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Export Award For Hamilton Jet

Export Award For Hamilton Jet - A Profitable Transformation

Christchurch, April 4, 2003 -- CWF Hamilton & Co, a Christchurch company that has been associated with Kiwi ingenuity for more than half a century, has won a Trade New Zealand Export Award for achieving annual exports of almost $40 million.

The company manufactures and exports water jet propulsion systems for high-speed work and patrol boats up to 60 metres long, including fast ferries, coast guard boats and military vessels. The Export Award is in the Engineering Category.

(Note to Editors: Media are invited to attend the Trade New Zealand Export Award presentation to CWF Hamilton & Co by Trade New Zealand Director Jenny Morel, on Friday, 4 April 2003, at 1.30pm, at the company’s premises, 20 Lunns Road, Middleton, Christchurch.)

CWF Hamilton & Co’s Marketing Manager John Walsh says growth in the past few years has been continuous with export sales currently worth $38 million annually. He says international demand for its products is being fuelled in part by the high security alert status around the world and by the growing acceptance of jet propulsion over conventional propeller systems.

CWF Hamilton started business in 1939 as a heavy engineering company focused on New Zealand infrastructural development such as steel fabrications for bridges, hydroelectric schemes and steel mills. But Mr Walsh says by 1980 business had started to decline rapidly due to domestic economic conditions. He says a radical transformation was necessary in order to save the company.

“Some of us involved in the business at the time put forward a proposition that we should channel all our efforts into just one product - water jet development, aimed at the export market. We had always had a very small emphasis on water jet propulsion products, but suddenly it had to become our entire focus in order to survive.”

Founder Sir William Hamilton had invented the company’s original water jet propulsion product in the 1950s. Mr Walsh says Sir William’s original idea was to develop a system that pushed the boat along by ejecting the column of water through the back of the boat above the waterline, not below.

“Sir William did this in order to navigate his jet boat up the shallow rivers on his sheep station near Lake Pukaki and found that as a result his jet boat went faster.”

Mr Walsh says the decision to transform the company’s focus from heavy engineering to water jet propulsion was a very brave step on the part of the Hamilton family who continue to own the business today. He says it was a gamble from both a product development and marketing point of view.

“In the 1980s water jet propulsion was still in the missionary phase. We were one of the few companies doing it and we didn’t know whether the world would go for it. Propellers were the status quo – we were trying to displace a very traditional form of propulsion. It was a high risk strategy but it was very exciting too, especially once it started to show results which it did within a few years."

Significant investment was required to transform the company and develop export markets. Mr Walsh says the investment in technology and R&D has been ongoing, most recently a $7 million upgrade of its Christchurch plant into a world class facility.

From one product in 1980, CWF Hamilton & Co now produces 14 jet propulsion models, ranging up to 4500 horsepower. It also designs and manufactures electronics systems to control the jet propulsion.

Products are exported to 42 countries through a distribution network that includes wholly owned subsidiaries in the USA and the UK. Ninety-six percent of turnover is generated by exports, with its main focus today North and South America, Europe and Asia/Pacific.

Mr Walsh says CWF Hamilton is a world-leader in water jet propulsion, successfully competing against much larger international competitors that have entered the market in the past 20 years.

“For the 2001/2002 year we were again New Zealand’s number one marine industry export earner. Our achievements are considerable given we are a tiny minnow in New Zealand competing against the might of companies like Rolls Royce.

“One of our strengths is the in-house experience we’ve got, borne out by the longevity of some of our personnel. We have years of water jet propulsion experience and naval architectural experience too - we can talk to our clients at their own level and that gives us considerable credibility.

“We also haven’t changed our strategy for 20 years whereas our competitors in an effort to keep us out have changed tack many times and also have high staff turnover - they don't have the same continuity of purpose that we do.”

Trade New Zealand Account Manager Charlotte Mayne congratulated CWF Hamilton & Co on winning an Export Award. She says the company has retained the innovative culture that marked its beginnings in the 1950s.

“CWF Hamilton & Co has continuously developed added-value features to its products over the years and expanded its range,” says Ms Mayne. “It has demonstrated a commitment to manufacturing excellence and invested considerable amounts in R&D and the latest technology in order to grow the business.”

John Walsh says an ongoing barrier the company faces is its target audience’s attachment to traditional propeller systems. However, he says this is also its biggest opportunity, offering huge potential to increase exports as it makes inroads into the propeller sector.

CWF Hamilton & Co employs 220 staff in its Christchurch plant, focused on manufacturing and marketing, and a further 35 in its UK and USA distribution companies.

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