Celebrating Australian sovereign capability – how Covid created opportunity for Key Tubing and Electrical

It is said that necessity is the mother of invention. Just as this drove manufacturers to new heights during during the Covid-19 pandemic, the same urgency is needed today as the nation rebuilds sovereign capabilities. Today our editorial series – Celebrating Australian sovereign capability – looks at the fortunes, and future, of one manufacturing SME.

The Covid-19 pandemic exposed gaping holes in Australia’s import supply chains, with Australian manufacturers responding by investing in technology, equipment and skills to create new sovereign capabilities.

For Adelaide SME manufacturer Key Tubing and Electrical, the pandemic was an opportunity to bootstrap the business to new levels of capability and growth.

Now with the company’s leadership moving from Gary Hugo, who remains as Finance Director, to son Henri, the company is turning gutsy investments made during the pandemic into new ways of leadership and operations.

Henri Hugo said: “I’m optimistic by nature, assured of my team’s capabilities and constantly looking for new market opportunities.

“This allowed us to make some crucial, not easy or risk-free, decisions at the height of the pandemic that have helped place our company on a strong growth path.

“The pandemic demonstrated the real value of investing in people, technology and R&D. We saw firsthand how strategic investment can provide significant returns to a business and open new markets.

“It is something I now want to build on further.”

Taking pride of place at Key Tubing’s Melrose Park manufacturing facility are the 30 machines (pictured) the company built in a matter of months over 2021-22 in ramping up production of bespoke heater cable to meet pressing demand for ventilators and respirators.

Hugo said: “We all learnt an incredible amount operating a design and manufacturing business during the pandemic.

“It highlighted the need to be flexible, embrace problems, be prepared to back yourself and invest when you’re surrounded by uncertainty. This will all hold us in good stead for what lies ahead.”

The capital investment programme born in the pandemic years has continued into 2023 with additional machinery and automation about to be commissioned across the facility.

The company has also boosted its innovation and R&D capabilities with two new appointments within the engineering and design team as well as a new Commercial Manager in Jason Harrison.

“Australia’s business sector has emerged from the pandemic with a product development mindset,” Hugo said.

“As the built-up stock levels have gradually been depleted across industry, companies are looking to ramp up production again.

“We’re already seeing that through the initial design and testing work we’re now undertaking with companies seeking to bring their new ideas to life.

“This often involves complex problem solving, but that’s our bread and butter.”

Key Tubing and Electrical employs 70 staff and operates across a range of sectors including health, defence, after market automotive, food and beverage, hospitality, heating and cooling.

Hugo, now appointed as the 70 year old company’s Managing Director, said the experiences of the past two years have heavily influenced the strategic approach and leadership style he will bring to his new position.

It has also given him further confidence in the company’s ability to continue to achieve double digit annual revenue growth in the years ahead, with investment in innovation to play a cornerstone role.

A qualified industrial designer, Hugo holds an MBA from the University of Adelaide. He worked in London before joining the family company 11 years ago, holding positions across product management, sales and marketing and commercial operations.

Gary Hugo said Key Tubing and Electrical’s succession plan allowed for a smooth leadership transition.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as Managing Director and the timing is right for me to step down.

“In Henri, the company has an astute and proven leader to take it into the future. Our customers and staff are all in very safe hands.”

Also in our series today:

Picture: Henri Hugo at his Melrose Park, Adelaide factory

@AuManufacturing’s editorial series – Celebrating Australian sovereign capability – is brought to you with the support of Nova Systems and Titomic.

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