How frequently do you think about carpet?
Once, when you were renovating the house and then only when the dog runs inside with super muddy paws? Tim Modra of the Warragul-based business Modra Technology thinks about a lot. A lot. Tim’s interest in carpet, passion for quality engineering, curiosity and skilful business aptitude led to Modra Technology having an envious worldwide reputation for technology that manufactures carpet samples: machinery that has been sold in over 40 countries over the past 30 years.
Tim shares what he’s learnt in developing a global manufacturing brand from a regional town, and kindly provides advice for our next generation of budding entrepreneurs.
Gippslandia: Can you please describe the education and career pathway you’ve taken to reach your current role?
Tim Modra: I completed secondary school in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, then started a mechanical engineering degree at Swinburne [University] in Hawthorn. At that time, Swinburne had what they called a ‘sandwich course’, it’s where you work in an industry for six months in your third and fourth years. In my fourth year, I worked for an engineering company in Warragul and enjoyed it so much that I didn’t finish my [final] year in engineering (I wouldn’t endorse dropping out of something that you start, but I would really encourage you to follow a career path that you are passionate about).
My passions are machines, electronics and software, and how they all come together. I worked for that company for four or five years [before] I realised that I wanted to start my own business and be more in control of what I was doing. I started with an interesting contract project in the carpet industry at a factory in Geelong. That was the start of Modra Technology more than 30 years ago.
Please describe Modra Technology’s core business.
Modra Technology makes machines that are a product development tool for the carpet industry. We are like 3D printers for carpets. We give designers and marketing people machines to make almost identical replicas or samples of production carpet. Our customers use these samples to [either] win new business or try out new colours, yarns or designs before going into full-scale production.
Where do you operate and in which markets?
We now have over 350 machines in 40 countries. About 170 of the world’s leading carpet manufacturers use our machines. The USA and China are our big markets, [with] India emerging to be a very important market for us.
What have been some of Modra Technology’s largest challenges over the past few years?
We’re a niche manufacturer and we make machinery that no one else in the world makes. We are so niche that in the last few years I have become concerned that we cannot grow our business dramatically without new products. How do we do that? The best way for us is to find new opportunities with our current customers, to understand their as-yet unanswered needs and develop solutions that can be rolled out across the industry in which we have established ourselves.
What do you envisage as some of Modra Technology’s most promising opportunities?
There is an opportunity in the future for automation in the carpet industry. There is a movement worldwide for the gathering of data in real-time from production machinery; machines that are in the factories of our customers use this data to understand and get the most from the assets in that factory. Our current focus is learning and applying these new techniques and technologies to the carpet industry.
Why is Gippsland a great place to establish a business?
We are an international business — less than 5% of our business is located in Australia so we really could locate ourselves anywhere.
Why Gippsland? First and foremost, I think Gippsland is a great place for families. We’re close to the beach, the mountains and Melbourne. From a business perspective, we have been able to source and attract the many talented people that work at Modra, and many of our suppliers are either local or based in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne.
What changes and improvements could be made to make
Gippsland more attractive for business and budding
Better access to overseas transport. I spend a lot of time overseas, so personally, I would like an airport to be closer or have a faster, more direct path to Tullamarine via public transport.
Should an up-and-coming business person read business books or is it just about the on-the-job experience?
It has to be both. I am an avid reader, and my ‘on-the-job experience’ over the last 30 years helps me to understand the value of what I am reading and how to apply it. I would say that films, TED Talks, YouTube videos and podcasts also offer the same sort of inspiration and encouragement you can get from a book.
How important is mentoring for our younger businesspeople?
Mentoring to me is an acknowledgement that although there can be changes in the business landscape, some things stay the same. Relationships, trust, “say what you will do and then do what you say”, communicating benefits and giving value — these are timeless topics that a mentor can guide and remind a young businessperson about. Mentoring is not just for the younger businessperson either. I am currently working with a business coach to help me understand and run my business better… you’re never too old to learn!