Rebranding an icon: The challenging of finding a new name for 127-year-old NDA

Rebranding a company – particularly when it’s one of New Zealand’s oldest and has a powerful sector name – means going on a journey and being “prepared not to know where you’re going to land”.

So says Mark Eglinton, chief executive of the NDA Group, the 127-year-old homegrown stainless steel engineering heavyweight with a global reach, which has been renamed Tira, Maori for steel.

It’s the new name for the company’s New Zealand and Australian business and covers the diverse sectors it serves through: Tira NDA, which specialises in steel tanks and processing systems for the dairy industry; Tira Crown, covering the wine, beer and beverage industries; Tira Water, tanks, vats and vessels for water; and Tira Industry, specialist equipment for the chemical, gas and pharmaceutical industries.

The company’s US operations in Oklahoma, Alabama and Texas which service the energy sector, have also been rebranded. They go under the handle of a past NDA acquisition, Sheco (Southern Heat Exchanger Corporation), a well-known US name.

The holding company for all operations is privately-held NDA Group, which has annual revenue of around $200 million. NDA began in 1894 in Taranaki as the National Dairy Association, a co-operative production hub for agriculture, supplying everything from gumboots to milk cans. Headquartered in Auckland, NDA’s main manufacturing base has for many years been Hamilton.

While operations in Australia and New Zealand bring in 50 per cent of group revenue, the company’s biggest operating facility is in Alabama, a newly commissioned, state-of-the-art site producing heat exchange systems for a range of US companies in the chemical and energy sectors.

So why rebrand now?

“NDA didn’t really reflect what we do and where our growth is, but it’s such a powerful brand in its own right … we needed to keep the integrity of that history but also reflect all the markets we are serving beyond dairy,” says Eglinton, in the job since 2009.

“We are growing them and putting a lot of resources into them. We liked the freshness of the name (Tira) and the connection with the Waikato through the te reo side. It captured our business nicely, and bringing steel to light connects it back to all our business divisions.”

NZ Marketing Association chief executive John Miles says rebranding from an acronym name to a word is a positive move given people and markets don’t always understand or connect well with acronyms.

He says as a “heritage” brand, NDA’s move would have been challenging.

“A lot of people think a brand is a logo. But it’s about an ethos. The key to it all is the story and the only way you can weave a fabulous story is by understanding your customers.

“One of the biggest challenges is getting it past your stakeholders first. But the big story is doing it internally first. You really have to sell the story to your employees … how it integrates with their everyday life. That is what brings the brand to life.”

Part of NDA’s rebrand involved restructuring to create a Tira Australia-New Zealand division with its own chief executive, Clint Brown, and regional management team. The division has revenue of around $100m, operates nine manufacturing sites and employs 300 of the group’s around 500 full-time staff.

The US division also has its own management team.

“That’s the journey we’ve gone down to make sure we’re pushing the decision-making and ability to deliver on big complex projects closer to the market,” says Eglinton.

“When you think of the industries we service, the channels we are in, we need pretty deep engagement with our clients. Having a fully functional regional management team gives the resources they need to deliver the projects. What you need in dairy and what you need in wine is quite different.”

Eglinton says the rebrand has been an 18-month, significant investment in “time and thinking and money”.

DCANZ, the association that represents processing companies in New Zealand’s $20 billion dairy export industry, sees the rebrand as a celebration of achievement.

Executive director Kimberly Crewther: “It’s a great story of a company with dairy industry origins that has grown and diversified.

“Part of the New Zealand Dairy story is that it has been a foundation for companies like this.”

Eglinton says the rebrand project straddled two financial years so it’s hard to quantify the cost. But much of the investment was in time and thinking at the start.

Asked for his message to other chief executives thinking of rebranding, Eglinton says “you’ve got to take people with you”.

“And you’ve got to get good experts (in branding and marketing). You need an independent view to get deep insights from both internal and external stakeholders to help you clarify your positioning and messaging.

“You want independence in the thinking. You don’t want to get too internalised about it.

“You partner up early with the right skill sets and go on a bit of a journey and be prepared not to know where you’re going to land.”

A “really important” part of the NDA evolution programme was the 2019 launch of Innovex, the company’s IP hub, Eglinton says.

The hub team is charged with research and development and commercialising NDA’s “incredible” IP and technology – some of it world-leading, hardly a surprise given the company’s specialised in engineering and advanced manufacturing for more than 100 years, he says.

Water is one of Tira’s fastest-growing sectors and its innovation was evident in the job of building the storage system for the Tuakau offtake from the Waikato River to support Auckland’s water supply.

The company built a 400,000 litre tank on-site in a week using its automated welding system. Eglinton says the system can be containerised, doesn’t need cranes and can build tanks for 700,000 litres on site.

“There’s [more and more demand for it and it] will be a big part of the series of water storage projects in New Zealand.”

Also beckoning are offshore projects in the water and beverage sectors.

Close to 50 per cent of the company’s dairy manufacturing projects are these days offshore. It manufactured and installed a cheese plant in Wisconsin this year, and earlier, a cheese plant in Ireland.

While milk production in New Zealand is flatlining and forecast to decline, the local industry is still a very important part of the business, Eglinton says, with a lot of investment going on in value-add processes for the likes of long-life milk and cheese, and sustainable manufacturing, Eglinton says.

The energy sector also promises plenty of future work, including in the renewable sources and hydrogen areas.

“We see opportunities there in both New Zealand and Australia.”

New Zealand’s skills shortage continues to be challenging but the company’s low staff turnover and rich store of institutional knowledge provides an important competitive advantage, says Eglinton.

“We invest a lot in our people and we have long-service employees. The average tenure of the Tira group is 10 years.”

The company offers the industry’s largest apprenticeship programme, he says.

The rebrand had been a good opportunity to continue to invest in the culture of the business.

“It was a chance to refresh the values in the business and to build on that long-serving tenure.”

According to the NZ companies register, NDA is majority-owned by Australian-registered Pemba Capital Partners. It bought 60 per cent of the company in 2007 during a management buyout capital restructure driven by the company’s expansion. Management retained 40 per cent.

Today Pemba has nearly 59 per cent, NDA chairman Gary Mollard 10 per cent and management 10 per cent. The remainder of the shares are held by private US and NZ shareholders.

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