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Supporting Local Excellence: Prodigy Instruments in the Running for Local Business Awards 2024

Photo of Matthew Phillips holding a lamb
Matthew Phillips with one of his favourite customers!

Businesses with long-standing generational beginnings are rare. Diamonds, we like to think of them as, not that we're biased. We love an underdog story. One that starts from a humble backyard forged out of blood, sweat and tenacious persistence. The Local Business Awards is a nod to these well-loved, fiercely-fought-for businesses, and we felt Prodigy pioneers deserved their dues, so this year, we entered the Local Business Awards 2024.


Starting a Business During the Great Depression of 1929


The Great Depression may have started in the US, but it was felt across the world. And at its worst in 1932, unemployment in Australia reached an 32%. Consumer spending was impacted, and many factories struggled to stay afloat while others closed their doors for good.

 

It was during this time, in 1930, that Norman James Phillips, a young lad from Terranora NSW, began manufacturing his first applicatora Non-Automatic Sheep Drencher. It was manufactured under the brand name NJPhillips.

 

Norman left school early to help support his family. He apprenticed as an engineer at the Star Engineering Works in Bondi Junction, and went on to become a Factory Foreman at F.R.Pulfords, an Air Compressor manufacturing company in Maroubra.


The business was in its infancy, but Norman’s applicators quickly became known for their high standards of finish and accuracy. It became the hallmarks of the brand, and two large clients were won: Sayers Allport Pty Ltd and Elliots and Australian Drug Co. Pty Ltd.

 

During WWII, Norman enlisted in the RAAF but was recalled in 1940 at the request of the Ministry of Munitions, to assume responsibility as Chief Supervising Sub-Contractor for the supply of Lewis Gun spare parts. Components for the De Havilland Tiger Moth training plane were also made, and he was engaged in the tooling design and manufacture of the Austen Sub-Machine Gun.


Photo of Norman John Phillips circa 1950’s
Norman John Phillips, circa 1950’s

Initial attempts at incorporating plastic components into NJPhillips products proved unsuccessful, the bakelite-type material was too brittle when exposed to the fluke drench. That didn’t stop the NJPhillips range from growing with the additions of the 1oz and 2oz automatic sheep drenches, 1oz Non-Automatic Pistolet, a 2oz Drenchall Pistolet, the 5cc Automatic Vaccinator and a 5cc Automatic Poultry Doser, which were revolutionary for clients and the industry.

 

During the1950’s, Norman’s eldest son, Norman John Phillips (John), joined his father in the business, eventually becoming the Company Secretary and Manager. At the same time, the first ‘NJPhillips’ branded applicators were launched into the marketplace, and distributors began operations in Australia, New Zealand and South Africa.


Dr Usida, Norman John Phillips, Matthew Phillips Fujita Representative circa 1970’s
Dr Usida, Norman John Phillips, Matthew Phillips, Fujita Representative, circa 1970’s

NJPhillips began producing applicators for the major players in the animal health sector during the 1960s - 1970s: Merck, Sharp & Dohme (now Merial), Coopers, Bayer, and ICI. Staff had grown to over 70, and sales increased to over 300% in 10 years.

 

In 1974, the sudden death of Norman James Phillips from a heart attack marked the end of an era. It would be another 12 years, in 1986, that the third generation of Phillips would join the business. Matthew Phillips, son of John Phillips, grandson of Norman, joined the family business after completing his apprenticeship in fitting and machining at Byrne Engineering. Matthew started in the Methods Department and then moved through all areas of the organisation until he was appointed General Manager in 2006.

The 1980s saw the installation of the company’s first computers, with the US-designed Qantel manufacturing system. The ‘Repeater’, Bolus, and Pellet applicators were launched, and Prodigy Instruments still makes them today.

 

A major global recession unfolded in 1990.  Coupled with high-interest rates at 20%, it resulted in the company downsizing and working a 4-day, sometimes 3-day, week. 

That is until Allflex USA Inc placed the single largest order the business had received to date.


During that time, innovative products such as the ‘Mayonnaise Dispenser’ were developed for the Food Service Industry, with KFC and Pizza Hut its customers.


José Prieto, Matthew Phillips, Zoetis Rep, circa 2013
José Prieto, Matthew Phillips, Zoetis Rep, circa 2013

It snowballed from there, when, in 2006, ownership transferred to Forlong and Maisey (ISL), with Matthew Phillips as General Manager.

 

The synergy of the Phillips, Forlong, and Maisey families working together took the business to a new level, and it was soon sought by Riverside Investments, a USA-based funds Management group.


This meant that the three largest Animal Health companies in the world were owned by a Fund Management Company in the USA.


Prodigy Instruments Continues the Phillips Family Legacy


By November 2015, Matthew Phillips was the remaining family member working in the company and he found his position as General Manager untenable. He resigned to continue the legacy anew by co-founding Prodigy Instruments with his wife, Rena Phillips, and friend and co-worker, Shane Koopman.

 

Prodigy Instruments began much like Norman James Phillips’ humble beginnings: with nothing but a dream to continue the legacy of generations past.


Matthew Phillips with the first delivery of iO branded Prodigy applicators for AIRR, 2017
Matthew Phillips with the first delivery of iO branded Prodigy applicators for AIRR, 2017

In 2017 Prodigy Instruments launched with AIRR (Australian Independent Rural Retailers) as their first distributor.  Prodigy’s plan was to move aggressively in the market with their initial product offering for Animal Health and Forestry. 


In 2019 the Australian Government selected Prodigy as the designated supplier of equipment to handle an outbreak of Foot and Mouth Disease.

With restrictions on manufacturing, importing, and logistics during the tough COVID-19 years, Prodigy maintained its manufacturing schedule and ensured lead times remained on track by introducing tooling and assembly aids.

 

The eldest son of Norman James and Muriel Phillips; Norman John Phillips (John), passed away in July of 2020. This sadly marked the end of another era. John was proud of his son Matthew, for continuing the family legacy with Prodigy Instruments.

 

2023 saw two new additions to the Prodigy team; Nancy Koopman, a qualified Accountant and Shane Koopman’s wife, and Andrew Dinniss in Sales and Marketing, having many years experience in the animal health industry.


“It is easy to look at an established company and see the measures of success, but what is not seen is the dedication, blood, sweat and tears of generations of Phillips’ before. Without them, and without our current CAN DO team, Prodigy would not be where it is today. Entering the Local Business Awards 2024 is our way of saying “Thank you” to our Phillips family pioneers, and to our customers who have entrusted us and supported us throughout our journey.” – Matthew Phillips


The Phillips family; Norman James Phillips, Norman John Phillips and Matthew Phillips
Three generations of the Phillips family; Norman James Phillips, Norman John Phillips and Matthew Phillips

The Local Business Awards 2024


The legacy behind Prodigy Instruments, has led to the values that are central to its core. It’s why we’re all so proud to work here, and why we believe the business deserves acknowledgement through the Local Business Awards. Please vote for Prodigy Instruments in the Local Business Awards 2024 here.

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