Aviation, tourism and energy writer for the Business Herald

Queen's Birthday Honours: Robert Stewart

Skope Industries founder enjoys using his business experience to help his Canterbury community.

Robert Stewart.
Robert Stewart.

Skope industries founder Robert Stewart says his knighthood is a tribute to the workers at his Christchurch business set up 45 years ago.

Sir Robert has been made a knight companion of the NZ Order of Merit and said he was proud the 300-plus workers at Skope, a leader in low energy commercial refrigerators, had been recognised.

He remains the major shareholder in the business whose products are exported around the world.

In 2007, Sir Robert was made an officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit for services to manufacturing and the community in the New Year's honours.

"I was thrilled then and I'm even more thrilled now," he said.

The 74-year-old said his work as chairman of the Health Research Council of New Zealand had been particularly rewarding. There would be a major funding announcement by the council this week.

He said he had brought his business approach to the council to make it "more focused and efficient", building on his experience as the president of the Canterbury Medical Research Foundation. "These are the things I find interesting and important. Putting back at the end of your life and using your business experience."

He left school at 15 to become an apprentice electrician with the Ministry of Works and has spent most of his life in manufacturing. When he was 25 he took a loan from his father and bought a controlling stake in a small company called Robat Avon Industries.

Over the years he acquired all the shares, repaid his father and expanded the business into an established maker of commercial refrigerators and electric heaters.

Sir Robert said the earthquakes in Christchurch had damaged the factory and it had not yet been fully repaired: "We'll recover. We're still rebuilding slowly as we settle our differences with the insurance company."

He said the company was also battling the high New Zealand dollar and weak conditions in its main export market, Australia, where he had been for the past week studying the ramifications of the harsh budget there.

He has won many export and design awards and the Master Entrepreneur Ernst &Young award.

The firm was a finalist in the 2012 New Zealand Business Awards and was listed 17th in New Zealand's Top 100 high-tech business sector.

It was named the Coca-Cola Amatil Supplier of the Year in 2011.

Sir Robert is a Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Management and said he is writing a book about his career and views on business, which is due to be published later this year.

He was president of the Canterbury Manufacturers Association from 1990 to 1992, and was made a life member in 2008.

Sir Robert and his wife Barbara established a charitable trust which annually donates significant funds to a number of charitable causes and art and culture organisations in Canterbury.

Robert Stewart - Knight companion of the NZ Order of Merit for services to manufacturing and the community.

For more coverage of the Queen's Birthday Honours, go to: tinyurl.com/QBhonours

- NZ Herald

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