST: The need for a national security strategy – Senator Jim Molan
Announcer: Welcome to the Defence Connect podcast with your host, Phil Tarrant.
Phil Tarrant: G'day, everyone, it's Phil Tarrant here. I'm the host of the Defence Connect podcast. Thanks for joining us today. We're going to start on a recent theme of ours, it's something which us at Defence Connect is passionate about, and that is supporting some of the very talented SMEs we have in Australia, the very backbone to defence industry and often an overlooked component of it.
Obviously, the glitz and glamour of the major programs go through our very capable primes and there is a lot of work underway at the moment to keep those guys busy into the years ahead, particularly with the large government investment into defence spending, but typically it's the SMEs who are doing a lot of the grunt work, a lot of the grinding behind the scenes, delivering capabilities into the primes so they can fulfil the needs of these programms.
To get a bit of an idea of some of the work the SMEs are doing, I've asked someone to the studio I think will give us a fresh new take on working as an SME within defence industry, Livia Brady, who's the MD of Rojone. Livia, welcome to the show.
Livia Brady: Thank you.
Phil Tarrant: Now, you've been in this game for a little while?
Livia Brady: 36 years, yeah.
Phil Tarrant: 36 years, okay.
Livia Brady: A little bit.
Phil Tarrant: You've earned your stripes?
Livia Brady: Absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: What do you guys do?
Livia Brady: We're a communications company, basically, RF, wireless communications. We do a lot of componentry for interconnection of radio systems.
Phil Tarrant: This is allowing people to talk to each other?
Livia Brady: Absolutely, yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: The base level, so people can communicate more effectively, and within a military context, it's ensuring that there is communication. People can make decisions and receive information to do what they need to do.
Livia Brady: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: Basic fundamentals.
Livia Brady: Basic fundamentals, yeah. Without the, as my husband calls it, the string that connects the two radios together, nothing works.
Phil Tarrant: Except we don't really use string these days.
Livia Brady: No, we don't use string.
Phil Tarrant: Pretty high-tech stuff.
Livia Brady: He's ex-military, and he thinks that's hilarious.
Phil Tarrant: Is he ex-Army?
Livia Brady: Navy.
Phil Tarrant: Ex-Navy.
Livia Brady: 27 years in the Navy.
Phil Tarrant: So, he knows the importance of making sure he can speak to the guys on the ship across the sea.
Livia Brady: Absolutely, it's his mates out there on the frontline, and he does his most to protect them.
Phil Tarrant: And you guys are pretty confident in the stuff you're building for our armed forces? Is it pretty good?
Livia Brady: Absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: Let's talk about particular products or components. What do you build? The boxes, technology in it, the wires that glue it all together, the cable that connects it all?
Livia Brady: Yeah, all of the above, actually. It really depends on what we to build or what we need to design or what solution we have to provide. We start at the antenna end, so we can actually manufacture the antennas. We've done a lot of GPS antennas, a lot of our broadband antennas for the military, all the way through to the interconnect components, which is the cable assemblies that connect the antennas to the radio systems or to the broadcasting systems within whatever platform it might be.
Phil Tarrant: The need for effective communication on the battlefield is as relevant as what it was 1,000 years ago. Information is key. Obviously, the way we communicate has changed rapidly in that period of time. Where are we at the moment in terms of our ability of our armed forces to talk and engage and connect with each other? How good is the technology that we have?
Livia Brady: It's not bad. We have some pretty clever people in this country. It's not only just the communication, it's the actually radar systems and making sure whatever resources they have is plugged in and actually that it's fed back to the command post or the people out in the field or whatever it may be. It's not so much talking, it's actually getting that information, that data, all that information needs to come back. We provide that service.
Phil Tarrant: You ensure that you provide the pipeline to get the information to the people who need specific information?
Livia Brady: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: Okay, I like to simplify stuff.
Livia Brady: Our job is quite simple, because the radios are complex. All the systems are complex. However, you actually need to connect those, but we have a lot of componentry within things like radar systems and the comms, the radio networks themselves. A lot of things we can't discuss because obviously there's security around it, but it's not just the interconnects, it's the broader picture of communication.
Phil Tarrant: Rojone, what's with the name? What does it mean?
Livia Brady: Everybody says that. It's not sexy at all. It's a shelf company name. We started off back in the late 70's with a company called Assembled Products. My mother actually started the business. She was an immigrant seamstress that actually learnt how to make cable assemblies and started a company after a bad car accident, and I joined her directly after school when I was 15. Within 12 months, Mum came home one day, and she said, "I've just bought an antenna company." I said, "What do we know about antennas?" Mum said, "What we don't know, we'll learn." So that's where we-
Phil Tarrant: Where was your mum from?
Livia Brady: Austria.
Phil Tarrant: What a great story. When did she arrive in Australia?
Livia Brady: It would have been in probably '58, something like that.
Phil Tarrant: She just bought an antenna company?
Livia Brady: Yep, she went out and bought an antenna company, and it was back in those days, it was all CB, remember? All two-way communications or mobile antennas or base station type of antennas, so one of our first contracts was for Tandy. We manufactured thousands of antennas that were on the shelves at Tandy, hooking up truckies and farm people and so forth, and talking back and forth.
Phil Tarrant: Where are you based? Is it still the same manufacturing facility?
Livia Brady: Yeah, we're in Ingleburn. We started off from home, and we outgrew home, and then we went to a factory at Campbelltown for a couple of years, and then my mother came home one day, and she said, "I've just bought a plot of land out at Ingleburn. They've just put up a new industrial area, and I bought one of the first plots off the plan." I went, "Yeah, great, Mum. Now what?" She said, "I'm going to build a factory."
Phil Tarrant: So you built a factory. Is it still the same factory?
Livia Brady: Yep, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: That's great.
Livia Brady: It's been tidied up recently, but it was the old red brick type of thing, but three units. We leased two of the units out to help us pay the mortgage back in the days when it was over 20%, and yeah. By 2000, the actual tenants decided to retire, because the GST came in. Said, "We're out," and I said, "Great, because we're expanding, and I need those two units anyway." Took it over, and yeah.
Phil Tarrant: How many people now work in the business?
Livia Brady: 63.
Phil Tarrant: Wow. I really appreciate stories like this, particularly in defence industry because there's a lot, I guess to preface my original comment, there's a lot of businesses like yours who are out there who are very much the backbone of defence industry. The spotlight isn't shone on people like yourself.
Livia Brady: We don't-
Phil Tarrant: And a lot of people like that.
Livia Brady: We don't go look for it. That's the big thing. We don't go looking for any sort of spotlight. We're happy to earn income and to play a role in manufacturing in this country. I don't know how many people have asked me this, "Why do you manufacture here?" I said, "Because I want to, and I have two grandchildren, and I want them to be able to manufacture in this country."
It's amazing how many uni students that we get through our place that have never touched a piece of hardware. They've got all the academia behind them, but they don't know what hardware is, what cable is. We had a girl that specialised in waveguide, and she'd never seen waveguide in her life. I had a piece, and I said, "What do you think about that?" She said, "What is it?" I went, "Are you kidding me?"
Phil Tarrant: So of these 63 people within your team, how many are actually on the tools making stuff?
Livia Brady: I would say at the moment about 45 of them.
Phil Tarrant: So the lion's share are still manufacturing.
Livia Brady: Yep, absolutely. We've simplified our administration. We've installed a new ERP system a couple of years ago that's helped us to combine a lot of different facets of our business, so it makes it very transparent and we get out to manufacturing. That's what we want to do.
Phil Tarrant: If I was to come to your shop, your factory, what would I see? Would it be big machines and people pushing metal through it, or would it be-
Livia Brady: Oh, absolutely not. No, no, not by a long shot. We have a machine shop and we have a paint booth as well, but it's mainly cables and boxes and a lot of electronics. There's a lot of test equipment. Every piece of test equipment I buy is a very nice car, so it's about $100,000.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, it's expensive kit.
Livia Brady: We've got automatic stripping and crimping machines, we've got hydraulics, yeah, so a lot of equipment as in technical equipment, so it's a big investment, very big investment, and next year we want to go into fibre, so another big investment next year for me.
Phil Tarrant: Keep winning those contracts.
Livia Brady: Absolutely, well, you know, it's not large contracts. We do orders, and some of our orders might be 20,000, they might be 10,000. They might be $200. It depends on what's going on. We don't wait for the large contracts. We just keep going basically with what needs to be done.
Phil Tarrant: What makes Australian manufacturers good or better than perhaps or potentially some of the cheaper international options that are out there today?
Livia Brady: I think we're very proactive. I think we think out of the box. We put our heart and soul in it. All my staff do. I must admit, I've got a great bunch of people. If I say this is going into a submarine or if it's going into an armoured vehicle or whatever it is, they know where it's going. It's looking after our own people. I think we're just a lot faster and a lot more with it and a lot more proactive with our customers at the end of the day. I do deal with a lot of international companies and great product, they've got very good product, but part of the problem is the lack of service.
Phil Tarrant: So we make good stuff?
Livia Brady: We make very good stuff.
Phil Tarrant: And you mentioned you could have orders from a small amount to a large amount. Do you chase the big programs? You obviously know what's coming online and you would be part of competitive prime bids into major programs? Is that how it works?
Livia Brady: We've had some prime contracts on our own back, which have been very good to us, and we've been very good to our customers, the military in particular. We got a contract from the Army to develop or to build PDUs, power distribution units. It was a $4 million contract over a three-year period and we were on time, on budget, we had a really, really good run with that particular project.
Most of our projects are on time, on budget. We're very honest about our bids. Sometimes that does us in because we're too honest compared to other people in the market or the large companies or international companies that don't understand the landscape and the actual requirement in a lot of occasions. We do chase a tender if it's in our scope of work, basically, and if we've got the capability of doing it in-house.
Phil Tarrant: You mentioned your husband's ex-military, so do you think that helps in terms of framing where the product sits within a supply chain and how it's used?
Livia Brady: No. He's a new husband. We've been together for about six years now. He's actually doing a lot of the BD role for me, the business development now. While I was quite successful on my own, he brings another dynamic into the business, which is understanding the military from a very personal place at the end of the day. He can go into a room and talk to his peers and understand what their pecking order is or understand what they're looking for and ask the right questions, where I can-
Phil Tarrant: And navigate that, yeah.
Livia Brady: Yeah, I'm great at the technical solutions, that's not a problem. We basically built our company on technical solutions, but now we're looking at the next level of opportunity, and it's a very exciting landscape within military at the moment with all the projects that are going on. It's a real buzz in the industry as such.
Phil Tarrant: Can you explain to me or describe your sort of average day?
Livia Brady: Oh, my average day. My God.
Phil Tarrant: No one's day is average, but I imagine as MD of an organisation that's been around for so long that you must know what's happening but to sort of shape your day-
Livia Brady: I'm very hands on.
Phil Tarrant: ... So you're concentrating on-
Livia Brady: I'm very hands on. I do everything from paying wages, so I handle all the bookkeeping and the payments. One of my mother's dying wishes is that she said, "Don't give away the finances to anybody else. You keep doing them." So she taught me well. One of the reasons we put into the ERP system was so I could actually do that remotely and do it at home, so it makes it easier for me to do. I take the high heels off and I'm running around the factory and ...
Phil Tarrant: Do you like to tinker still?
Livia Brady: I'm not an engineer. I'm not an engineer, but I problem solve. That's what I'm very good at. Money, problem solving, is there a technical solution? I watch what's going on in the factory. Can we do that better? Is there a better way of doing that? Is it repetitive where we can actually implement some equipment? Can we design something ourselves to suit a particular job that we're doing? Yeah, I'm down on the factory floor or in the store or yeah.
At the moment we just bought a 600 square metre factory next door to our building. We're relocating a store into that area and implementing barcoding, so I'm running around with software people and barcodes and I have a whole bunch at the moment of our schoolies who are on school holiday break at the moment, children of all my staff that-
Phil Tarrant: Got them working?
Livia Brady: I've got them working. They've come in. I said, "If you want to earn a couple of dollars and you want to learn how business works, I'm happy to have you here." It's a very nice environment.
Phil Tarrant: What do you most enjoy doing?
Livia Brady: I like bidding. I like the bidding process.
Phil Tarrant: You like to chase the work?
Livia Brady: I do like to chase the work. I like to know what's coming so I can actually plan for opportunities. Our strength is that everything we've done over the years is we've basically accumulated, we've got our own building, we've got our own tooling, we've got our own resources, so I look ahead and go, "So, in 12 months time, there's a project here, there's a project there. Is there a point of difference that I can throw into the mix and resource ourselves up to be able to be a front runner in that particular project?" Reduce the risk, is what they say now, reduce the risk.
Phil Tarrant: How do you guys celebrate your successes? So, you win a big contract. Do you pop a champagne bottle and celebrate?
Livia Brady: Drinking, absolutely, but it's generally not for the successes. No, no, you know, it's work for us, and yes, we do win a contract and everybody's whoo-hooing around the office, and that's about it, basically, and then we just go-
Phil Tarrant: Then you got to get on with it?
Livia Brady: Now we have to get it done and we have to actually deliver, so it's time that the work starts, so yeah. I've got some great people that have been with me for a long period of time, so we think alike, which is lovely. I can just look at her going, "Yep, I'm on it."
Phil Tarrant: What would be your average age of your workforce?
Livia Brady: Oh, we go all the way from early 20's all the way up to 60's.
Phil Tarrant: Wow, so very diverse.
Livia Brady: Yeah, very diverse.
Phil Tarrant: Which is now reflective of what business in Australia should be.
Livia Brady: Absolutely, absolutely. It's fit for purpose at the end of the day. I had a store person that came looking for a job, and he was in his 60's, and he said, "Oh, I probably won't get it, because I'm in my 60's." I said, "Are you healthy? Can you do the job?" He went, "Yes." "Well, I'll give you a go." That's fine. I'm happy as long as you can do the job.
Phil Tarrant: That's the right attitude, but I think it's getting lost a little bit as well, I think.
Livia Brady: I understand that. Everybody's looking for the young fit, but on the same token, you need those mentors within your organisation as well to instill good work practices, good safety practices, to keep an eye out. That grandfather overlook, basically. It's nice to have a very diverse workforce, I think.
Phil Tarrant: There's a lot of research that really supports that attitude, as well.
Livia Brady: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: I don't want to say older workers, but people who are sort of later in their career, can be a real guiding force in organisations, particularly in businesses where change is part of the DNA, and having people that can show that leadership, even though they might not be a manager.
Livia Brady: Exactly, no, that's exactly right. I find that what they bring to the party here is consistency, and they do. They mentor, they look at a job and they go, "Well, you know, you should be doing it this way so you don't hurt your back or do it this way because it's a better way of doing it." Fresh eyes on things, and they're happy to say something, because they're older. When they're not as old, they don't say, "Well, you could be doing that a better way," because it doesn't really fit. I suppose it doesn't work in that respect. They're not frightened to step up and go, "You know, we can do that a little bit better."
Phil Tarrant: You mentioned a couple of grandkids, and your, I guess, second generation? Your mother-
Livia Brady: I am, yeah.
Phil Tarrant: ... Purchased an antenna company and you've picked up the reins and grown and evolved it. Are your children in the business?
Livia Brady: I have a son that's in the business. He's 35, yeah.
Phil Tarrant: Is he your succession strategy?
Livia Brady: No, no, no. He's elected to start his own business as well, so he's running that on the side, and he looks like he wants to opt out within about a 10-year span, so my hall is to nurture up my granddaughter Aurora, because she looks like she's got it. She might have it. She's only seven at the moment, and she's come to work a few times, and I've said, "You're going to have to help Bamma out in the store, because when we need to help the guys in the store." I've printed off labels, and she looks down at them, she goes, "So are they all the same or do we have to sort out the parcels?" I said, "No, they're all the same. Great question, honey."
Phil Tarrant: That's quite cool, you know?
Livia Brady: It is. It's very cool.
Phil Tarrant: I think you can identify talent really early and aptitude.
Livia Brady: Well, it is. You can, and you can foster that, so I don't want to lose that. I think my mum would be smiling down looking and going, "Yep, the girls are on it."
Phil Tarrant: I like the just good Australian SME stories. These stories need to be told. It's not about shining the spotlight, and love, and all that sort of stuff, but it's about SMEs in Australia employ 97% of the Australian workforce. The smaller factories, the smaller stores, the smaller businesses are the powerhouse of the Australian economy. The government knows it, and they're trying to invest more into it, but it's not the glitz and glamour of the ASX Top 200.
Livia Brady: No, it isn't, it isn't, but on the same token, it's lovely. John went to a recent function, a Navy function and caught up with some friends of his, and he went, "Rojone, I know them. They're awesome. Every time I have a problem, I just ring them and they ask all the right questions, get my problem solved," and then we go down to how we're going to pay for it, and it's like, if you've got a credit card, if you've got a purchase order, we can take anything. How can we help you guys, rather than have rules.
Phil Tarrant: Just get it fixed.
Livia Brady: Make it simple.
Phil Tarrant: "I need this thing to work because I need it for this…
Livia Brady: It's a problem-solving situation, absolutely, yeah. We do a lot of that, and it's nice to hear that feedback. That's what drives us at the end of the day.
Phil Tarrant: That's the best feedback you can get, isn't it? From the customer.
Livia Brady: Absolutely, absolutely. We're mentoring. We're doing a little more mentoring. We've approached the military about getting some of their technicians to come in and work with us, so when they're in the field, they know how to fix something or they can call us or Skype us and we'll help them through it, to patch something up if something's not working.
Phil Tarrant: So the stuff you build is fixable still? A lot of things these days are so intricate that you need to have years and years of experience and a PhD to understand it. What you create is still, it's fixable?
Livia Brady: It's hardware, it's hardware, it's hardware. It's simple boxes modulized. Remember, our military is not thousands of anything, so when it comes down to it, we have to build it in a smart modular way so we can actually repair it or even develop it further. When we're building things, we're building tens, twenties, thirties, not hundreds, when it comes down to it. It has to be done in a logical way and a cost-effective way.
Years ago there was a terminology called COTS, commercial off the shelf, and I think that's when they sort of turned around from that over militarising product to putting things together in the commercial sense to demonstrate a technology or an opportunity for improvement or whatever it may be. So yeah, it is repairable.
Phil Tarrant: Has the world changed much over the last couple of years?
Livia Brady: Oh, God yes.
Phil Tarrant: In terms of being an SME, from a working in the business of defence?
Livia Brady: I think it has. I think it has.
Phil Tarrant: It's got easier, harder?
Livia Brady: It's got harder. I think it's really got harder. There was a lot more direct working with the military many years ago. Now you're dealing through contract negotiators and it's a lot more legal if you know what I mean. They have to be, of course. That's the nature of our society nowadays, but it's made it more, I don't know what the word for it is, it's disconnected somewhat. It's based on a ... You work on a tender or a drawing, everything's in a rush.
Phil Tarrant: So it's depersonalised?
Livia Brady: Depersonalised, absolutely. Everything's in a rush, everything needs to be happening in a hurry. One project is deferred and then five minutes later, it's going, no, no, no, we need that one delivered and that one delivered and that one delivered. I go, "Pick one you want first." It becomes quite interesting to manage it, but we can do it because we're agile enough to do so. I can understand other companies having difficulties, and that's where the primes like to work with us because we can go, "Yep, we'll drop that and we'll put that contract first or that set of cables first so you can start your install or hook something up or test something or whatever it may be."
Phil Tarrant: Is there any particular prime that you have a really good relationship with, that you work closely with?
Livia Brady: We work with all of them, actually. British Aerospace, Thales, CEA Technologies in Canberra are an awesome company. I was there at the start of their business, which was lovely to see, and now they just-
Phil Tarrant: Cracking along?
Livia Brady: Kicking butt all over the world with their radar systems. We're making an amazing amount of cable assemblies for them. We've been supporting them for many years, so that's been a very fun journey to watch.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah, it's nice to be part of a supply chain, but a bit more than that.
Livia Brady: Absolutely. When you've been there from the beginning, and they were a small company that started out with a little test bench and they had a big vision. They had a very big vision. Funnily enough, a lot of those companies are gone by the wayside now. They've been sold off to international companies that have broken these companies up and apart. The old AWAs and so forth. It's nice to see somebody that still survives with the same sort of pedigree.
Phil Tarrant: If it works, it works.
Livia Brady: Yeah, absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: It works, it works.
Livia Brady: Absolutely.
Phil Tarrant: You think the government's doing enough to help you guys out? I know they're investing a lot more time and effort into supporting SMEs, CDIC for example. I've heard only good things about it.
Livia Brady: Absolutely, absolutely. I was quite surprised that I was at one of the recent ... At the Navy show, and I'm standing at the booth and I was talking to a few clients, but every second person that came up to me was like, "So how can we help you and how much money do you need and we can co-invest with you?" And I'm like, "Okay." I've never had so much money thrown at me for-
Phil Tarrant: Did you take any?
Livia Brady: I will, I will, but we'll do it logically, because obviously it's a co-financing situation, and I'm not in it to just milk anything that's there.
Phil Tarrant: It's got to be right.
Livia Brady: Yeah, it's got to be the right fit at the end of the day. But you know, it's also getting the right people as well to come into our organisation, look at some of our problem solving that we want to do. We see some products that we could actually develop on our own, but we have developed a number of products on our back, so we're not just somebody that manufactures on contract. We also look for opportunities to manufacture that we can build a product to export as well.
Phil Tarrant: So you build something and say, "This is great, it's unique," and you'll take it to market and try and sell it?
Livia Brady: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: Do you prefer to do that or the other way around?
Livia Brady: I like a lot of eggs in the basket.
Phil Tarrant: I understand. We've spoken primarily about defence, but you operate in other markets as well, obviously?
Livia Brady: Absolutely, yeah.
Phil Tarrant: What other sectors do you have a footprint?
Livia Brady: Telecoms market, we do a lot of the IBC and building infrastructure. The antennas that go inside buildings so you can use your mobile phone inside a building. GPS antennas, for instance, GPS smart antennas. We have them in the stock exchange that synchronise the signals from the other stock exchanges. It provides timing inside a building, for instance. We had a vehicle tracking company that we recently sold off. Vehicle tracking's become dime a dozen, but when we-
Phil Tarrant: Did you just chuck it into a plumber and make sure he's doing his rounds sort of thing?
Livia Brady: Yeah, but we had it before handheld devices, so the product that we actually manufactured, a lot of it, went into the UK, but it was a product that you didn't need a device to track it, so it was actually DTMF tuning, so you called up your vehicle and you could get speed and heading, position information without having any sort of device like a computer or a mobile phone. That wasn't in existence back in the early 90's, so yeah, we patented that product and did very well out of it.
Phil Tarrant: That's nice. Potentially loaded question. Which sector do you like working in the most?
Livia Brady: Oh, definitely defence.
Phil Tarrant: Yeah?
Livia Brady: Yeah.
Phil Tarrant: I thought that's be the answer.
Livia Brady: Oh, no, oh look, no, I like the telcos. It's a very competitive market, the telcos, but we build high end products. We don't compete with the Asian products. A lot of our products have a two year lifespan because it does get copied overseas, which is flattering but annoying at the same time.
Phil Tarrant: Who comes up with your bright ideas to give you guys an advantage? Is that you?
Livia Brady: I walk into the guys and talk to them about, "Can we do this?" I might go into a client and go, "You know, what they're doing is not really quite right," or I'll look at an opportunity with a customer, so the customer goes, "You know, on my wishlist, I'd like to be able to do this." We just became a finalist in, again, the Navy show for our Radhaz boat, and that customer came to us and said, "You know, we've got these antennas, the system's on a boat. We either have to turn them all off because we don't know which ones are radiating when we have to repair something or work on something." We built them a little box to be able to switch off certain sectors, pull out a key, knowing that it's fully-
Phil Tarrant: That's a real practical solution?
Livia Brady: Very practical solution at the end of the day. My husband's ex-military, Navy, medical, and he said, this has been a problem that they've had on the boats for years, because they can't, obviously, they'd radiate people if they had the equipment on at a high power when they're working around it, so this has been a problem that's been there forever.
Phil Tarrant: How do you balance the, this is a term of endearment, your boffins, who are conceptualising these things and tinkering with them and proving that it works through to your manufacturing to your admin people and your sales people?
Livia Brady: Wrangling my cats? No, they're generally pretty good. I look for engineers that have a practical sense as well as a very academic background. I've had a few engineers that have been tough to wrangle over the years. You walk into a train system and they wanted a comms systems, and he's manufacturing the whole train. And I went, "No, no, no, not us." Pulled him back. They're very creative people-
Phil Tarrant: They are extremely creative.
Livia Brady: You have to give them a bit of leash, so-
Phil Tarrant: Let them go for it.
Livia Brady: Yeah, but sometimes they can over-engineer. I've got a system that we run for the mining, we have a mining radio system. It's got a lot more bells and whistles than it needs at this point in time, so ...
Phil Tarrant: Hopefully the need catches up so you're well poised to-
Livia Brady: Well, yes, hopefully, but the thing is, you don't want to over-engineer, because it over complicates it and the potential for things to go wrong is something that you're trying to avoid. Risk management, they don't seem to get too well.
Phil Tarrant: How are you going with, obviously, some large programs on the way right now in ship building, subs, frigates potentially coming online, your LAND 400 type stuff, all need application for radio. Have you got your hat in that ring?
Livia Brady: We have, we have had for about three or four years. You have to preempt a lot of that years in advance, put your name on the list. They come out and do audits, check who you are. Rheinmetall people of that sort of nature, Thales. We've been doing a lot of work with them anyway, but it's a different group of engineers. These projects are massive, so they need to get to know you over a period of time. We're doing a couple of test orders for people to understand that we can do the work. They're looking at our times for things. We have to be pretty open book with them as well, so yeah.
Phil Tarrant: Do they like what they see?
Livia Brady: Yeah. We're certainly shortlisted, so that's a great position to be in. The orders aren't there yet because the systems are not in place yet, but we're certainly on the list, so it's very exciting times.
Phil Tarrant: What's your thoughts towards the fact that we have a dedicated defence industry minister now rather than the minister of defence?
Livia Brady: Oh, it's brilliant.
Phil Tarrant: Does it help?
Livia Brady: Yes, because the focus is there now. There's a focus. It's not, "Yes, we have to defend our country, but we'll run around basically and do it by stealth." It's really open book now, so we know exactly what programs are out there, because over the years, there's been a lot of programs. People will bandy around program names, and you think, "I know nothing about that particular program. The profile was not there." Well, you don't really need to know anything unless you're involved with that program, but you might be doing a very small proportion of it. It's just nice to know the big picture, so we're getting the big picture nowadays, which is lovely.
Phil Tarrant: That's good, and Livia, if you were to come back on the Defence Connect podcast in five years time, what would be the difference from where you are now to where you'll be then?
Livia Brady: I think we'll be up to about 100 staff, I think that would be reasonable to consider. I think we'll be doing some really interesting system builds. I think that's where we're going. I'm talking to the primes. A lot more of the primes want to do project management and they want to have modular systems, so they can give more work to their subcontractors to handle and then basically put it together, test, and carry it from there. So I think there's a lot more inclusion now and a lot more ... A subcontractor is valuable now, not just somebody that supplies parts on a purchase order. I think that's where we're heading, which is a nice place to be for a change.
Phil Tarrant: Keep up the good work.
Livia Brady: Thank you.
Phil Tarrant: I've really enjoyed the chat.
Livia Brady: Thank you very much.