Malcolm Eyre’s incredible career in the pump industry has spanned over half a century. Currently the Managing Director of Franklin Electric Australia, Malcolm has lent his expertise to a wide range of roles and companies all over the world. Here, we take a look at his history in the pumps industry, international accomplishments and how the industry has changed over the past 50 years.
My first job out of Swinburne University was with Southern Cross Machinery, which back in the day was probably the biggest agricultural pump company. They didn’t just do pumps, they did diesel engines, complete irrigation systems, all sorts. I was based in Dubbo, and we worked on the first travelling irrigators that were ever made in Australia.
I came back to Melbourne after about 18 months and began working at Industrial Engineering Limited as an Applications Engineer. I was with them until the beginning of 1974, at which time it was through them I got transferred to Germany. Industrial Engineering Limited had purchased a manufacturing licence from a German company called Rheinhütte. They are a manufacturer of chemical pumps and valves.
Early in 1974, I went to Germany on the understanding that I would learn all about the product, from the manufacturing stage through to selling, the whole lot. After discussing with Industrial Engineering Limited, who was still paying my salary at that stage, I took the job on.
I went to Germany thinking that the Germans were a hardworking, diligent lot. Back at that time anyway, they were what I call pigeonholed. Here in Australia, people multitask, whereas in the company I was working with over there, they were very pigeonholed. I was there until the end of 1976, at which time I was homesick and there were a few other things going on in my life, so I came back to Australia. I went back to Industrial Engineering Limited, and I became the New South Wales Sales Manager.
Returning to Australia
In mid-1978 I went and joined a fledgling company by the name of Kelair Pumps – who are still in business now – but at that stage they were only a very young company. After a short period with them, one of the other guys that was working at Kelair and myself decided that we could do it on our own.
So we made the break and formed a company called Pump Engineers, which has nothing to do with Pump Engineers Victoria. They tried to register the same name, I think within the first 12 months of us being in business. And I said, “No, you can’t have that. We already had it registered.”
So off we went on our own, we were very successful in the early stages. We were successful until we took on one project that didn’t go right, so we sold the company as a going concern to Envirotech, and from there I went and worked with them on a three-year contract.
After three years, I went back to Kelair and became the Victorian and Tasmanian manager for Kelair Pumps. Then went to KSB in 1992 as the Victorian-Tasmanian Sales Manager, held that position for six years, and then became the Export Manager and National Service Manager. I left the pump industry temporarily and took a sea change, running a stock feed business for five years. In 2007, I joined Brown Brothers.
I was promoted to the position of Manager for Brown Brothers for Victoria and Tasmania and held that position until July 2015, at which time I was headhunted by Franklin Electric, and here I am. Of all the wonderful memories working in the industry, there’s been a lot of jobs along the way. But being headhunted for this role at 66 would have to be the most memorable moment of my career – it’s a pretty big move.
Variety, the spice of life
My favourite thing about working in the pump industry is that it’s very varied. No two jobs are ever the same. In the pump industry, there are a number of problems that have to be solved, and I enjoy that side of it as well. Also, the people – I’ve met a great bunch of people through the industry, both working with them and through competitor companies.
The biggest change that’s taken place in my time is the introduction of variable speed drives (VSDs). When I came back into the pump industry after an absence of five years, and these VSDs had come into play in a large way, I’d never really bothered to pick it up. I thought, there’ll be younger guys that are computer savvy and have this tech that I didn’t have. So I’ve relied on others to do that side of the business. That change put me a bit on the back foot, because being elderly…I use the old cliche: you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.
In my early days at Industrial Engineering Limited, I had a mentor by the name of Alan Scott. He was the National Sales Manager, and Scotty was a very personable person and pointed me in the direction that we are in a people business. That’s been my philosophy pretty much all the time, but I picked that up from Alan.
Another personality I worked with was Bill Smith, who was one of the part owners of Kelair Pumps. Bill, I’d put him down as a mentor as well. Bill and I had a really good relationship. The Managing Director of KSB, a German guy who was in fact the managing director when KSB employed me, his name was Peter. And, again, Peter was a good influence.
Something that’s changed dramatically since I started was that when I started, just about every pump that was sold in Australia was made in Australia. Now, I don’t think there’s anybody making pumps completely in Australia. I think Davey Pumps may make some of their products, but I don’t know that they make the whole product. That’s the biggest change, the fact we’ve gone from a country that used to make pumps of every shape and size and now we make nothing.
Another thing is that now everybody that makes a pump somewhere in the world is trying to sell it in Australia. The pump market pie has shrunk, but the number of players in it has grown. So it’s been, in that respect, a tough business. It’s not a complicated business. I think I’m getting out of the business at the right time. At 75, I’ve had enough. It’s been a great industry to me, I’ve had a pretty good life out of it, I’ve met a lot of great people, and that’s about it.
I think the pump industry’s got a bright future in Australia. Our two biggest export commodities are mining and agriculture, and in both those fields, pumps play a pretty big part. Unfortunately, there’s no research and development done in Australia. And that, I believe, was one of the downfalls, along with the fact that our market is so small. And the other challenge, what goes hand in glove with that, is our labour costs. That’s one of the other reasons why manufacturing disappeared here.
After the pump industry
In my spare time I do a bit of walking. I am a very keen Richmond supporter, and just go to the football most weekends if I’m not going somewhere. I tend to go away a bit, I have two sons, one lives in Sydney, the other one lives in Canberra, so I go and see them quite regularly. And come the 15th of September when I retire, I’ve got a caravan ready and I’m going on a never-ending trip around Australia.