Carbon fibre kings Southern Spars show how to find a narrow niche and own it - globally.

Most New Zealand companies would feel like they'd reached their goals when 95 per cent of their product is sold offshore, with market shares of between 50 and 85 per cent in key segments.

Southern Spars have reached that point; their work on building the winning Emirates Team New Zealand catamaran that flew through the America's Cup in Bermuda earlier this year is the stuff of legend.

Scooping the Supreme Business Excellence Award at the Westpac Auckland Business Awards for the West might ice that cake. The awards are delivered annually by Auckland Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (ATEED) across the Auckland region.

For Mark Hauser, co-founder 29 years ago and sales director for Southern Spars, there's no resting on laurels: "We've always had a culture of being the best in the world, we're all very competitive people.


"There's this Kiwi way of jumping on something and making it better, it's a really strong Kiwi thing. We want people to think that this is the best place in the world to work; it's a strong core of our business."

Company general manager Peter Batcheler says the key for New Zealand companies doing well is to pick an extremely narrow niche and totally own it. It helps, he says, to have sales people who come out of a sporting environment.

"They're always asking what else can you do with this product? What else can we conquer? You can't plan it, you can't insist on it, but you can create an environment that allows it to happen. When they want to try something out, we always give them the time and space to do so."

The company has dominated producing masts for world super yachts, racing yachts and what Hauser calls the new 'hybrid gentlemen's' grand prix in the Mediterranean. Forty-six of the Volvo Round the World racing teams use the company's masts.

But their latest successes have come in diverse - but equally high pressure - fields such as developing wing tips, stretchers and cargo pods for Pacific Aerospace or carbon wheel tethers for Formula One racing. Their most recent success was producing world beating carbon AirSpokes wheels for the New Zealand Olympic track cycling team at Rio de Janeiro in 2016.

"For the guys on the floor, it's great to see all this hard work go to the podium." Hauser says. "To see yourself winning keeps people fresh and constantly throwing new ideas into the arena. There's excitement at being at the leading edge - the best wheel in the world, the America's Cup, the biggest boats in the world."

"You see a lot of different people coming in and out of the place." Some of those people are from the University of Auckland's Centre for Advanced Composite Materials, who have been working with research and development head Chris Hickey. In the search for lighter, stronger and more sustainable materials, the two organisations are pioneering revolutionary methodologies with composite materials.

"Give us anything in carbon and we think we can improve it," asserts Hauser.


Already the company is in discussions with a few of the next America's Cup teams, developing better wheels for the cycling teams for the 2018 Commonwealth Games, as well as cheering on the next half year of the Volvo round the world racing.

"We have the televisions on in the lunchtimes, so the guys can see it," says Hauser. "They see the pounding, our gear is getting thrashed and we're right in the middle of it."

To Hauser and Batcheler, the depth of experience in the company is a key. A third of the staff have been with the company over 15 years and the emphasis is on creating a multi-skilled and cross-skilled workforce who understand materials lamination, fitting out, service and sales.

It's not all about science, Hauser points out. In such a small, prestige and technical market, salespeople who know their customers intimately have been key.

The company has a local presence in the key four shipyards around the world who work with super- and racing yachts and, through parent company North Technology, affiliate with North Sail to integrate design software and co-sell.

Even the way the company prepared their entry to the Business Awards was innovative, says Chas Gunaratne who headed the entry process.

As well as their designer-polished entry, the company shared the video and had judges visit their factory. The buzz through the factory when the win was announced has prompted managers to consider entering other innovation awards - a new set of podiums the company can conquer.

"For example, Southern Spars setting itself up as a role model and leader of other businesses around partnering, discovery, quality and efficiency," Hauser says. "It's all good stuff."

Peter Batcheler – General Manager, Southern Spars Ltd. Video / Supplied