Business the Buckley Way

3min

Buckley Systems operates in the niche industry of manufacturing precision electromagnets and vacuum chambers to the semiconductor, medical and research industries, primarily in the US. Started in 1978 by Bill Buckley, there’s a highly skilled team and over 34 Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machining centres in 18,000m2 of factory. We caught up with Arron Sands, the CEO and Doug Lennon, CFO to identify how the business has been built to be globally competitive while remaining distinctly Kiwi.

 

The Buckley difference

One of Buckley Systems’ key competitive advantages is the close collaborative R&D process with customers, which brings the customer idea to life to a level that can be produced efficiently. Being intrinsically involved in what customers want is matched with the company’s ability to scale.

 

Buckley Systems also:

 

  • Attends industry conferences. ‘We've built a strong reputation over the years,’ says Arron, ‘exhibiting and speaking at specialist conferences. Without question, these large conferences are the most effective way for us to get direct engagement and personal interaction. You need to turn up.’  
  • Leverages and advertises in publications like CERN as many customers originate from research laboratories such as Brookhaven and Stanford. Whilst also being active on LinkedIn and publishing its own technical bulletin regularly. 
  • Engages with research institutions in person and via email and keeps track of tender opportunities. 
  • Established a US office to be closer to its markets before it was a popular thing for NZ businesses to do. ‘The rationale was centred around the proximity to our major customers,’ said Doug. ‘In the US our largest customers were based in Boston. As a result, Bill acquired a business called Boston Transformers, utilising its infrastructure to establish Buckley Systems International.’
  • Ensures it has people in its export markets to bridge any cultural gaps and understand local opportunities. 

 

Buckley Systems also has key strategic partnerships in two countries, D-Pace in Canada and Hakuto in Japan. ‘Having local companies representing your business and being closer to other markets helps solve most of the logistical, cultural and time difference issues,’ says Doug. 

The role of productivity

Productivity is a current issue for most businesses. We asked Arron and Doug how they manage and encourage constant improvement. Their priority list includes:

 

  • Streamline supply chain operations. Disruptions caused by events like COVID highlight the need for more efficient and resilient supply chains to minimise disruptions. 
  • Know the lead times for critical components. To order a new CNC machine has a 15-month lead time, so managing challenges when demand outstrips production capacity, is critical. 
  • The importance of vertical integration. By manufacturing components in-house, Buckley Systems reduces reliance on external suppliers and mitigate supply chain delays. 
  • Hitting key milestones or metrics. Buckley Systems’ focus is measured in terms of magnets produced per week. It’s not necessarily a net profit or margin yardstick.  ‘I've been responsible for forecasting customer demand,’ says Doug, and we empower our managers to track relevant metrics within their respective domains. We share three or four dashboards weekly to keep everyone informed, emphasising a culture of accountability and self-management. 
  • Implementing a new ERP system to leverage data-driven insights to drive efficiency and meet customer expectations.
  • Expanding their quality inspection team from five to eighteen inspectors to ensure quality issues are addressed before products are shipped. 
  • Investing in AI for training purposes. Buckley’s provide multi-language training materials accessible through kiosks placed throughout their workshops. 

 

However, productivity can take a hit with events outside their control. Raw materials are sourced globally, and when the Suez Canal got blocked, the shipping delays caused havoc. ‘Once we ordered a few tonnes of copper and it ended up in Chile,’ said Arron. ‘By the time we tracked it down, due to delays and extra costs, we ended up losing money on the final product. But the customer was happy. For us it’s not always about a set margin or profit. We have a holistic view of being in business, with the customer and our staff at the centre.’

Advice entering an export market

Arron says ‘there's no substitute for face-to-face meetings. It’s the only way to truly understand the market dynamics. And scale is something you've got to get your head around. If you’ve got 10,000 of something in your warehouse in New Zealand and want to export, be prepared for your first customer to want 100,000. Because that's what it's like, and if you can’t deliver, you won’t get another chance.’

 

Other first-time export tips include:

 

  • Avoid the mistake of arriving with a product or service, only to find that customer requirements differ significantly from expectations. Start conservatively, adjust inventory levels based on actual demand, and then be able to scale. 
  • Exporting involves navigating different regulations and legal frameworks, so it's crucial to prioritise payment security. It’s also when you need your bank to help unpick the FX puzzle.
  • Pay attention to logistics and paperwork, including freight forwarding and customs procedures. Seek guidance from experts in these areas to ensure compliance and smooth operations. Conduct thorough due diligence and have contingency plans in place for potential challenges. 

 

Half-hearted efforts are unlikely to yield favourable results. As the saying goes, ‘Buckley or none’ meaning, don't enter a new market unless you're fully committed to making it work. This level of dedication is crucial for overcoming challenges and achieving success in global markets.

The role of ASB

‘ASB has been instrumental in understanding our business and the unique environment we operate in,’ says Doug. ‘Over the years, we've needed to make adjustments to our forward foreign currency exchange book. ASB were incredibly supportive in accommodating these changes. They've been responsive to our needs, prompt and efficient, without the need for extensive negotiation or effort on our part. This flexibility and understanding have been crucial for us’.

 

‘In addition to financial support, says Arron, ‘ASB has gently nudged us towards Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) initiatives. While we were already inclined to move in that direction, ASB's support and incentives have encouraged us to accelerate our efforts in this area. This demonstrates their commitment to not only providing financial assistance but also promoting sustainable business practices.’

The final word

If you asked a Buckley employee what they thought of working at Buckley Systems, they’d probably say quit your job, come work here and find out. ‘We work hard on fostering a sense of belonging,’ says Arron. ‘Our executive team is approachable and down-to-earth, actively engaging with employees on all levels and walking the floor. If things get tough, like if the All Blacks were 3 points down with a minute to full time, we’ll all knuckle down to get the job done’.

 

That sounds like the Buckley Way.

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