Herb Foxlee, is a modest achiever. So very modest in fact that his many accomplishments have flown well beneath the contemporary media radar that proudly showcases North Queensland’s corporate maturity.
Convince Herb Foxlee to spin the spotlight his way and you’ll find that pre-cloud, Mr. Foxlee was not only achieving many business firsts for this region – he was setting Australian Standards as well.
Herb Foxlee was setting standards in the days before many of today’s North Queensland businesses could be rationalised. Born in 1942 and raised in Charters Towers, Herb’s family hails from England and the Foxlee name associated with landmarks and accomplishments in the north’s defence, mining, business, cattle and horse racing industries dating back to the late 1800’s.
From the Dam Buster Squadron of WWII and Foxlee’s Trail at Mt Spec; to Foxlee House in Proserpine, AYOT House in Charters Towers and the great cattle theft from Bowen Downs in 1870, take a glance at Herb Foxlee’s family tree and you’ll immediately assume that setting impressive standards, is just a Foxlee family trait.
In 1984 a young Herb Foxlee returned to Australia from Papua New Guinea (PNG), after leading a design project for the Australian Governments Department of Works and Supplies across the PNG Highlands Highway, which was later described as “A magnificent piece of engineering, worthy of world acknowledgement.”
With a growing reputation as a highly talented engineering professional, Herb was snapped up quickly on his return; engaged to review manufacturing operations and products of Innisfail’s Northern Iron and Brass Foundry (NIBF), suppliers to the public and private water reticulation industry in Australia.
NIBF owners Gunther and Hazel Schmidt were so impressed with Herbs recommendations, that they not only gave him a management position – they wanted all of his suggestions implemented and sought funding for Herb to develop new and revised design patented, componentry.
Herb guided the business and its employees to improved production, safety and quality practices. “We educated and focused on the workforce, we bought in structure and quality standards at each stage of the manufacturing process to almost eliminate rejects, which in turn reduced the per item cost. Returns improved. We eventually went from employing 40 locals to 240.”
In 1985 NIBF aligned with Associated Water Equipment (AWE) and the move saw a strong partnership form between Herb and AWE Managing Director Bob McAlistair. With investor support, they went on to directly acquire NIBF and AWE in 1988. It was a purchase which heralded further business acquisitions which would later form the Crevet Group.
Herb continued to refine and develop the product range, setting Australian Water Standards with revolutionary pressure valves and fittings. Bob continued to focus on growing the market, as front and centre of sales and commercial growth. They challenged standards with innovation, including a superior range of powder coated fire hydrants that delivered a flow rate of 38 litres per second. The product was adopted as Australian Standard and both government and commercial uptake was significant.
With the market pushing for benchmarking of industry practices by the end of the 80’s, Herb joined key peers as a founding member of the Manufacturing Society of Australia. Essentially, he was not only designing products that set the Australian Standard, but he was called on to set the Australian Manufacturing Standards for them as well.
By 1992 the Innisfail based operation was responsible for the manufacture and distribution of pipes, fittings, valves and ancillary products to 40% of the Australian market; with many of their products being specified by consulting engineers for major government and corporate projects across Australia.
In 1993, bringing the businesses under the umbrella of Crevet – and as one of the first companies in North Queensland to list on the ASX; Crevet Limited went public. Crevet was an employer of over 700 people, across 17 Australian sites and with annual turnovers in excess of $100million.
With many water infrastructure projects underway and in the pipeline across Australia throughout the 80’s, water reticulation and its componentry was big business. In joint venture (JV) with Netherlands based Wavin, Crane Group acquired Crevet competitor James Hardie (now Iplex Australia) in 1997. Continuing its industry take-up, in 2000, the JV embarked on a strategic and successful takeover of a prospering Crevet Limited as well.
“It was a fast rise.” says Herb. He adds that if he could do it over again, he and Mr. McAlistair probably wouldn’t float the company. “We really lost our control after we listed. If the market caught a cold, Crevet would catch it.”
“PUBLICLY LISTING A COMPANY IS LIKE GETTING ON A TIGER’S BACK. IF YOU GET OFF, YOU’LL GET EATEN”
Herb stayed on with IPlex to guide the transition and at fifty-five, decided he wasn’t ready to retire. He consequently bought Townsville based OZRam Hydraulics and has remained at its helm for over twenty years.
While even at a glance, Herb Foxlee’s career is more impressive than most, at 75, he says it’s not over yet. “I’m blessed with good health and I don’t think I’m as old as my years would indicate.”