The Ingenious Device Duo

They subtitle themselves “the Ingenious Devices Company” and that about sums it up for two very different business partners who together make up one high-tech company.
Rob Maskell and Chris Gemmell are pretty much chalk and cheese themselves. Rob Maskell is the technical genius with the relaxed approach, Chris Gemmell (and the name fools most people as to her gender) has the sales focus and get-up-and-go personality.
Together, they’ve been in business since 1993. They have just five people in the business and turnover of $2 million.
Maskell is by training biomedical electronics engineer – long title for complicated specialty. When he started out in Canada 30 years ago he was working in hospitals and physically building the equipment for heart operations – such as artificial hearts and monitoring equipment – which in those days was all hand-made.
Software was always part of the equation and eventually he returned to New Zealand to set up his own company.
Now, he imports hardware and software and customises it for use in variety of instrumentation and automation programmes.
Maskell explains, “A lot of instrumentation these days is software – ?virtual instruments’ if you like. We use it anywhere there are production lines where things need to be tested and controlled.”
This instrumentation is used in all sorts of industries. Fisher & Paykel refrigerators are tested with it, Air NZ uses the instrumentation to test gas turbines, and as in the neonatal units, it can be used to monitor seriously ill children.
While Maskell imports the software and provides training and support, it is often R&D labs that add value to the software.
Uniservices, at Auckland University, designed the brain rescue monitor, and also whole body electrical mapping system, which measures person’s electrical field, and is used as psychology tool.
Yet specialising in instrumentation alone was not enough for this company.
Maskell comments, “Instrumentation in New Zealand is small market, and there’s always the risk that multinational might decide to open up here, and move into our market. We needed to diversify into totally different theatre of operation, to offset any downturn in the instrumentation market.”
That was Chris Gemmell’s incentive. She joined the company to work with Maskell on finance and infrastructure. Together they looked for related field, but one that offered access to the huge IT market.
They saw an opening in power protection – UPS systems. The UPS is backup power supply for computers that ensures when power supplies fail, the computer doesn’t.
Gemmell embarked on night course at AIT so that she understood more about power. She was the only female on the course and it was sign of things to come.
Whenever there were problems with power failures or the UPS, there would be phone call from the customer, looking for answers.
Gemmell says, “As soon as they realised Chris was woman, some of them would panic and ask to speak to man – ?someone who knows what they’re talking about’. I would always say, ?tell you what, you start asking the questions, and if there’s anything I can’t answer, then I’ll pass you on to someone who can’. Of course that was then the signal for them to ask their most disgusting question but I’d generally handle it, and then we’d get on fine from there. And if I couldn’t answer I’d find out, and learn something too.”
Since Maskell and Gemmell embarked on this twin-pronged business plan, they have grown the company by 30 percent year.
“Our decision was the right one,” says Maskell. “This year our business is two-thirds instrumentation and one third power protection, but next year it could easily be 50:50.”
Making sale still thrills Gemmell. “I love making sale and making money. That’s mistake businesses can make though, you must manage your finances, you shouldn’t just make the sale, you must have the margins. Otherwise you fall into the trap of making big sales but no money on them.”
Gemmell is also passionate about her business relationships. She sells only to dealers and integrators, not the end users and has strong loyalty to them.
There’s sound reason for supplying only to dealers, “It’s cheaper than having huge salesforce.
“Business is about relationships. It takes two years to secure new customer, but once I’ve got them they’re long-term customer. I haven’t lost one yet, so it pays to put in the investment,” she says.
Gemmell has come up with some simple strategies to maintain those relationships. She has very thorough database on every customer, so that if she’s away from the office and customer calls with problem, staff member can log into the database and be thoroughly familiar with everything about that customer – right down to personal details.
“That means both the customer and the staff member feel comfortable with dealing with each other,” says Gemmell.
Maskell says they are now looking at growing the company further.
“The ways to expand company are three-fold. You can do it through marketing, or through alliances with other companies, or through buying or merging other companies.”
So they are looking at alliances with companies in Australia, and the third step is also under consideration.
Gemmell is pleased about the company’s expansion into other countries, saying with typical enthusiasm, “I had dream that I wanted to meet everyone in the world. The way the company is growing it looks like I’m on my way!”

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