How Simon Hupfeld plans to take over the world, one backyard at a time
"My CEO in New York has pretty strong ambitions for us in Australia. He told me that your first billion is always the hardest."
That's the sort of challenge that led Simon Hupfeld, CEO of AMES Australasia and Europe, to enrol in the Senior Executive MBA at Melbourne Business School.
"We've grown really rapidly and I feel a real responsibility to ensure that I'm doing whatever I can to ensure that I'm on top of all the challenges that come my way, not only for the business, but also for the people that I'm fortunate to lead," he says.
AMES is an American gardenware giant that owns several iconic Australian brands, including Hills Hoist, Nylex and Cyclone. Simon joined the business after it acquired Northcote Pottery, where he was part-owner and CEO, in 2013. His job since has been to grow it even further.
"AMES is the largest and oldest manufacturer of garden tools in the US, and they were looking to expand their operations in Australia," he says.
"Since then, we've gone on a really aggressive acquisition process. In five years, we've made eight more acquisitions, so the business has grown dramatically and totally transformed. You can imagine bringing together eight different business cultures. It's been a terrific journey and learning experience, and it was part of what prompted me to do my MBA."
Simon says one of the most valuable skills he's gained from the Senior Executive MBA program is learning how to manage uncertainty and complexity.
"I'm seeing it every day in business. The period for success is just getting shorter and shorter, so you can't just rely on what you're doing today and guarantee that it's going to be successful for a long time in the future," he says.
"How do you manage that, when you have to keep on running the business while also keeping an eye on the future? We're really focused on that challenge, and largely a lot of what I've learned on the MBA program is how to best deal with that."
Another benefit of the program was the format, which allows students to study over 10 nine-day modules over 18 months, letting Simon apply the knowledge he learned on each module back at work between classes.
"The format is great for someone in my position. I couldn't have done it any other way," he says.
"The syndicate work has also been quite extraordinary for me. It's unusual that you're sitting in a peer group like that and working on some complex and challenging issues. It really does bring about a different dynamic that you're not typically exposed to.
"When you're working in your own business, you've often got a team there that you're very familiar with, and it’s common for group-think to creep in. On the program, you're faced with some really intelligent, assertive people that you need to learn to appreciate and give time to. It's a really valuable part of the program."
As for the challenge set by New York, Simon says he's confident the AMES team will reach even further heights in the years ahead.
"We're not quite there yet, but I think we'll continue to make acquisitions, and we've also got a very strong runway with the existing brands we have," he says.
"These really are iconic brands, and we think we can do a lot more with them – continue that innovation process, continue solving problems for consumers. We're in good hands."