Hunter Tait is stepping down as CEO of Tasman Tanning, proud of the operation and intending to see it expand in his ongoing role as a director of the company.
Mr Tait retires on March 31 after 23 years as CEO. Neville Dyer, who has been employed by Tasman for the past two years, will take over the role.
"The company has grown substantially over the last 20 years," Mr Tait said.
"It's a very stable company with the same family shareholders who started it in 1953. One of the shareholders who started the company still comes in to work every day."
Mr Tait has worked in the leather industry for 46 years, completing a diploma in leather technology after leaving university and setting up his own company in Napier in 1977. After he sold the company, he moved to Whanganui to take up the role with Tasman Tanning.
The company is now the only finished leather operation in Australasia, with other companies closing because they were unable to compete with the Asian market. Tasman's leather is used in high-end footwear, upholstery, automotive, aviation, marine and specialist applications.
"The company invested heavily to ensure we could remain internationally competitive and we export 95 per cent of everything produced from Tasman," Mr Tait said.
"We are the largest semi-processed operation in New Zealand. We have a fellmongery and work closely with [meat processors] Anzco and process all their hides and sheep in the North Island and the South Island.
"We have had significant growth and I'd like to see it grow further. We have the latest equipment because the shareholders have continued to invest. All our equipment comes from Italy."
The latest investment includes two $1 million machines and a $2 million building for the first stage of hide processing. A new plant to remove chromium in the tanning process will be operational next month.
Another major asset for the company is its 300 staff, many of whom are long-timers. At morning tea on Wednesday, March 28, three staff were presented with gold watches for 25 years' service "and that happens all the time", Mr Tait said.
"We have wonderful employees. We have one staff member who has been here for 50 years."
It hasn't all been plain sailing during Mr Tait's time at the helm, with the international market hit by financial crises and, locally, a number of workplace accidents and disputes with the Whanganui District Council over trade waste charges.
"One of the biggest changes is with the Whanganui District Council," Mr Tait said.
"Unfortunately, the cost of treating effluents is making us uncompetitive with other parts of New Zealand. The pleasing thing is that the council is now prepared to discuss this with us. We have noticed a change and they are becoming more realistic.
"Operations like Tasman are very important to the economy of Whanganui, not just because we employ 300 staff but things like repairs and maintenance means millions of dollars are spent in this area.
"It's pleasing to see the council's attitude change in recent times. I believe that since the last election they have more understanding of business."
Mr Tait is retiring to Wanaka where he has a home but says Whanganui has been "a lovely place to live".
"It has been a pleasure to be part of the community here. I think there are a lot of positives for Whanganui. I think businesses here are doing okay. We need the council to be in the mood and mode to be more positive to industries and to bring industries to Whanganui."