Success in Halifax: Nautel Limited
Friday, June 2, 2017
Beginning in 1969, Nautel Limited’s Founder, Dennis Covill, recognized the value of solid-state transmitter technology over tubes and left another Halifax area employer to start the business. Since that time, the company has went on to dominate the global navigation beacon industry, and has grown to become the largest manufacturer of AM/FM transmitters in the world.
Q: What factors have contributed to your success?
A: High-Quality Product: The industry has been shaped by demands for reliability; dead air is unacceptable for radio broadcasters and airport navigation beacons. To meet those ends, Nautel designs all its products with redundancies and parallel paths for core components.
Innovative Design: At the core of Nautel's success is a large engineering team that continuously pushes the limits of cutting-edge innovation. Continuous R&D investment for new products has helped open export opportunities with customers who may not have previously considered Nautel.
Risk-Taking: From first challenging the industry norm by creating high-power, solid-state transmitters where previously only tube-powered solutions existed, Nautel has continually taken risks to facilitate growth.
Attitude: “The answer is yes” became an attitude capturing our sense of what could be accomplished and helped us become the scrappy competitor bent on serving customers. The result is a responsive world-class company that has tripled revenues, quintupled market share and become the world’s largest manufacturer of broadcast radio transmitters.
Leadership: In the face of market downturns, export growth came from decisions to invest in sales, support, marketing and development that were considered contrary to competitors’ choices. Freeing employees to champion bold ideas has enabled Nautel to act fast and be responsive to opportunities.
Customer Knowledge & Pursuit of Opportunities: Relationships and networks are an important part of Nautel’s international success. International sales force additions were critical to expanding our sales footprint and helped us strengthen our worldwide reseller network. Our local agents have the required knowledge about local regulations, trade barriers, language barriers, local technological capabilities, and the market. Major customers and large bids are pursued tenaciously. International trade shows and site visits are key to maintaining strong customer relationships and participate in large-scale tenders.
Superior Customer Service: The focus on customer support is engrained into Nautel’s culture. The company maintains a “drop everything” and “your crisis is our crisis” mentality when a client goes off air. Nautel’s commitment to customer service is highlighted by its promise to provide service and support for any product it has ever produced over its 48-year history.
Q: What has been your biggest learning moment?
A: There have been a couple of big learning moments in the last decade. First, the maturing of our industry resulted in increased price pressure making it harder to achieve competitive differentiation. Growth came at the expense of the long-established market leaders; quick action helped Nautel catch them off guard. The result is a responsive world-class company that has tripled its revenues, quintupled its market share and become the world’s largest manufacturer of broadcast radio transmitters.
Secondly, Nautel has earned credibility in new international markets with increasingly sophisticated projects that have gained the confidence of customers and culminated in world-class wins in India and Hungary. The All India Radio (AIR) project provided 27 medium-wave AM transmitters and associated equipment to sites throughout India. While this project represented a 50% “pulse” in increased revenues, it represented very high risk both in terms of cash flow and possibility of failure. Nautel forged ahead because it knew it would transform the company and prepare it to participate in other world-wide mega-projects. And that’s just what happened. Nautel recently won a contract to supply a 2 Megawatt transmitter, the world’s largest transmitter, to Antenna Hungaria, cementing Nautel’s position as a global leader in the broadcast industry.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to new exporters, or companies considering exporting from Nova Scotia?
A:Do it. Don’t be intimidated but get help. There is lots of help to be had. Talk to your industry peers. Seek out advice from the many government agencies that are ready to help such as Nova Scotia Business Inc., Export Development Canada, CanExport, and Canada’s extremely effective Trade Commissioner Service, a network of more than 1,000 trade professionals working in Canadian embassies, high commissions, and consulates in 160 cities around the world.
Q: How important is exporting to your business?
A:Nautel has over four decades of global sales experience and to date has acquired over 15,000 customers in 177 countries world-wide. Exporting is very important to our business. Annual export revenues consistently constitute around 95% of business, with about two-thirds coming from the United States.
It’s probably worth noting that export thinking has become so engrained in our culture that we consider the U.S.A. to be our domestic market. It is a subtle shift in thinking but it helps keep us tuned to the needs of our largest customers.
Q: How did you know exporting was right for your business?
A: From our earliest days Nautel knew that it had to export to grow and to tap into markets big enough to sustain the company for the long term. So, from the beginning we have made products that are specialized to the needs of not just Nova Scotia or Canada, but the world. We’re proud to say today that our products truly compete on a world scale.
We are small enough that our employees get to make a real difference in what we do and we’re large enough that we get to do cutting-edge, world-class design, manufacturing and marketing. Nautel employees get to work on exciting projects around the globe. The variety inherent in exporting is what makes things interesting and enjoyable - the diversity of our customers, cultures, technical challenges, relationships, and the excitement of solving tough technical problems. We enjoy a rare opportunity to build high-tech products by the ocean in beautiful St. Margaret’s Bay and interact with people all over the world.
Q: What’s the best thing about being a Nova Scotia exporter?
A:Proving that Nova Scotian companies can compete on a world stage and be major engines of the Nova Scotia economy is what makes us all at Nautel very proud. Being a successful Nova Scotia exporter has enabled us to provide long-term employment stability, generate support for surrounding businesses, and create a net benefit for the community. During our 48-year history, we’ve contributed a cumulative half billion dollars of economic activity to the local Halifax-area economy.
Q: And finally, what’s next for your business?
A: Nautel will continue its heritage of innovation and draw on the lessons learned in the preceding four decades. We will invest heavily to leverage our increasingly rare radio frequency power design expertise in other adjacent industries such as navigation, sonar and industrial heating.
More risk-taking and “answer is yes” attitude will be required to continue the company’s growth trajectory. We will need to actively pursue diversification opportunities, and keep tackling challenging international deployments like our massive country-wide rollout in India, and the new project in Hungary of a transmitter that is one of the most powerful in the world.
Nautel hopes to become an example to show other local firms that even from a rural location, Nova Scotian companies can innovate, export to the world, garner industry leadership, and help growth the Nova Scotia economy.
Interested in export? Nova Scotia Business Inc. is dedicated to supporting the growth of business in Nova Scotia and our team of Regional Business Development Advisors is available to assess your needs and provide practical advice on taking your next steps toward growth in global markets.
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