Zeal Steel Ltd

Business strength lies in art of engineering


    Zeal Steel rebuilt the historic Dunedin railway station foot bridge after it was hit by a train and demolished in 2008.

The art of engineering is something that Lawrie Forbes knows well – so well he has transferred his skills to assist in the creation of actual art forms, these days taking on jobs as varied as technical building earthquake strengthening to working with world renowned sculptors.

Lawrie set up Zeal Steel Limited in 1995 as a response to an opportunity he saw in the marketplace – a need for high quality steel fabrication. After a natural evolution, his small empire has now grown to include three separate and successful business ventures.

Initially the Dunedin premises he chose to operate from were leased, however an opportunity came up to purchase the site and Lawrie’s second company, Zeal Properties Ltd, was established. The buildings on this site have now been given a new lease of life.

Zeal Steel now operates from its current 1800sqm site, which is owned by One Zeal Ltd, with Lawrie and his Zeal Steel working partner (and co-boilermaker and welder) Craig McNaughton, as shareholders.

Lawrie had been in business before in both small engineering partnerships and as a sole trader and says he looked to these experiences in developing Zeal Steel.

“I worked in Australia for a Dunedin-based company where I was contracted to install new technology to a slaughterboard. After contract managing that job using mostly local labour I identified that there was a need for steel fabricators that could see a job through from start to finish, all the while ensuring highest quality standards.”

One of the company’s more recent projects was the completion of a sculpture for internationally renowned Queenstown sculptor, Morgan Jones, which is currently on display at the Sculpture by the Sea exhibition in Aarhus, Denmark.

At five metres long, two metres high x three metres wide, the art work weighs in at three tonne and was built in two halves to fit into a 40ft container for shipping.

“Morgan supplied us with an initial small plywood model of the sculpture which we then executed, from calculating the factor enlargement required through to crating and despatch to Denmark,” says Lawrie.

In recent years the company has developed a strong reputation around its skills in the strengthening of older buildings for earthquakes. “I have bought numerous older industrial buildings and wanted to retain the integrity but needed to bring them up to modern code standards.”

As a result Zeal Steel has developed the expertise to be able to bring buildings up to between 66 and 100 percent of modern day standards (where the current requirement is 33 percent). Other property developers now employ Zeal Steel to upgrade their buildings.

One of the business’s biggest success factors, according to Lawrie, is down to the fact that they take responsibility for ensuring quality. “We are also of the philosophy that if a job is worth doing it is worth doing properly – passion and attention to detail is paramount.”

Lawrie says he has worked with Markhams’ Clarke Craw Partner, Gavin Craw, for the past 20 years or so, after meeting through a business associate at that time.

“I had been advised by a family member who was an accountant that business success is helped immensely by having both a good lawyer and a good accountant – it turned out to be totally true and I am very fortunate to have both.”

Markhams Clarke Craw does all invoicing for Lawrie’s companies, running both debtors and creditors systems, which he believes is the most cost effective approach but also gives a practical reason for dealing with his accounts off-site. “Steel fabricating creates a very harsh environment for electronic equipment.”

Published Winter 2011.


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