Now aged 52 (“a young 52”, he stresses), the incumbent Tom Eilbeck bought the crane building business from his father in 1987 and has grown its annual turnover from AUD500,000 to more than AUD50m.

While rival companies may have greater sales from crane servicing and other product lines, Tom Eilbeck says that his company is Australia’s number one crane builder, whether measured by either units or sales revenue. It has more than 2,000 cranes of various brands under service contracts.

Despite the family heritage, Tom Eilbeck insists he always had a free choice of career and was never forced into the crane business. However, destiny appears to have taken hold. “I started working when I was 12 years old in school holidays and started full-time when I was 18,” he says. “I did a part-time mechanical engineering diploma after hours, so I was brought up the old-fashioned way. I know crane manufacture from welding and machining, and I have trades of boilermaker/welder along with fitter/turner/machinist.”

On taking ownership of the business, based in Perth, Tom Eilbeck started out by selling, designing and manufacturing all cranes from scratch. Subsequent growth was helped by the Abus agency that was secured in 1989 and the company expanded into new territories.

“In 1994 I moved to Sydney and pioneered a new factory,” he says. “I expanded that in two years and moved out into larger facilities in early 2000. Then we outgrew the West Australia facilities and built a new factory two years ago [in the Perth suburb of Bassendean].”

A third factory is being added to the ones in Sydney and Perth. “We are currently on the way to placing a contract with a builder for state-of-the-art manufacturing facilities in Mackay, North Queensland to service new cranes,” Eilbeck says. This is scheduled to open next year.

The company also has service centres in Brisbane, Newcastle, Tom Price and Dampier. After a strong 2007 and a good first half of 2008, like most crane companies around the world Eilbeck Cranes has seen enquiries slow down. While sales are steady in some end user industries, demand from the mining industry has slumped, Tom Eilbeck says.

With its roots in the mining state of Western Australia, Eilbeck Cranes has always had a strong presence in the mining industry.

“To maintain sales we have focused on increasing our market coverage and looking more closely at all areas of possible cranes sales,” he says. “We are also getting out there again knocking on doors, which is where I cut my teeth.”

Export interests

Eilbeck Cranes also has export interests; it has exclusive rights to the Abus product range in Australia, New Zealand, Vietnam, India and Pakistan.

Sourcing skilled labour has been a challenge in the crane industry in Australia in recent years, Eilbeck says. Therefore the company has done much of its recruiting overseas, “with great results”, he adds. The company has recruited boilermakers/welders from China, of whom Tom Eilbeck says: “I cannot ever have enough praise for them due to their work ethic, although all our staff are totally committed.”

He also mentions the “strong engineering design team who are young, enthusiastic and full of fresh ideas”. In fact, the whole company is “a strong team from shop floor to senior level: versatile, eager, and hard working”, he says.

Tom Eilbeck says that the company, which he still owns 100%, is in sound shape for the future. “It is very successful, well financed with little to no debt, owning all facilities and building factories from cash reserves,” he says. “The flat management at the top allows us to be very flexible, moving quickly without drawn out decisions. Clients often find themselves dealing with me directly, which they appreciate as they can see there is not a tree of management, to get things done on time and budget.”

Looking further ahead, there is a fifth Tom Eilbeck waiting in the wings. “He is only 16 and prefers surfing to working, but has many of the qualities it takes to run a company, so hopefully he will take over the Eilbeck dynasty.”