A family-run Howick company struck gold with a contract to supply machinery which will provide accommodation for the visitors to the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia.
Innovative Howick Engineering has invented technology which allows faster construction with light steel frames, removing the need for the more traditional heavier structural steel.
CEO Bruce Coubray said this simply meant that buildings could be assembled at high speed with extremely high accuracy - "like a meccano set". In Russia, they have four machines at work, producing cold rolled frames that are able to withstand heavy snow dumps.
They got the contract off the back of a contract they scored supplying similar machinery for the London Olympics to provide accommodation for support staff and hotels.
Coubray's father Keith bought little two-person Howick Engineering 34 years ago. Fast-forward today and it's grown to around 60 staff, under the management of Bruce and his brother Allan.
Coubray's sons Nick and Haimish are both heavily involved in the business, in sales and business development. "They've been coming in to help us work since they were 10 years old," said Coubray.
The business has survived the hard times through a policy of carrying no debt, and having a go at a variety of projects from designing machines to skin sheep through to a 30-seater bike for a fundraising project.
Coubray said part of the company's global success comes from doing the hard yards up front at trade shows, as well as hosting customers to its New Zealand headquarters.
Next up are trade shows in South Africa, China, the US and the Middle East, a potentially lucrative opportunity for the company's innovative work in a construction-hungry area.
Why did you become an entrepreneur?
I've always loved the challenge of developing stuff, doing it differently and thinking outside the square. We've done some unique things over the years which we probably didn't really value. We didn't get exposed to the world, but when we did we realised how unique they are.
What have been the biggest obstacles in running your company?
Operating over the last three years in the building industry downturn. It's probably halved our turnover. We've developed a lot of other products in the process. We've thrown a lot more money in to the business. When the world economy starts moving, we'll get busy.
Name one thing you've learnt while in business and from whom?
My father kept us out of debt and made us aware of what we do and who we get involved in. We've always been prepared to take a risk and develop gear.
What are your business goals?
We want to expand the business and develop unique niches. It's quite well known. We'll do this by putting in a lot of leg work and going to trade shows.
Do you have any tips for budding entrepreneurs?
I've seen a lot of people come in the doors with whole lot of ideas to get rich, but you've got to be persistent.
- © Fairfax NZ News