Engineering firm on fifth generation

Ask the family behind Upper Clutha company Templeton and Sons Engineering Ltd for a list of the benefits and drawbacks of sharing a workplace with relatives, and they are stuck for an answer.

''We don't really know, because we've never known any different,'' Ralph Templeton (82), the former owner of the company, tells Otago Daily Times reporter Lucy Ibbotson.

Like his father and grandfather before him, Ralph Templeton spent most of his working life in the family business, the oldest company still operating in the Upper Clutha.

Long since retired but still living near his former workplace in the old part of Albert Town, Ralph's occasional visits to the company workshop are now purely social, although his son Garry (52), who took over the business with wife Sue (50) in 1996, jokes that was not always the case.

''Earlier on he used to come over and poke his oar in, then he'd [wander] off and leave you thinking.''

Garry and Sue's nephew Cory Johnson (34) joined the business as an apprentice around the same time the couple took over, and he is still employed there as a fifth-generation family member and foreman. The three other full-time staff are non-relatives and Cory insists he gets no special treatment from his bosses, or any undue tension from the family relationship.

''We've never really had any problems. It's always been pretty straight up,'' he said.

Garry has no major complaints about working with family members either as, like his father, it is all he has ever known. He started working with the company as a teenager after school and is still there nearly 40 years later.

While he admits it is not always plain sailing - ''we have our bloody moments, don't worry about that'' - by and large the family business model works well for him. In fact, it is an arrangement that has served the whole business well for more than a century.

In 2006, the team at Templeton and Sons celebrated 100 years of the company trading from its present site in Wicklow Tce, and helped mark the occasion by reigniting the original coal-fired forge. The business has long outlived many others in Albert Town, such as the hotel, store and post office, mainly by adapting to the changing environment around it. While traditionally the company catered mostly for the farming industry, now, about 90% of its work is in the building sector, including structural steel fabrication and balustrades, Garry says.

While 106 years at one site is an impressive feat, invoices show Ralph's grandfather and company founder James Templeton was actually operating a blacksmithing and engineering business at Pembroke (now Wanaka) from as early as 1896, in a shop next to Lake Wanaka at the Lakeside Rd/Ardmore St intersection.

He later moved to Albert Town and continued his blacksmithing and engineering work from a site on the banks of the Clutha River, where he also worked as a puntman on the river ferries from March 1905. In 1906 he re-established his business on the site where it stands today. James' son Charles, known as Chas, eventually took over the business, and was later joined by his own sons David, a blacksmith, and Ralph, a fitter and turner, who trained at Dunedin's Hillside Railway Workshops. By 1964, David had gone farming in Tarras and Chas had decided to retire, leaving Ralph to run the business, with wife Ethel taking care of the book-keeping and son Garry helping out in the workshop as an after-school job.

Given the father-son history of the business, it was a ''natural progression'' for Garry to take over, Ralph says.

The handover came a little earlier than planned, though, after Ralph had a stroke in 1996, requiring Garry and Sue to be ''thrown in the deep end'' when they stepped in to run the place.

''[The transition] was a bit premature in a way ... but we picked it up,'' Garry says.

Garry still runs the workshop and takes care of pricing plans, among other things. Sue is primarily in charge of the administrative side of the business, but also enjoys getting stuck in on the workshop floor, mostly to keep things tidy. In fact, the latter is her preference.

''I hate the office work but it's got to be done,'' she said.

For Sue, working with family members takes a special type of person.

''Not everybody could do it; it's 24/7.

''But I have my release where I go tramping and Garry goes away fishing.''

Garry says he ''wouldn't mind having a break'' from the business one day, as he and Sue find it a struggle to take long holidays - one drawback of working at the same place.

''You can only really go away for three weeks,'' Garry says.

While they are unsure how long the company will remain at its current residentially-zoned site in Albert Town, they are confident it will survive for many years to come and say they ''definitely'' want to keep it in the family.

Their own son Glen (25) works driving diggers for Central Machine Hire, and the couple hoped he too might one day follow in his father's footsteps.

''I'd like to see Glen come in [to the business] as well,'' Sue says.

In the meantime, the family is focused on maintaining Templeton and Sons' strong reputation, built around generations of hard work, adaptability and pride in its forebears.