After completing a degree in Industrial Engineering at the University of Melbourne, Robert Wilson started his career as an engineer with ACI Plastics – now owned by Visy. Coincidentally, it is still located only a few hundred meters from Palm Plastics. After a few years, he moved to the UK to study a Master of Business Administration at the Manchester Business School before returning to Melbourne to pursue a corporate career in sales and marketing.
During his childhood, Robert was introduced to distance running, skiing and sailing, sports with which he is passionate about to this day. His earliest skiing experiences were via rope tows on Mt Kosciouszko, and in the summer he was sailing at Daveys Bay in Mt Eliza. He now skis at Mt Hotham and in Europe, has ski-toured from Hotham to Falls Creek and back in a day and competed the famous 5 day “Haute Route” from Chamonix to Zermatt. He still sails and can be seen on Port Philip Bay in the summer on his Sabre dingy or on an iconic couta boat. It’s a sense of adventure, pitting oneself against the physical and mental challenges of nature, and the ability to overcome seamlessly impossible obstacles that, in part, drives his commitment to succeed. This, all in spite of the challenges he’s encountered during the past 20 years in manufacturing. In his youth, Robert was a sub-elite distance runner where is favourite distance was the 1500 metres. He still enjoys running, competing in a cross country competition on Saturdays during the winter – where he is now “running for his life”.
After 14 years of working in sales and marketing roles for some of the most recognisable brands in Australia, Robert decided to go out on his own. At Cadbury-Schweppes, he was Victorian Sales Manager for Schweppes and a Product Manager for Cadbury. At Herbert Adams, makers of pastry and cake products, he was initially Marketing Manager and then General Manager. During his time there he drove a new strategy based on product quality and innovation which resulted in a doubling of market share and category leadership. At Cussons, marketers of the Imperial Leather, Morning Fresh and Radiant brands, he was Sales and Marketing Director. Whilst there, decisive category leadership was achieved for Morning Fresh after a long battle with Colgates’ Palmolive.
Each role Robert held in business development, marketing, sales and management imparted a valuable lesson, but perhaps none more so than Herbert Adams. The business was turned around under Robert’s stewardship from a brand that consumers had deserted to one that they again embraced. This understanding and identification with the consumer drives Palm Products today.
As an undergraduate engineer, Robert developed a fascination for Ergonomics, the science of designing for people. This led to a life-long interest and an understanding that utility and ergonomics precede form and that products must fulfil a need that is essentially personal. In the case of most plastic drinkware, and indeed product development, the design process happens in reverse.
He has also has an interest in organization structure and how to cultivate productive relationships. During his MBA, he wrote his dissertation on the different approaches in Europe ranging from the Swedish experiments at Volvo and Saab to the self-management of the then Yugoslavia, which included having the privilege to visit. His conclusions were that productive relationships were not so dependent on the organization of work but on the values systems of mutual trust and goal congruence being present.
He is an engineer at heart and derives great satisfaction from seeing his machinery make things and from tackling the many small and large engineering challenges at Palm Products.
He believes that we all have a responsibility to give back to the community, and has had a continuous involvement since his early 30’s. He is currently the President of the Old Scotch Athletics Club, a past Treasurer of the Federation Automotive Part Manufacturers, a Past President and Life Member of the Ormond Ski Club and a past president of the Old Scotch Collegians Association.
The result, a little like Robert himself, is products that are unique, that are made to much higher standards, and with an almost timelessness that only intuition through experience can create.