Paul Levett started Levett Engineering in his backyard shed in 1989. Today, he delivers key components for the F-35 Lightning II fighter aircraft.
We caught up with Paul to chat about how supplying to some of the world’s largest defence projects has led to incredible growth for the business.
A fitter and turner by trade, Paul’s ambition stems from a strong family business history. “I grew up in a family that was always in business. My father operated an earthmoving business which I thought I’d be a part of but he encouraged me to get a trade and start my own business, so I did. To me, it seemed like a natural path to go down.”
18 months after starting the business, he took on his first employee. After two years they relocated to premises in Elizabeth West, which they outgrew after five years. They’ve been at their current site on Philip Highway since 2004, now with a team of 50 people.
Today, Levett Engineering produces cutting edge components primarily for the Defence and Aerospace sectors internationally. They also supply the Medical, Electronics and Commercial Engineering sectors.
“We make components from an aircraft’s nose to its tail, including airframe and jet engine components, electronic enclosures, and vacuum brazed assemblies,” Paul says. These are just a few of the products that end up in these aircraft, which are cutting edge and take a global effort to manufacture.
Demand is huge; Paul says it’s so high that they’re running three shifts to keep up. As a result, the business has experienced 32% growth since the last financial year.
They’re also the only Australian business producing machine components for the F135 Jet Engine. This engine is developed by US aerospace manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, and is used in Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Lightning II.
But business growth is not without its challenges. “The biggest challenge is finding skilled people (to hire), particularly in our sector. We’re dealing with aircraft so everything needs to be precise- measured twice, cut once.”
Paul says that he’s always taking on apprentices and training them up, helping them develop the right skills for the industry.
Running Levett Engineering has had many highlights, and Paul was happy to share some with us. “One of the best moments of my life happened while running this business.”
“In 2014 I was invited to the rollout ceremony of the F35 in Fort Worth, Texas. Being over there and seeing our components being used by this project really hit home that we’ve finally done something significant.”
Paul was fortunate to go and see the aircraft being assembled, again in the USA. “The building housing the assembly line was a mile long, with aircraft in various build stages. Getting to see the components that we manufactured being fitted onto the aircraft was a great moment.”
“Seeing our components being used by this project really hit home that we’ve finally done something significant.”
It’s clear to see how passionate he is about Levett Engineering’s achievements . “I’m proud that we’re a small family company here in SA, and that we’re a Tier 1 Supplier to the world’s largest defence company. I’m proud that we’re a global business- our main competition is machine shops in the USA.”
It is an impressive achievement, and we’re thrilled that Paul continues to operate in the North. “I think the region has a lot to offer. Industries are growing, and the major defence companies we work with are located here.”
Of course, growing industries equal more business opportunities. When asked if he has any advice for future business owners, Paul emphasizes the importance of planning.
“Have a very good business plan, because success is 90% planning and 10% execution. You can be great at your trade but you also need to be great at business, and that takes a lot of planning.”
Paul’s ultimate goal is to build a business that can run without him, and he says he is always willing to hand over responsibility to his team. “It comes down to delegation. To have a true business is to have one that operates and excels without me having any input into it. It’s at the stage now where sometimes I have to ask my team ‘what’s going on?’.”
Several years from now, he hopes to be continuing to deliver consistent quality to customers. “The main thing for us is that we’ve been able to deliver 100% quality products, 100% on time. If we’ve achieved that, that means the company has met its growth targets.” This level of service is contributing to raising South Australia’s profile as an advanced manufacturing hub.
The future of Levett Engineering looks bright, if the past is anything to go by.
“Sometimes I still shake my head and wonder how we ended up here, but we have wonderful people.”
Want to read more? Check out Levett Engineering’s website.