Chip off the block
Austro’s listing reveals two go-getters
BEHIND THE LISTING on the JSE of woodworking materials and tooling company Austro – whose shares gained some 90% on the day of listing on the main board, showing investors’ exuberance for all things “ construction” these days – are two humble individuals: founder Daniel Rothlisberger and chairman David Brouze.
The story of the 27- year- old company starts with a trip to South Africa by Rothlisberger, an Austrian engineer, in 1974. “A friend of mine who was in furniture manufacturing convinced me that there was a good business in selling woodworking equipment and providing after-sales service for that. So I stayed,” he says.
In August 1980, Austro Engineering – comprising a small workshop manned by Rothlisberger and an assistant – was born. In 1981, Austro obtained a licence to distribute the renowned Felder brand of woodworking machinery in SA. “It was difficult,” says Rothlisberger, “because people didn’t know either the company or the brand, as we were introducing machinery that was not known locally. It took many years and hard work to build up a name.”
But the hard work paid off: from a twoman team operating in a small workshop, the firm has grown into one with a staff complement of 116 working at premises in Gauteng, the Western Cape and KwaZuluNatal and building up a solid reputation as a trusted supplier to the construction industry.
Austro has – for some time – obtained and held licences to supply and service Boere, Casolin, Striebig and Weinig products, all well known in the woodworking world. “These days, big overseas manufacturers ask us to represent them in SA,” says Rothlisberger.
The company has also built up a tooling business to cater for customers’ demands for a single supplier of machinery, tooling and after-sales services.
Pivotal in bringing the company to the market but keen to remain out of the limelight is Austro chairman David Brouze, known to investors through his involvement in building up (together with his brother Keith) successful clothing and accessories retailer and distributor House of Busby.
Brouze, who thrives on working with management of small-cap businesses to grow their ventures, bought a stake in Austro four years ago (another success story he’s been involved in is online retailer Digital Planet). “Austro was well known for its brand integrity, high standards and good client service. Not only does it handle the biggest international brands locally, but also more than 25% of the machines are sold under its own brand. You can’t overemphasise the detail that has gone into this business.”
Brouze, Rothlisberger and other senior management own just over 40% of the company; other investors include an equity fund run by private equity firm Spyglass (with 7,4%), Investec and BoE Private Clients.
Part of the reason for listing was to retain and attract scarce technical skills for the business, with a listing offering staff the benefits of a share-incentive scheme. “There’s been such growth in the economy that industry hasn’t trained enough people for the growth level we’ve been hoisted to.”
Listing well received by the
market. David Brouze, John Burke and Daniel Rothlisberger