Fisher & Paykel showed the Kiwi can-do attitude from the start

By Skye Wishart

F&P washing machines rolling off the assembly line in 1960. Photo / NZ Herald
F&P washing machines rolling off the assembly line in 1960. Photo / NZ Herald

One of the remarkable things about Fisher & Paykel is the attitude the company established at the outset, says Ian Hunter, business historian and former associate professor at the University of Auckland Business School.

When New Zealand instigated foreign trade restrictions in 1938, and the entire business looked desolate, Woolf Fisher looked at other ways forward. That attitude, coupled with their export-driven orientation set the company apart.

"We always think of the deregulation of the New Zealand economy in the 80s as being what freed up our global links with trade, but Fisher & Paykel began their export drive in the 70s, and they were already three steps ahead of the game," said Hunter.

Fisher & Paykel has been around since 1934 when Sir Woolf and Maurice Paykel - whose families had fled Russia decades before - set up shop in Auckland's Queen's Arcade. They were selling surplus fridges that Maurice's family's company, Paykel Brothers, imported from the US.

Fisher & Paykel started manufacturing appliances themselves when the high import tariffs came in in 1938.

Starting with the Kelvinator washing machines under licence, and also their own branded products, by 1949 orders were coming so fast they could hardly keep up - churning out 600 washing machines, 500 refrigerators and 700 vacuum cleaners each month.

In 1956, they had a factory built in Mt Wellington, where they increased their staff to 600 within four years, and started making their patented rotary clothes dryer.

By the late 60s, they had built a bigger factory at East Tamaki and had diversified into spark plugs, televisions, vacuum cleaners, air-conditioning units and medical products, and were exporting to Australia, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan.

In 1971, they began manufacturing the respiratory humidifier (now one of Fisher & Paykel Healthcare's main products).

They listed on the stock exchange in 1979.

By the mid-80s they owned many subsidiaries, including Dunedin's H.E. Shacklock, they had formed a new company, Fisher & Paykel Medical, to export medical products to the US, and had built another factory in Dunedin.

By 1991, they also had a factory near Brisbane.

Patenting innovative products has characterised Fisher & Paykel.

In 1985 they launched the world's first washing machine that used a brushless DC motor. In 1997 they launched the DishDrawer dishwasher which brought in innovative style and smart electronics.

In 2001, Fisher & Paykel Industries split into Fisher & Paykel Appliances and Fisher & Paykel Healthcare.

Skye Wishart is the 2012 IRL journalism intern.

- NZ Herald

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