Food and beverage specialist spans three centuries

It’s not too often you get to talk to a person who is the third-generation owner of a local company – one that is celebrating its 140 year anniversary in 2019.

Starting life as a company that imported disinfectant in 1879, J.L.Lennard has grown to be a major distributor of food equipment and packaging machines.

Managing director, David Boekemann, is the third generation from his family to run the company that was taken over by his grandfather William from original founder Julius Levy in 1905. Boekemann’s father, Bob, became managing partner in 1953, before David himself took over the business in 1988.

Over that time the Boekemann family has seen a raft of changes throughout the company, Australia and the world. It has traded through the Great Depression, two world wars, and has won and lost several distributorships, but has always survived.

William Boekemann had an entrepreneurial streak that saw him import an eclectic bunch of products during the company’s formative years. This included goatskins, menthol crystals, celluloid fountain pens, cheese, bottles, vials, caps, waxed paper, and cellophane, to name a few.

Building on this success, during the post-World War I era, William started to import machinery including flour-packing plant, tea-packing and confectionary-wrapping machines and chocolate-processing machines. Eventually the company would pioneer such machinery as those used in tablet making, capping, and labelling products, as well as those that were capable of cartoning ice cream and filling beer bottles.

In order for the business to thrive, relationships needed to be built, and this the family did with great aplomb, especially with high-end manufacturers in Europe. Over the years the company has been the distributor for such well-known and reliable brands as Krones, Rovema, Manesty, CE King, Glatt and an array of others.

When the company celebrated its 125-year anniversary in 2004 it not only had a grand history in the annuls of Australian food and beverage machinery, it had worked with some of the biggest consumer brands in Australia and the world. This included the likes of Kraft, McDonald’s, Carlton United Breweries and Arnott’s Biscuits.

Since it celebrated that landmark anniversary 15 years ago, David Boekemann has not rested on the laurels of the company’s history. He has been busy expanded the business, moving away from aspects of the industry that don’t show profit and continuing to build what has been, and continues to be, a sterling reputation within the food and beverage space.

Recently, Krones made the decision to start their own business in Australia and New Zealand which was a logical move for them.

It was however very disappointing for David, especially as J.L.Lennard had been a champion of the brand for over half a century.

It was a very friendly change and not only was David appointed a director of the new company, but Krones Pacific still operate out of J.L.Lennard’s offices in Sydney and Melbourne.

As is often the case in business, as one door closes another one opens. In this instance, David saw an opportunity when he received a call from the receiver of Walls Machinery, which had hit hard times financially.

“We were very interested in this business in particular the agencies of Fuji, Anritsu and Toyo Jidoki which had been very successful for Walls over many years with a huge customer base. After discussions with the three manufacturers and the staff in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, we came to an agreement just before Christmas in 2018 and took over 10 staff and the agencies,” said David.

Some of the bigger projects the company has worked on include rolling out 800 sets of equipment for McDonald’s Deli Choices brand; supplying the same company with 340 Taylor grills as McDonald’s changed the way it ran its business from pre-prepared fast food to cooking to order; selling 600 Taylor frozen yoghurt machines during the height of the food trend in 2013; being at the heart of the Arnott’s Biscuits’ Queensland Rovema packaging project; and helping Coca-Cola Amatil set up its PET blow fill lines across Australia.

David is proud of the company’s history. In 1970 it had a staff of 24. Fast forward almost 50 years and those numbers have grown to more than 100, with 55 of them having notched up more than 10 years’ service, while 10 have 25 years’ of service. David is optimistic about the future. He knows there are hurdles ahead, but nothing that cannot be overcome.

“Packaging is under attack from all sides – from environmentalists, the sustainability side of the world, and the politics is interesting,” he said. “There is a lot of pressure for film manufacturers to make biodegradable and compostable films. That includes the likes of PET bottles. There’s still going to be a big demand for packaging, it just needs to be more sustainable. The packaging industry needs to sell their message better.”

And David is not one to wax lyrical about making packaging more sustainable.
Already J.L.Lennard is leading by example with its Pod Pack business, which it started in 2006.

“With our ESE coffee pod business we are about to launch a pod that includes a film which will make it a fully compostable product,” he said.

He is also a practical man, in the sense that packaging is going nowhere in the near future. It is necessary for so many reasons, but the main one is down to consumers themselves. They have certain expectations and demands. Sure, these days they are more interested in what a product is packed in, but the reality is it does have to packed in something.

Sound governance and having good people on board is shown by the fact that the company has lasted for 140 years. David’s son Henry joined the company in 2004, so the next generation is ready to step into the senior management of the firm. Does he still think there is room in the modern world for medium-sized family businesses when a lot of the multi-nationals like nothing better than to take over successful businesses and add them to their portfolio?

“These types of businesses are great to work for. I think there’s a lot more loyalty in family-owned businesses than there is in public companies,” he said. “If times are tough, family businesses work hard to retain their people. I think that is very important. People appreciate it and the loyalty is a two way street.

“Family businesses are much more reactive too. We make decisions quickly and don’t necessarily have to wait for board meetings to get things approved.”

David believes the company will be around for the next 140 years as it builds on the resilience that has seen it through many good times since its inception all those years ago.