Q&A With Defence Business Magazine

Defence Business Magazine recently sat down with Innovative Defence Industry Business Leaders for a Q&A, including Derby Rubber’s own CEO, Michael Clayton. Here’s what he had to say:

What led you to start working within the defence industry?

My interest in defence capability started when I was very young. I often attended the Avalon and Edinburgh Air Shows and naval ship local open days with my family. Fast forward a few decades, to when I was structuring the business growth strategy for Derby Rubber, and it was clear that diversifying into defence was a natural fit for the business and an opportunity that I was passionate in leading.

When I commenced my role at Derby Rubber in 2015, I immediately saw the potential of the business. We have an extensive history of delivering on major government, construction, mining, train building and rail infrastructure projects. Harsh conditions, abrasion resistance, vibration dampening, product performance and longevity are where we excel. We are transferring this technical experience and manufacturing capability to our defence projects.

What was the path you took to get to where you are today?

Throughout my schooling I had a natural attraction to STEM subjects and music. When I commenced a Chemical Engineering degree, at age 17, I also joined the Royal Australian Navy Reserves as a musician. I was fortunate to be able to balance both careers and to serve in the Navy for over 20 years. My Reserve work followed my professional work as I relocated from Adelaide to Brisbane and Sydney to pursue various opportunities in polymer engineering and manufacturing.

As an engineer, I find rubber a fascinating material. It is used extensively in many applications and products and allows me to connect with people at all levels across many industries, including defence.

What do you feel is the biggest strength of Derby Rubber right now?

The business has extensive technical capabilities, and our new site has given us the capacity to grow However, our biggest strength right now is our people capability. Traditional manufacturing businesses often define their capability as a list of machines and the materials that they process. We realise that building our people capability deepens our overall business capability, improves our service offering, fosters an innovative and supportive culture, and sets our sights on the future. I am excited about where our ambitious team can take us.

What have been the biggest challenges you have had to overcome at Derby Rubber?

2019 was a defining year for Derby Rubber and for me as the leader. The business was to relocate from Sydney to Adelaide to realise its growth potential. However, before the plans could be initiated, an arsonist entered the property over a weekend and destroyed our home of 55 years, our stock and much of our plant. Within two weeks post-fire, we had made the decision to rapidly relocate from Sydney to Adelaide. It was a mammoth effort from my team. Within 100 days of the fire, we despatched our first export shipment, with a combination of relocated and new plant, newly trained production staff and in a new building. It was a remarkable effort.

The defence industry presents us with a new set of challenges and significant barriers to entry. However, the benefits can be immense; including long-term, consistent contracts, high-margin work and the opportunity to realise rapid growth. We engaged with the Defence Teaming Centre and ODIS early in our defence journey. We received grants to prepare our defence entry strategy and to lift our existing ISO 9001 and ISO 14001 certifications to a “defence ready” level. As a small business, it has been challenging to manage resources as we prepare the business for the defence supply chain, particularly in areas such as cybersecurity and in achieving and maintaining DISP certification. It’s a long game, but one that we are prepared to resource.

Why did Derby Rubber become a member of the Defence Teaming Centre?

Derby Rubber joined the Defence Teaming Centre in 2019, the same year that we relocated to Adelaide. Derby Rubber was relatively new to the defence industry, having just completed a contract for Land 121 Phase 4. We were also newcomers to the state of South Australia DTC membership was attractive for defence training and as a connector to the businesses that we were targeting for defence and non-defence work, particularly in SA.

How has the Defence Teaming Centre assisted Derby Rubber in becoming “Defence Ready”?

Our initial expectations of DTC membership have been greatly exceeded since we joined three years ago. Within weeks of joining the DTC we attended the Defence 101 training to learn about the current defence landscape and the pathways to enter the defence supply chain for upcoming major projects. My staff and I have since attended training in cybersecurity, quad charts, Shipley capture management and Indigenous procurement.

The DTC’s networking events and breakfast briefings have placed our small business “in the mix” with the Primes and their Tier 1 suppliers. We have welcomed many key defence procurement decision makers to our manufacturing premises, which has led to supplier onboarding audits. The DTC provided us with support in the lead up to major defence trade shows, as well as connections during the exhibitions.

As I look to bringing our next generation of leaders through the ranks, I placed my first employee on the DTC’s Defence Industry Leadership Program (DILP). The feedback has been incredibly positive. The combination of leadership training and defence awareness has developed their leadership skills, built resilience and fostered respectful values. I can’t recommend DILP highly enough.

If you could give only one piece of advice to other CEO’s looking to branch out into defence industry what would it be?

Entering the defence industry is not designed to be easy. It must be embedded into your strategic plan, your systems and supported by the executive team. Join the DTC and industry groups, connect and learn from those that have gone before you.

Read the article in Issue 56 of Defence Business Magazine.

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