By Les Watkins
Why are photographs of needy children in South America being published with a story about a company making steel tubes in Hamilton? That’s a good question and, of course, there is a good answer.
The pictures illustrate a key motivation at Industrial Tube Manufacturing – a generously charitable philosophy established by the late Peter Green who founded the firm 25 years ago.
The youngsters live in a poverty-stricken area of Nicaragua and their pictures are on a head office corridor wall above the names of staff who have adopted 45 of them.
The workers write to them regularly and send birthday cards and presents. And the company provides money for them through World Vision.
This is part of the dream Peter Green had when, in his mid 30’s, he stopped repairing and renovating vintage cars to launch a company making steel tubes – a business about which he knew virtually nothing.
And which, in the early days, plunged his family into financial peril.
His widow Margaret, now a director, explains that Mr Green visualised a company that could allow him to indulge his passion – channeling funds into youth and community activities as well as programmes such as translating and distributing the Bible.
He researched tube-making in the USA, then the company borrowed $250,000 at a crippling 25 percent interest rate and he bought a discarded second-hand Yoder mill for $220,000.
His avowed vision was for Industrial Tube Manufacturing Ltd “to be the benchmark for quality, service, integrity and innovation for steel tube and related manufactured products, ensuring a financial platform for charitable works in the global community”.
“But for years it didn’t look like working out that way,” says Mrs Green. “I had a job in a bank, we had four small kids to support and the accountant repeatedly advised Pete to shut the doors before we lost everything.”
It took about 15 years for the company to make a healthy profit, achieving that about the time Mr Green died – but right from the start he had somehow managed to support charitable work.
It was also his declared intent to have a management team “who value and appreciate our staff – our most valuable asset”.
That attitude to the staff, now 55 in New Zealand and 18 in Australia, is evident throughout the operation. Employees are encouraged to advise on how the company-provided annual community funding should be allocated, and to devise ways to make production “keener and leaner”.
Executive director Julian Green, one of Peter Green’s two sons, gives a simple but important example of how staff ideas can speed progress and improve output.
“A machinist may realise that a tool he uses 20 times a day is stored a 30-second walk away. Fetching and returning it can mean 40 unproductive minutes a day – well over three hours in a five-day week.
“Other workers may have tools as inconveniently stored and the total time wasted can be significant. Keeping the tools closer makes sound sense.
“One problem is that this business is extremely capital-intensive,” says Mr Green.
“The mills that actually make the tubing cost about $1.5 million each and we have two here and another in Brisbane.
Then there are things here like our 10 overhead gantry cranes which cost between $50,000 and $70,000 each.”
However, more and more sophisticated equipment has been recently installed.
“Manufacturing environments in New Zealand and Australia are extremely tough now with our customers facing huge pressure from imported finished goods from cheap labour sources,” says Mr Green.
“So it’s essential for us to do all we can to help them
“That’s why we’ve invested in even more efficient technology to provide them with more cost-effective ways to operate.
Previously, for example, they might have spent up big to have holes drilled in thousands of pieces but now we can do that automatically for them with special equipment.”
Industrial Tube customers cover a broad range of industries including automotive, furniture manufacturers and producers of display fittings for shops.
This precision-crafted tubing, available in all shapes and almost any design or size, is also increasingly in demand as an alternative to treated timber in the kiwifruit and horticulture industries.
“Yes, this is a challenging time for engineering firms,” concludes Mr Green. “But for those with the nerve and initiative there are plenty of opportunities for success.”
For further information:
Industrial Tube Manufacturing
Tel: 07 847 5333