By Janelle Estreich
When opportunity knocks, James Strathdee answers. And it’s a strategy that continues to pay off for the Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur of the Year finalist.
Strathdee is the Director of One Power Solar and its subsidiary Elite Installations, and this year launched Cobra Digital which generates online sales leads for a range of industries.
It’s been a bumper year for Strathdee’s solar supply and installation operations, having tripled the size of the team and expanded its operations on the Gold Coast and in Newcastle.
““At the start when you’re trying to sell solar from someone’s garage and make enough money to turn over wages for the week, you’re searching for the ideas and the opportunities and that keeps you awake at night,” he says.
“The most fascinating thing about this year – having grown exponentially – is that the more we grow, the faster and more regularly opportunity seems to turn up at the front door.”
When Strathdee finished high school in his native Christchurch, a local jewellery business was looking for an apprentice — so he went for it.
“It was pure opportunism,” says Strathdee. “I like doing things that are slightly different so the novelty appealed to me. I was never a particularly good jeweller, but it did lead me to other things.”
Things like a job aboard Princess Cruises, selling and repairing jewellery while sailing around the Carribean, Alaska and Hawaii in his early twenties.
Strathdee eventually wound up in Australia for a year before opportunity came knocking again, this time via a phone call from a friend in London who was looking for a business partner to run a marketing enterprise.
That time in London was a “bath of fire”, according to Strathdee who says the experience gave him a solid grounding for all of his future business endeavours.
“Going from running a retail store and hiring staff to having to learn how to train sales staff to perform and balance the books to make sure the business made a dollar was a zero to 100 jump,” he says.
“Many of the lessons that got me to this point were learnt there.”
When love struck between steins at Oktoberfest, Strathdee returned to Australia in 2012 with his now wife Sarah and took on a sales role in solar, which ultimately led him to launch One Power Solar and later its offshoot, Elite Installations, to complement the supply side.
And while opportunity has opened many doors for Strathdee, innovation and a strong team have continued to drive the company’s overall success.
Elite Installations has created an in-house training program to address the shortage of accredited solar installers in the Newcastle area in a move which has enabled the business to raise industry standards, grow its team and their reach.
“There weren’t enough electricians trained to install solar in Newcastle so we’ve kept the show going by creating our own,” says Strathdee.
“It’s a process that’s worked for us and means we’ve been able to expand into south-west Sydney and down as far as Wollongong.”
Elite Installations employs 17 full-time staff in the office and on the road, while One Power supports a team of 29 from its base at Miami on the Gold Coast.
Strathdee says the appointment of new team in key management roles has fueled record growth across the board.
“This year has been the biggest year by far — we’ve probably tripled in size in the last 12 months,” he says.
“It’s been quite a strange experience because I’m personally doing less, day-to-day, because there are other people hiring and managing staff.
“It’s allowed me to take a step back and see that I’ve hired the right people because they’re doing it on my behalf, and doing it really well.
“To see your business growing and evolving without your direct involvement is really cool.”
Having been nominated by his team for the 2018 Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur of the Year Awards, Strathdee says he is proud of the passionate, loyal culture that’s evolved within their operations.
“We wouldn’t have had anywhere near this kind of growth without those guys putting the hours in,” he says.
“There is obviously a financial gain for them as well but beyond that, they’re proud of what they do and they also really care. As an employer, that’s a pretty special thing to be a part of.”
The Gold Coast Young Entrepreneur Awards recognises the city’s most successful business founders — aged under 40 — who have built thriving businesses, delivered innovation and taken an idea to great heights.
“It’s one thing for the boys to nominate me, but to go through the process of meeting all of the criteria and then be named a finalist, is great recognition for what we’ve achieved here,” says Strathdee.
“It’s exciting and my hope is that it leads us to new connections and opportunities that keep pushing the boat forward.”