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The little Eagle that could

By Contributor, Fri 15 Feb 2008
FYI, this story is more than a year old

When the PricewaterhouseCoopers New Zealand Hi-Tech Awards rolled around for the 14th time in November 2007, five members of the Eagle family were on hand to accept the prestigious Flying Kiwi award on behalf of the late Trevor Eagle, founder of Eagle Technology Group.  Eagle’s wife Corallie, sons Craig and Duane, daughter Taryn, and grandson, Brook, were thrilled to be there when it was announced that he had posthumously joined Sir Angus Tate, Neville Jordan, Sir Woolf Fisher, Maurice Paykel, Peter Maire, and Bill Gallagher in the New Zealand Flying Kiwi Hall of Fame.  What is particularly telling is that in 2007, the incumbents chose the new inductees, and it was their shared opinion that Trevor Eagle was a man who did not get the recognition he deserved during his lifetime.

“Flying Kiwis are those who ‘have made a sustained and outstanding contribution to New Zealand’s Hi-Tech industries’ and those who ‘have shown the way for others to follow’.  By analysis, Trevor Eagle fits those criteria, being one of our earliest and most successful IT entrepreneurs.  Eagle Technology Group remains one of New Zealand’s largest privately owned technology companies, and is an enduring reminder of Trevor’s achievements. Trevor’s contribution to New Zealand went well beyond running a successful business.  Giving back to the community was an important part of Trevor’s ethos, and the judges all felt that his overall achievements were such to merit a belated but affirmative recognition in the form of a Flying Kiwi award,” said Convener of Judges, Don Rae, International Market Manager, SEA, for New Zealand Trade and Enterprise. The Eagle family agree that Trevor deserved this recognition.  “It is a great honour, and he is in esteemed company with the people who had won before.  He would have been so proud,” said Corallie.  Son Duane added, “It’s sad this didn’t happen when he was alive. He deserved it.”

The surprisingly heavy Flying Kiwi award now sits in Trevor’s office, which has remained almost untouched since his death on 9 December, 2000.  While his office has never been claimed, it is still used for meetings, and is a place still fondly referred to as “Trevor’s office”, even though he has not been there in seven long years.  According to Corallie, Duane, and current CEO, Gary Langford, Trevor’s legacy is felt even now, with staff talking about him every day.  “We are very proud of our staff, and the way they stuck with us after Trevor died,” said Corallie.  “There is a lot of loyalty.”

When Trevor and Corallie Eagle founded International Data Limited in 1969, they envisioned a family company.  When Eagle Technology Group was formed from IDL in 1984, that vision never wavered.  All of Trevor and Corallie’s seven children have worked for Eagle Technology in some capacity, although Duane is the only one still working for the company.  Instrumental from start, Corallie still encourages a family atmosphere, though the company has grown to include approximately 130 employees in Auckland and Wellington.  “Our employees feel very comfortable here,” explained Corallie.  “No one is just a number.”

In truth, Trevor and Corallie’s efforts to include and support went beyond their paid staff.  “He [Trevor] was friendly, compassionate, and always had an ear for people who had problems, and he solved many of those problems,” remembered Duane.  “I had friends I didn’t know even knew him, and they said they didn’t know what to do without him after he died, that he had been their mentor.  He really was a visionary in this industry.”

Retired Eagle employee, and friend to both Trevor and Corallie, Denis O’Callahan made similar comments in a profile on Trevor submitted to the judging committee of the Hi-Tech Awards:  “Trevor Eagle was particularly respected by past and present staff of Eagle Technology Group.  He and Corallie took a personal interest in everyone and really made them feel part of the family.  Many benefited from Trevor’s mentoring, and his door was always open to those with problems, business or personal.”  O’Callahan worked nearly 25 years under Trevor Eagle, and spent a staggering 30 years working for the company.

Loyalty and commitment like O’Callahan’s is celebrated and rewarded at Eagle Technology Group.  “The number one value in the company is loyalty,” said Craig Eagle.  Employees that have been with the company for 10 years are rewarded with a one ounce gold kiwi coin.  After being with the company for 20 years, employees can expect a fully funded trip to Rome.  In an era where work commitments are shrinking, and job hopping is the norm, the Eagles have maintained a company atmosphere that encourages longevity.  This, in itself, is worth recognising.

Before his entrepreneurial successes, when Trevor joined IBM’s sales department, neighbours asked what on earth he was going to do once he sold a few systems to a few big companies.  They thought that would be the end of the opportunity.  Trevor and Corallie, however, saw endless opportunity, and the risks they were willing to take are behind every one of the family’s success stories.  Afraid neither of taking risks nor speaking out, Trevor is remembered for his boundless energy and enthusiasm.

While Corallie is quick to lay praise on Trevor she is modest about her own achievements, but it is abundantly clear that that energy and enthusiasm was not simply relegated to Trevor.  “Trevor died on a Saturday,” remembered Sarah MacDonald, Marketing Communications Director for Eagle Technology Group.  “Corallie was in the office on Monday, immaculately dressed, to hold a staff meeting.  She felt that she had 130 jobs to keep and countless more mouths to feed.”

Summoning that energy after the sudden and unexpected death of her husband and business partner must have been incredibly challenging, but Corallie showed a fearlessness and the same willingness to step up to the plate that Trevor is widely known for.  Ever organised, professional and downright classy, Corallie’s energy also has a playful side.  Not one to follow the crowd, her mobile phone plays Van Halen’s “Jump” when it rings.

Craig Eagle knows all about “jumping”.  Having already handed in his resignation, he planned to leave Eagle Technology Group a week after his father died entertaining friends on his boat in the Hauraki Gulf.  When the company faced an unknown future, Corallie looked to her son, who willingly altered his plans and stepped into the role of CEO in his father’s place.  “It’s simply what families do,” said Craig.  “We went into autopilot. But, Trevor had groomed me for precisely that eventuality.  I started with the company as a cleaner in 1974, and worked in virtually every available position.”

When Gary Langford took over as CEO in 2003, Craig took the opportunity to start his own energy saving solutions business as he’d intended before Trevor’s death.  “Craig is doing the same thing that Trevor did, starting in an industry when the timing is perfect.  His daddy would be very proud,” stated Corallie.

Due in large part to Trevor’s foresight, Eagle Technology is today a world-leading systems integration and information management company.  What 18 years ago may have been considered bleeding edge, is now the jewel of the Eagle Technology Group crown – GIS.  “We have the number one GIS product in the world, by far,” said Langford.  We have extremely innovative and talented people, and get asked from all corners to assist with GIS implementations.”

“It’s all about New Zealand being a great testing bed for the rest of the world.  Some of the things we do with GIS, GIS was never intended for,” continued Duane.  In addition to GIS, Eagle Technology Group specialises in ERP systems and services, Business Intelligence, UPS, software programming solutions, facilities management, and document conversion, as well as hosting a Sun Microsystems authorised education centre. Langford calls Eagle Technology Group an iconic business in the IT sector.  “Everywhere I go, even today, people always mention, ‘I knew Trevor’,” he said.  “In the 38 years that Eagle Technology Group has been around under its different names, many changes have been made in the way we do business, as you have to.  The focus was around prime and mini computers, and now it’s focused around software applications and services.  Support, strength and commitment to brand values and our staff are so important.”

Expansion has been critical, and has happened mainly through organic growth.  Corallie shows strong pride in the company’s new Wellington offices, which opened on 3 September, 2007.  Corallie orchestrated the vision behind the look of the new offices, and is thrilled that Eagle Technology Group has naming rights to the building.

Eagle Technology Group stands out as a true New Zealand owned and operated company, with inherent values that have seen it tackle seemingly insurmountable obstacles and go from strength to strength.  One would hope that Trevor somehow knows, seven years after his death, that the Eagle “family” continues to endure and maintain his legacy.

As the lights flickered on and off next to the famous boardroom table in Eagle’s Auckland headquarters during my interview with Corallie, Craig and Duane Eagle, and Gary Langford, Craig paused before saying with a big smile, “Hey, maybe that’s dad now.”

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