Feb. 1 2004 12:00 AM

Jaden Kanga Group

It was his search for adventure which led the then 21-year old Alan Porter to move to Australia. Upon completion of his fitting and turning apprenticeship (similar to machinist), Porter felt he had to move on. New Zealand born and educated, he never really intended to stay in Australia, but once there, he recognized the opportunities.
In 1978, Porter and long-time friend Doug McIlwaith, who had apprenticed alongside Porter in the early 1960s, established the Jaden Kanga Group. Seeing an opportunity, and hoping to realize the dream of "being your own boss," they began business as manufacturers of heavy, industrial hydraulic machinery, mainly for the shipping and marine industry. After almost two decades, Porter and his partner had established their business, but it lacked the adventure and excitement Porter was looking for.
Their attention turned to mini-skid steer loaders in 1980; one of their very early 1980s designs was sold to The Toro Company. Seeing the need for such equipment prompted them to develop the early design into a highly versatile, user friendly, affordable mini-skid steer loader. Envisioning a piece of equipment that could work every day, they wanted to build a machine that was not dedicated to handle only a few jobs. They came up with a machine they called the Kanga. The variety of attachments available for the Kanga fulfilled their vision of versatility; here was a machine that could do many jobs.
It was in 1996 that they turned their attention to America, the biggest market, as the first step in gaining a global presence. Manufacturing was by then efficient, and the product far more advanced and user friendly. The challenge then became how to get the product to market. How could this small Australian company crack the North American market? Porter and his partner divided their responsibilities; McIlwaith looked after research, development and manufacturing, while Porter handled promotion and marketing. "We have complementary skills," says Porter. "It's working out quite well."
In 1998, they opened an office in the U.S. Identifying the green industry as a major user, the Jaden Kanga Group began to put their marketing efforts in this area. "The key to our success is that the machine is user-friendly, versatile, and affordable," said Porter. "A landscape construction company can go on-site, and with one of these machines and an assortment of attachments, pretty much do the entire construction project." The productivity gains from using this equipment are huge when compared with sometimes unreliable, semi-skilled hand labor. "It's a great morale booster for a worker who now has a nice machine to use, rather than back-breaking picks or shovels. This is an added advantage which is always present, but rarely identified," says Porter.
Porter and his wife Suzie, live on the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia. He has two children from a prior marriage. His son died tragically five years ago, and his daughter, 24, having recently finished her university degree in marketing and media, is presently living and working in London, gaining work experience. Porter hopes she will one day work for the company. Suzie does the marketing and media for the company, both domestically as well as internationally. She has two sons, Anthony, 32, and Darryn, 30; Darryn works for the company as national sales manager in Australia. True to form, Porter says what he likes about the business is that it's "always interesting, always a challenge, always new people to meet, and always new opportunities." He enjoys working with a wide network of people. "The biggest challenge in this business, and every business, is getting the right human resources working together."
Last year, Jaden signed with PowerHouse, Inc., to sell the Kanga line exclusively in the U.S. market. Recently, Compact Power, Inc., merged PowerHouse, Kanga U.S. and Boxer into one sales and marketing company. Porter represents the Jaden Kanga Group on the board of the U.S. company. Celebrating their 25th anniversary, Porter and his partner McIlwaith still enjoy the challenge. Porter continues to keep busy, and maintains a heavy travel schedule. By aiming never to grow complacent, and expanding the business even when comfortable, Porter is confident that Kanga's success will continue. He predicts 2004 will be his busiest year yet. He can't seem to look the other way when an opportunity presents itself. The equipment Kanga manufactures is now exported to New Zealand, the U.S. and Canada, England, and Asia. Now that they have a partner company for North America, Porter is free to concentrate more of his efforts in the U.K and Europe. They plan to open an office in England some time later this year. After all these years, the friendship and partnership is still working. Says Porter, "It's somewhat like a marriage; we have a fight every once in awhile, but generally we get along pretty well."

February 2004