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Sir Angus Tait

20 July 2023

Sir Angus Tait was the father of technological development in Christchurch. He founded Tait Electronics and for over 40 years drove the skills-based manufacturing of electronic equipment. This went on to become an important part of the infrastructure and economy of Christchurch. Learn more about this local hero.


Angus Tait was the father of technological development in Christchurch and for more than 40 years drove the skills-based manufacturing of electronic equipment which went on to become an important part of the infrastructure and economy of Christchurch.

He was the founder of Tait Electronics Ltd. He started the company in 1969 and was still chairman when he died in 2007. It was his focus and fascination with the potential of radio communication, his drive and single-minded determination which saw the company develop and expand to be at the forefront of developing radio communications, in New Zealand and internationally.

Angus Tait was not motivated by fame or money. He was a modest and resolute man with a strong sense of purpose. He was fascinated by developing technology and driven by an ambition to innovate and experiment in radio technology. As a result of these attributes and his clear vision, he created a very successful business which became a global leader in its field. He felt very strongly that New Zealand could be competitive worldwide through its investment in high-tech design and manufacturing. The success of Tait Electronics Ltd continues to prove just how right he was.

The company, lead by Angus, had succeeded because of its continuous research and innovation, by anticipating customers' needs across the world and because of its commitment to manufacturing in Christchurch.

Angus was born in Waimate, South Canterbury, in 1919. His father died in the flu epidemic before his birth and Angus was brought up by his mother. At an early age, he recognised the need to stand on his own two feet.

He left school at 17 without any qualifications and went to work in a radio shop. This was only three years before the outbreak of World War II. Angus joined the RNZAF from which he was seconded to the RAF, spending six years in England during the war working on the development of radar. Whilst in England, he met and married his wife Hazel and subsequently they had three children, two girls and a boy. On his return to New Zealand, he started a business, AM Tait Ltd, which built mobile radios. This first business eventually failed, not for lack of creative energy, but for lack of finance.

Angus was a survivor from the steamship Wahine which sank in Wellington harbour in April 1968. This escape from drowning increased his determination to build a business, to try again.

In 1969 he started Tait Electronics with 12 of his former employees. Angus had an all-consuming interest in radio technology. This coincided with a period in history when the development of communications was moving very fast; the race to put a man on the moon dominated the 1960s. This was timely for Tait who, building on the opportunities created by the developing research, made the first small fully transistorised radiophone in Australasia, the mini-phone, in 1973.

The company continued to develop new generation mobile radios which enable communications with fleets of vehicles; for example police cars, ambulances and buses. In the 21st Century, the company successfully moved into digital solutions and continued to be at the forefront of the radio industry.

Tait's success has been not only because of their manufacturing and innovation skills but also because of their strong marketing orientation. In 1979, Tait established a wholly-owned subsidiary in Britain, having been exporting product there since 1972. This was followed in 1983 by the establishment of subsidiaries in the USA and Singapore.

By the time of Angus' death in 2007, the company had offices in 10 countries and distributors and dealers in another 150 countries. It employed about 850 people around the world and exported around 95% of its products.

This focused and determined man and his successful company have had a large impact on the Christchurch manufacturing, engineering and technology community. Many businesses were created as a result of the training individuals received at Tait Electronics. Individuals gained their own skills but the seeds which were sown spawned a whole technology industry, which has grown up around Tait Electronics.

Angus Tait attributed the success of his company to its single-minded focus on mobile radio technology and constant innovation, enabled by significant reinvestment of company profits spent on research and development. He also believed in Tait's commitment to listen to customers, in its ability to attract and retain effective and loyal staff, and in keeping the base of the company in Christchurch.

When he was 75, Angus placed his company shares in trust to ensure the business could not be sold and following his death, Hazel Lady Tait also transferred her shares to the Tait Trusts. Many local organisations including the University of Canterbury and the Christchurch Art Gallery, to name but two, have benefitted from the generosity of the Tait Foundation. Angus also founded a chair in electronic engineering at the University and invested in the national wireless research centre also based in the University. Angus hoped this would become a centre of excellence in Christchurch, attracting the best people from all over the world to study, and keep New Zealand ahead in the race for technological innovation.

Angus Tait and Tait Electronics received many awards for their work including a Prince Philip Design award for Design Excellence and several Governor General's Awards for Exporter of the Year. Angus also received recognition for his own personal contribution both in New Zealand and abroad. Amongst the many honours acknowledging his work, he received a Radio Club of America Fred M. Link Award, an honorary doctorate from the University of Canterbury and a knighthood for services to technology, manufacturing and exporting.

Angus Tait led the way in showing that a New Zealand company could compete with the world in innovation and manufacturing, and he inspired many to follow his example. He has left a lasting legacy of skills and knowledge which has been of benefit to the city of Christchurch and the wider community in many different ways.

By Ros Burdon (Copyright © March 2009 Local Heroes Trust)

Ros Burdon chaired the Arts Foundation of New Zealand, the major privately endowed supporter of all the arts in the country. She was founding chair of the Christchurch Arts Festival and a trustee of the Local Heroes Trust.

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