Lesa Davis – Boss with the X factor
by Tony Potter
GO TO Google, or if you want to be totally impartial the search engine of your choice, and tap in the word Nitrogenx (pronounced: nitrogenics). Then go to “Our team”.
There you will meet – in descending order – Lesa Davis, managing director; Megan, customer services/sales support; SaraJane (daughter), admin/finance; Samantha (daughter), health and safety/compliance; Sandy, accounts; Aroha, sales; Laura, marketing/business development.
Getting the picture here? Seven women, three of them mother and daughters.
Finally, five blokes – Chris, warehouse and delivery driver (he’s also Sara-Jane’s fiancé); and Darryl, Shane, Ross and Scott, all delivery drivers.
That’s it. The 12 of them make up Nitrogenx, who entered the last Westpac Auckland Business awards for the first time and won Best Small Business (West) Lesa Davis Boss with the X factor by Tony Potter and Employer of the Year (West) out of three categories they were up for. A batting average any test match cricketer would give their eye teeth for.
And in charge is a woman who left school (Kelston Girls’ High) at 15, studied shorthand and typing and got her first job as an office receptionist. Lesa Davis isn’t afraid of hard work. “I believe if you work hard in life, things will open up for you. People will recognise it.”
Well, the Westpac judges certainly did.
Nitrogenx offers services and equipment to clients, primarily in the medical sector. “We service the smaller side of the sector,” says Lesa. “It’s mainly GPs and medical centres, rather than DHBs and hospitals.”
The core business involves the delivery, service, supply and disposal of medical equipment used in conjunction with liquid nitrogen, medical oxygen, clinical waste, Sharp’s containers and document destruction.
As she says, Lesa came to where she is now through good, old-fashioned, hard work. Her first job was with the now defunct Auckland Electric-Power Board, and from there to the Waitemata EPB.
“A girl friend’s mother ran the kitchen there and I took over for her for six weeks.”
She must have run the kitchen very impressively, because the bosses offered her a full-time job in the costing department.
An Aussie firm – from Gippsland – was training Waitemata linemen in groundbreaking new methods of live line work at the time and saw potential in Lesa.
“I became office manager for setting up that training – I’m still in touch with my boss from those days.”
After that, Lesa moved on to Teknatool International, a family firm that manufactures wood turning lathes, in Lincoln Park. “I learned a lot of the dynamics there of working with a family – it was a fantastic place to work.
“They thought I would be great in sales and marketing and I ended up running all the wood turning displays they did throughout Australia and New Zealand.”
Which brings us to Nitrogenx. Started by Lesa’s former husband Andrew in 1993, she joined him in 1998, working from their Te Atatu South home.
In those days it was a one-van business – now there are four big ‘uns – and after a move to a small place in Glendene, they switched to the current location in Collard Place in 2011. Lesa became sole owner in 2013.
And business has boomed. “We’ve always had good growth,” says Lesa. “Net profit has gone up by 76 per cent, expenses have remained at about 4 per cent.”
Nitrogenx is, she stresses, “a face-to-face company”. “We much prefer visiting our clients in person, instead of communicating on the phone or through social media. It works well, because it helps people to recommend our services to others.”
And that must be working, because in a once-a-week service to Waikato came on stream in 2016. Last year it became twice weekly, and Lesa is looking at an expansion down to Cambridge three days a week and across to the Bay of Plenty.
To be able to handle all this, the company regularly holds think-tank sessions involving everyone on the staff, some of them attended by Lesa’s mentor at Bizdoc, David Schischka.
“David has been a great support,” she says. So much so, that to say “Thank-you” he was invited along to sit at their table for the Westpac awards.
Not that everything at Nitrogenx is solely business. “Community focus is a big part of what we do here.”
The company is involved with both financial and personal support to people in poverty, victims of domestic violence, and the poor who need medical support.
In the board room, monthly budgeting classes are held for Christians Against Poverty.
Speaking of the board room, on its big chalk board in sloping black lettering are the words Innovation, Passion, Teamwork, Leadership, Accountability, Integrity, Respect, Community and, lastly, Excellence.
In bright green running down the nine words are letters that spell out NITROGENX.
On first entering that board room it’s one thing that springs immediately to the eye. Very clever.
And not bad from a lady who quit school at 15 and started out as the office receptionist…