Interview with Robert Battle, Managing Director
Could you tell us more about Sicame and its history?
Sicame is specialised in cable connectors and fittings for overhead or underground electrical networks as well as safety equipment for the maintenance of such networks. Groupe Sicame was started in Corrèze (France) after WWII by two engineers, Bernard Lachaud and Marcel Prodel, to supply products for EDF (Electricity de France) the state-owned electricity provider in France. The company grew steadily over the following decades and started to expand internationally in the late 70’s with exports to North Africa and later on to Indonesia. Early in the 80’s, Sicame’s strategy became global and Sicame started to set-up affiliates around the world outside of Europe. RNJ, a Perth-based company became an agent for Sicame in Australia. A few years later, in 1989, Sicame offered to purchase shares in RNJ and created RNJ-Sicame its Australian affiliate. Finally, RNJ-Sicame changed its name to Sicame Australia in 2002.
Can you describe your personal background and your role within Sicame Australia?
I studied Electrical Engineering at the Queensland Institute of technology and graduated with a Bachelors’ degree in 1979. I started my career with SEQEB which was the predecessor of Energex. In 1988, I gave some technical papers at the occasion of a large Melbourne engineering conference. One of my papers presented products available on the French market which could help avoid bushfires. The bushfires of SA and Victoria in the 80’s had been a turning point for the local utility market, pushing electrical operators to seek high-quality connectors and fittings to secure electrical cables which were often at the origin of bushfires. After this, I was offered a position with RNJ-Sicame and was invited to spend 6 to 12 months in France. I accepted and moved with my family to Corrèze. The months soon turned into years… as I became Director of Research. In 1993, after 4 years, I returned to Australia, mainly for family reasons, and settled in Sydney where RNJ-Sicame was based. While still selling Sicame products, we then started to develop and manufacture specific products for the Australian market. Soon after, Rory Solomon joined us as Sales and Marketing Director for Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. I took over as Managing Director in 2002 (even though I am still doing a fair bit of electrical engineering) and initiated the move from Sydney to the Gold Coast. We needed larger premises and South East Queensland, besides being my original home, offered many advantages such as lower costs and no union hassles.
How do you envision the future of your company and how can FACCI help you achieve your new goals?
At the end of last year, we once again relocated our 75 staff from our old premises at Yatala to larger premises which are still at Yatala. We doubled the size to 5,000 square meters. We currently hold approximately 70% of the local utility market and we have just received the supplier of the year award from Energex for 2013. However, our growth potential in Australia is limited. Our future focus will be on industrial markets such as mining or construction as well as export. The last 13 months have been difficult for a lot of people in Australia and while our sales have dropped on the local utility market, they have increased on the outside safety markets. Our strategy is now clearly centred on those markets. We have for instance a large opportunity in the Korean utility market and are looking at developing further in South-East Asia. We are developing new products, which may actually be of interest to EDF in France, but in the immediate future we are releasing a new product for the American market and if this is successful, we could quadruple our sales in the US. Our aim is to increase our export activity, 7% of our turnover today, to 25% in the next 5 to 6 years. The French-Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry can help us in this next phase of our development by facilitating contacts within global French companies operating in Australia.
For more information, visit www.sicame.com.au.
Interview conducted on 26 March 2014 by Claire Dupré.
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