Tait carves out specialist role in providing critical communications.

While other companies have chopped manufacturing jobs, Christchurch-based radio communications specialist Tait Communications has remained resolutely home grown.

That's not to say the 45-year-old company hasn't moved with the times.

Staying true to its radio communications roots, it has built on its specialist knowledge to offer a wider range of services.

But Tait has also narrowed its focus from the days when the late Sir Angus Tait was at the helm.


Rather than being all things radio to all people, it now concentrates on providing communication services to organisations where staying in touch is essential.

Chief marketing officer James Kyd says Tait has made a name for itself delivering equipment and services to utilities and public safety organisations such as hospitals, police, ambulance and fire services.

Kyd says keeping communications channels open no matter what is critical for those organisations.

"Simply put, they cannot function as organisations without being in contact and in communication with their field force and their field force being informed of what is happening," says Kyd.

The change has come about relatively recently, as the company realised it had accumulated years of intellectual capital, experience and expertise in delivering mission-critical communications systems, he says.

"It would be fair to say 30 years ago we were more focused on just radios, in fact even 10 years ago we were really a manufacturer and exporter of radio rather than looking at systems and solutions.

"But we realised that competency we had built, so in the last four and five years we have focused more on the industries where we see they value what we deliver more highly."

The business of providing equipment and components was also becoming intensely competitive and commoditised, he says.

"That's not what we want to do; that's not what Kiwi companies are known for."

The vast majority of the company's more than US$150 million ($183 million) in revenue comes from overseas deals, everything from fire services in Victoria, Australia to police in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Kyd says the past two years have seen double-digit revenue growth and Tait has ambitions to double revenue in the next four to five years.

The switch to a more service-based offering, which typically means a high proportion of the labour delivered is also realised as revenue in the same market, has sheltered Tait from the fluctuating New Zealand dollar, says Kyd.

Tait has 661 staff based in Christchurch and another 255 making up the workforce around the world.

Judd Cain, the Houston, Texas-based executive vice president of global managed networks and services, says the value of the company is in its people, and virtually everywhere it has an office, Tait is looking to employ skilled staff.

Cain oversees managed services, the expertise Tait provides to distinguish itself from competitors.

"Managed services is about proactively ensuring a customer outcome," Cain says.

In practical terms it means guaranteeing that cops on the street or electricity linesmen can communicate at all times, he says.

It covers everything from detecting a potential radio network outage before it occurs to recommending and managing solutions that help police spend more time on the beat and less time on paperwork.

"One of our differentiators is that we provide the value of a third party, Tait, and our expertise managing, optimising and supporting the network and we do that regardless of who owns that technology, how it has been installed and, to some degree, when it was installed," says Cain.

Part of Sir Angus Tait's succession plan was to turn the company into a charitable trust, easing the pressure to pay shareholder dividends and allowing the company to take a long-term rather than transactional view of customers, says Kyd.

He says organisations appreciate Tait's customer-centric approach and the company is growing a share of a market that is itself getting bigger.

Kyd says large-scale events and disasters around the world in the past decade have put a focus on investment in critical communications.

This dates back to the 9/11 attacks, he says, when emergency services could not communicate as well as they needed to.

Christchurch's recent earthquakes gave Tait first-hand experience of a disaster situation - something that has given the staff a stronger connection with customers, says Kyd.

"In a perverse kind of way it's been incredibly powerful for us as an organisation relating to our customers and some of the environments they need to work in," he says.

The Tait manufacturing plant is on the "right" side of the city so was relatively unaffected by the quakes. Within 24 hours Tait was back up and building radios to provide to emergency services working in the CBD.

The short turnaround times demanded by customers is a competitive strength, says Kyd, and one of the reasons manufacturing remains in Christchurch.

"That has led us, so far, to see no real benefit in moving manufacturing," he says.