Sir Ken Stevens reckons in his 60th year of work it was time to start stepping back.
He's just sold the Glidepath business he has owned with his family to French robotics firm B2A Technology which he says will help reboot the 47-year-old company.
The sale price has not been disclosed but two years ago the value of the business was put at $70 million.
No application has been made for Overseas Investment Office approval which has a $100m threshold.
It was once touted as a candidate to list on the share market but has remained private.
Stevens, a champion of New Zealand's export drive, says the sale is part of Glidepath's evolution. The company will retain its staff of close to 300, nearly half of whom work in this country.
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''It will be business as usual,'' said Stevens this morning from his company's West Auckland headquarters after a breakfast meeting with customers.
''The French company that we've coupled up with is very keen to share their technology with us and we with them. We'll grow together - we're in different markets, we don't compete.''
B2A Technology is a leader in Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) and has turnover of around $207m. It says the purchase of the West Auckland company will help it boost growth and widen its presence around the globe. A new joint strategy is being developed.
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Stevens said negotiations took about six months and he believed it was time to ease back.
''I'm in my 60th year of work and I think it's about time,'' said the 75-year-old who will step down as executive chairman.
He had a mechanical bent and, by age 13, he had built himself three bicycles and his first boat - a P-class yacht which he sailed competitively. After completing a tool and die making apprenticeship and an advanced trade certificate, including work in machining and fitting at what was then Seddon Tech, Stevens moved into engineering.
In 1972 in his late 20s he bought Thompson Engineering which started repairing conveyor belts, eventually renaming it Glidepath to reflect its work in aviation.
It got an early break designing a section of Air New Zealand's baggage system at Auckland International Airport. The airline was impressed and his company won work to do the full upgrade.
He says he got the timing right as air travel was starting to boom when he started his business.
''The advent of the wide bodies right back in the 1970s was when long-range travel became cost effective for the multitudes and we've ridden that wave.''
Likewise the terror attacks of 9/11 required a complete rethink of how baggage was handled and screened.
''We've ridden along with that - trying to keep ahead of the bad guys all the time and applying the new security principles,'' Stevens said.
Glidepath equipment is installed in nearly every New Zealand airport and most Australian airports. It has 1000 projects in 68 countries.
It also has a network of regional offices it operates across Canada, USA, Latin America, India, where a manufacturing plant is also located, South Africa, the Pacific and Australasia.
The company's first export order was in 1978, to Townsville, Australia. The job that gave him the most satisfaction was the installation of a complete set up at Brisbane Airport which was being rebuilt in 1995.
''We hit the start button and everything ran perfectly.''
Stevens was knighted in 2007 and remains chairman of ExportNZ.
Auckland Business Chamber chief executive Michael Barnett said Glidepath had remained a leader because of its willingness to change.
''Sir Ken Stevens is a face of exporters in New Zealand. He has advocated for them and the support that Government provides business on and off shore. He is an example of someone who has been prepared to play the long game and has played it successfully.''