Five families making it work in manufacturing

In a sector plagued with bad news and repeat body blows, five family businesses are showing the rest how to succeed in Australian manufacturing.

Manufacturing has long been the heartland of Australian family business but there are signs that’s changing. According to a survey released last year by MGI, 55 per cent of family businesses are worried about the sectors they’re in and the percentage of family businesses in manufacturing halved from 40 per cent in 2003 to 20 per cent in 2013.

While that might reflect the declining fortunes of Australian manufacturing, a number of family businesses are still holding up the sector. Australians still like buying Australian-made products; in fact many are actively seeking them out.

Here are five Aussie manufacturers that are still doing well.

Galvin Engineering

Based out in Western Australia and with a turnover of $20 million plus, Galvin Engineering is expanding into the east with its plumbing and pumping products. Galvin can be traced back to 1930 when a company called Premier Engineering was formed by Larry Duffy and Albert Gordan. Enter Roy Galvin, who bought out Albert Gordan’s share in 1947 and six years later brought his son Jim into the business.

When Larry Duffy retired in 1967, he sold his share to Roy Galvin. The company was incorporated two years later with Roy and his three sons John, Jim and Tony holding shares and renamed Galvin Engineering in 1971. Roy’s grandson Paul says the company now has warehouses in the eastern states. How does it handle the transport costs? The company has targeted high tech, high niche premium products that are not price sensitive. “We don’t make domestic tap ware for families,” Galvin says. “We make prison tap ware, surgery tap ware, laboratory tap ware, service tap ware and so on. Our brand isn’t strong with the general public but it’s strong among institutions.”

AH Beard

One of Australia’s big three bed makers, this company has been in business for over 100 years. Spanning four generations, it goes back to 1899 when Enoch William Beard was making handmade straw-filled and tufted horse hair mattresses -- its name at the time was The Australian Bedding Mill. 

When the premises burnt to the ground in 1926, Enoch felt the bedding business was gone and gave his son, Albert, a half gold sovereign, but bed making was in the blood. Albert used the money to buy some black and white striped ticking, flock, kapok and horse hair. He and his wife Ada, began hand sewing mattresses. Albert called his new venture A.H. Beard, and the company grew from there. Last year the company made the bold move by expanding its business to sell mattresses in China.


Established in 1883 by Scottish stonemason Robert Selkirk, the brick making company is in its fourth and fifth generation. Selkirk is the fourth largest producer of bricks and pavers in Australia after Brickworks, Boral and CSR. With clay bricks coming under intense pressure from substitute products, notably fibre cement and polyurethane cladding, which are widely used on the upper storey of new houses, and with demand heavily dependent on cyclical fluctuations in residential construction investment and increasingly affected by the lower brick intensity of housing construction in Australia, the company is building export markets. It is currently sending products to Japan, Macau, Hong Kong, New Zealand, UAE, Singapore, Korea and Thailand.

Packer Leathergoods

Here is a company that started back in 1891 when a young English immigrant, Joseph Packer, who had started work in a Brisbane tannery went out into business for himself. It started as the Packer & Knox tannery in Chermside near Brisbane 1891. Joseph Packer bought out the Knoxes and eventually brought his sons George, William and James into the business and renamed it GWJ Packer. Originally supplying only the Brisbane market, the company now supplies global markets with its kangaroo leather for Kookaburra cricket balls and Sherrin footballs. The bulk of its products are exported. Packer’s great grandson, Graham, the export marketing director, says the raw material is turned into fully finished leather here in Australia.

“It’s done nowhere else, and we export that to the manufacturers who make the final goods,” he says.

“We don’t have a demand in Australia for a lot of it. The big demand is always international but we felt we could take the raw material here, add value to it and compete with what’s happening elsewhere.”

But the export market treats the company well and it has a turnover of just under $20 million.

Schiavello Group

Schiavello Group was started by furniture maker Tony Schiavello, who migrated to Australia from Italy in the 1950s, in the 60s and remains a family company with the Schiavellos on the board.

It’s in the business of design, construction and installation of commercial furniture and signage through 18 different business units. Its specialty areas are in the commercial and residential market segments, fitting out workplaces, healthcare companies and hospitality businesses. It also supplies education, retail, wholesale and manufacturing.

Ranked by BRW as one of the top 100 private companies, its headquarters are in Melbourne and employs 1300 people globally. In 2013, it generated $530 million in turnover.

So there you have it, five families with their feet firmly planted in the Australian manufacturing sector. All isn’t lost, despite what you might have heard.

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