Electronics company pioneer Sir Angus Tait dies at 88

RADIO PIONEER: Angus Tait, who founded world-leading radio firm Tait Electronics, died today.
RADIO PIONEER: Angus Tait, who founded world-leading radio firm Tait Electronics, died today.

An icon of Canterbury business, Sir Angus Tait, has died.

Sir Angus's family and staff at the radio commuications company he founded in 1969, Tait Electroncis, are mourning his passing at 88 years of age.

He died at Windermere Lifestyle Care and Village this morning.

Tait Electronics managing director Michael Chick said the company and the worldwide radio industry were poorer for his passing.

"He was an immensely determined yet compassionate man, a great innovator and mentor for so many. He was humble and curious, never seeking the limelight but never shy of making his voice heard if it would help business and education in New Zealand."

Chick said Tait Electronics was a close-knit team saddened by Sir Angus death but proud of what he created and the team they had also helped to build.

The company has grown to 850 employees and a revenue estimated to be around $170 million, from humble beginnings in 1969 when Sir Angus gathered a small team and launched Tait Electronics in a former potato warehouse in Christchurch.

Chick said Sir Angus was selfless refusing to sell the New Zealand business despite overseas buyers making offers in the 1980s and as a result many jobs were saved and the company had gone on to earn more than $2 billion in exports for New Zealand.

Chairman of the company that employs 850 staff, Sir Angus still went to work regularly before his death.

Sir Angus was often an outspoken critic of government policies, particularly the level playing field and open market policies begun in the 1980s by former finance minister Sir Roger Douglas.

He refused many offers by foreigners to buy his company, which exports 90 percent of its production, and which he protected in 1994 from takeover by donating his shares to a charitable trust.

"As a result, many jobs were saved and the company has gone on to earn over two billion dollars in exports for New Zealand," Chick said.

The Tait Foundation has since donated millions of dollars mostly to educational causes, most recently in the Canterbury University's Wireless Research Centre.

He started life needing to be independent when his father died during an influenza epidemic before he was born.

He first flirted with electronics as a teen at Waitaki Boys High School in Oamaru where he skipped homework in favour of tinkering with electronics. He left school without formal qualifications when he landed a job at a local radio shop at 17.

He got into the mobile communications business, beginning in a potato warehouse, having learnt much about radio technology while serving for six years in a radar section of the Royal New Zealand Air Force in Britain.

In 1948 he formed his first company, A M Tait Ltd on the back of mobile radio sales to two taxi companies. Without any sort of business plan, the company's staff swelled to 100 people by the mid-1960s, when A M Tait Ltd even delved into making televisions.

"Technology was king back then," he told a conference five years ago. "I figured if I got that bit right, everything else would just fall into place."

He believed in the adage that if at first you don't succeed, try again.

His business "went bust" in 1967 when the Bank of New Zealand pulled the plug 15 years after its foundation. He was forced to work under a receiver for a year, but said it was "a very valuable 12 months".

"Failure is a common event," he told the conference. "It's a human thing... and part of the business of living."

On his 50th birthday, he took out a second mortgage on his house, rebuilt the business and repaid his debts.

While it wasn't all plain sailing, Sir Angus said he had some lucky breaks.

"It was the right place, right time, and we had the right technology."

After receivership, Tait Electronics rebuilt by becoming the first company in Australasia to build the all-transistor mobile radio.

During the 1970s the Tait Miniphone boosted the company's sales and took Tait to the top of the New Zealand market and from there the company began exporting to Britain and other countries. In 1994, Tait won the Governor-General's Supreme Award for Exporter of the Year award for the second time.

In 1996, he was made an honorary doctorate of engineering by Canterbury University and he was knighted in 1999.

A survivor of the Waihine sinking, he decided at 75 to put his shares in Tait into a trust following the example of German industrial Robert Bosch.

Always a radio enthusiast (call sign ZL 3NL), Sir Angus kept up to date with the latest technologies.

Until the end at 88, Sir Angus drove into work in his characteristic red Alpha Romeo. Rather than a parking space, he pretty much parked right by the front door. After all, it was his name on the office sign.

He is survived by his wife Hazel, three children and a grandchild.


The Press