Friday, February 16, 2018
Michael Crouch rode the postwar prosperity boom,
and gave back to Australia in equal measure
One of the few luxuries of which to boast in the Menzies Research Centre’s office is our Zip - the elegant silver tap in the kitchen after which our newsletter, The Watercooler, was named. The tap dispenses piping hot water on demand just as efficiently as it produces cold.
Today we pause to pay tribute to a great Australian behind this world-leading innovation, our dear friend Michael Crouch, AO, who passed away last week at the age of 84.
The Zip instant water heater heater he pioneered is used by millions of people in some 70 different countries. Michael’s persistence, entrepreneurialism and sharp eye for marketing made it possible.
The MRC has many generous supporters, but none so generous as Michael, a role model to aspiring philanthropists everywhere. Michael cared deeply about Australia, and supported many good institutions. Without his support over the past year, the MRC could not have undertaken its ambitious task to change the national debate.
Personally, I owe a debt of gratitude that will only be repaid once the MRC becomes the institution he encouraged it to be: bold, principled and influential, a think-tank that speaks to the Forgotten People, not the privileged few. I will miss our conversations over lunch, his encouraging words and his challenging insights.
Once when I was feeling particular pleased with an MRC report that received particularly good coverage in The Australian and the Australian Financial Review, it took Michael to bring me back down to earth. “I’ll know you’ve cracked it when you’re on the front of the Tele,” he told me, “and I hear you talking to Alan about it on 2GB.” I knew he was right. Next time we’d have to pay more attention to strip out every hint of jargon, and to talk to the concerns of sensible Australians who don’t spend every working hour studying the details of public policy.
The popularity of Zip was proof Michael knew what he was talking about. Few companies in the world have ridden the postwar boom in prosperity and domestic gadgetry as well as the small manufacturing company bought by Crouch in Sydney in 1962.
Crouch was 29 years old when he purchased Zip, a manufacturer of hot water systems for kitchens and bathrooms. He soon diversified into instant boiling water, mostly for making cups of tea in homes and offices. He sold the “Miniboil" on the back of the slogan "your tea rooms will no longer be waiting rooms".
Like many of the nascent giants of the time, his success can be attributed to his focus on a product with wide demand and enormous potential for continuous innovation, and imbuing the product with local value by refusing to manufacture overseas.
In the 1970s, Zip introduced products that made instant boiling water affordable in homes. In 1985 Zip was commissioned to supply taps for boiling water in all members’ offices in the new Parliament House in Canberra.
Crouch’s eye for emerging consumer demand led to the introduction of taps providing filtered water in 1996. They are now a standard fixture in most new kitchens in Australia. The range has since been extended to also provide sparkling water.
Crouch was known among his employees as a hands-on boss who took a keen interest in all aspects of the business. By the time he sold the company in 2013, he had 300 employees at the manufacturing headquarters in Bankstown, Sydney, as well as distributors across South-East Asia and South Africa, and a wholly owned subsidiary in Britain.
After retiring from Zip, Crouch remained active in business, education and philanthropy. He helped establish the Michael Crouch Innovation Centre at the University of NSW, donated to the The Duke of Edinburgh’s International Award in Australia, and helped raise money for the construction of the first National Boer War Memorial on Anzac Parade, Canberra. He had also been a Member of the Australian Government Trade Policy Advisory Council and the APEC council.
Crouch will be deeply missed by his wife Shanny, children Charlotte, Sarah and George and his grandchildren, William, Camilla, Harry, Violet, Edward and Hamish. A celebration of his life will be held at St James' Church, King Street, Sydney on Tuesday, 20th February at 10.30 am.
Thank you Michael for your honesty, loyalty and generosity. And thank you for your entrepreneurial drive that left the country you loved a more prosperous place.