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Keeping the faith

By Leslie Shiers

Thursday 16th February 2006

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Unlimited once asked Dr Ross Green, managing director of Wellington Drive Technologies, what qualities a high-tech company leader needs to be successful. "A key factor is the ability to develop a clear view of where you are going in three months, six months, three years, and then stick to it," he said.

Green has laid out long-term plans since joining the company in 1998 - but since then, the story has remained virtually the same: WDT is on the verge of a breakthrough. Yet, in its 20-year history, the developer of brushless motors and fans has not managed to turn a profit.

Shareholders remain confident the company is making progress, claims company chairman Shawn Beck, despite the share price dropping from 50 cents a year ago to around 32 cents in late 2005. It's just been a slow, hard process, he says: "In the technological world things can happen much quicker, but in the physical world things can take a long time." Green maintains WDT is on the edge: "You're either not in this market at all, or you're in on a substantial scale."

You'd think appliance makers would jump on WDT's revolutionary motors. They're -quieter, more controllable and more efficient than conventional motors, which waste up to 70% of energy as heat. "We're offering a cost-competitive product that is increasingly coming into the limelight in terms of energy efficiency and energy savings," Beck says. Still, it's like trying to convince people to swap their SUVs for bicycles.

WDT seemed to hit a turning point in 2002, when it began signing contracts with major international appliance manufacturers including Aweco, P Lemmens and Seeley. After turning down smaller contracts in hopes of securing large-scale orders, these customers were thought to be what was needed to jump-start growth.

While many of the partnerships have been lucrative, at least one high-potential client - AO Smith Electrical Products, one of the US's biggest motor makers - proved disappointing. WDT was readying to take two AO Smith products into production when the client's motor division went through a management upheaval, and the contract fizzled out. "If the cards had tipped slightly differently for us in 2004," Green says, "our financial results would've been hugely different."

Despite the setback, revenue is starting to kick in. WDT's product sales were up from $402,000 in 2004 to $1.5 million in 2005, and Green says they continued to accelerate into the first quarter of the 2006 financial year. Progress was undermined last year by losses incurred from expansion of WDT's Asian production facility. But the scalable plant should pave the way for growth and attract larger customers, like JE StorkAir - a large Dutch air conditioner manufacturer WDT began shipping to in July.

Since 2001, WDT has built up infrastructure to manufacture and distribute its own stock, rather than just license its technology designs. The evolution was natural, the director says, because customers prefer having a single vendor.

Today the company's catalogue lists four times as many products as last year, and more new products are on the way. A new electronic control platform called Monsoon - quarter the size of the standard Storm system - will debut later this year. While the Monsoon features fewer speeds and less controllability than the Storm controller, Green says it has all the basics the bulk market requires - and costs a fraction to produce.

In fact, WDT has a product pipeline that'll last at least three years, Green says. "Some of our best technologies are still held in reserve." It's just a matter of the market getting up to speed.

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