70-year-old metal business in Western Australia bonds Greek father and son

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Dave Kounis remembers making himself useful as a six-year-old in the workshop of his family’s metal products firm back in the mid 70s.

Fast forward to today and Mr Kounis and his 91-year-old father, Paul Kounis, continue to work side-by-side as the Western Australian company celebrates 70 years in business.

The former schoolboy apprentice is now Managing Director of Kounis Group, one of Australia’s leading designers and manufacturers of metal products.

His father, Mr Kounis Snr, remains involved on a daily basis in the business that started life in 1953 at the back of the family home in suburban Perth, WA.

“There’s definitely a fire in the belly that’s been passed down from father to son,” Mr Kounis Jnr said.

From watering cans, letterboxes and mop buckets back in the 1950s, to cable supports for hospitals and airports, and state-of-the-art switch rooms for mining giants, the Kounis name has been flying the flag for Australian manufacturing for more than two generations.

A third generation is waiting in the wings. Over the years, the company has manufactured more than 20 million metres of cable ladder alone – enough to extend half way around the world.

It has employed thousands of people and trained more than 250 apprentices. But the family’s Australian success story has its roots not in Perth, but on the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo.

Group founder Paul Kounis with son and Managing Director David Kounis and granddaughter Leila Kounis. Photo: Matt Jelonek.

In 1912, Mr Kounis Jnr’s grandfather was an 15-year-old migrant when he left Greece and made the journey solo to WA as the eldest son in search of better fortunes for his family.

In a sad twist of fate, the uncle who was due to meet his ship died just days before it docked in Fremantle. Alone, hungry and homeless, the young adventurer talked his way into a job and breakfast after hearing restaurant staff speaking his native language.

Today, his son and his grandson agree that resilience, an enterprising spirit and a can-do attitude have been instrumental in the success of their business.

“My dad has always had the same self-belief,” Mr Kounis Jnr said.

“When he bought two hectares of land in 1977 with a new factory in mind, I remember as a schoolboy thinking ‘What on earth has he done?’

“He’d put everything on the line but it was just another example of his self-belief. He’s always been a calculated risk-taker.”

Mr Kounis Snr admits he had his own doubts after signing on the dotted line for the land, but he needn’t have worried.

What was then known as Industrial Sheetmetal Industries already had a solid history of expanding in response to opportunities and innovation.

The business’s first major project had come in 1958 when it was commissioned to build metal water tanks. Orders for wheat silos followed and by the 1970s the company was manufacturing tractor cabs.

In 1979, Mr Kounis Snr’s vision for his two hectares became a reality. The company held a grand opening for its new headquarters in what has become one of Perth’s major commercial and industrial hubs.

In the 1980s, the Kounis family business had grown to include electrical switchboards, cable supports, stainless steel fabrication, kit homes, welding fabrication, roofing and powdercoating. The ’80s also marked the beginning of the company’s worldwide partnership with tech giant Siemens, as well as its first major mining project.

Mr Kounis Snr said there had been plenty of “sweat and tears” over the past 70 years.

“You could say we’ve learned from the school of hard knocks. There is no school of experience,” he said.

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