BOAZ Herszfeld was born to run Creswick Woollen Mills, writes SARAH HUDSON
Creswick, between Ballarat and Daylesford, is renowned for its history of gold, as the birthplace of war prime minister John Curtin, and as the School of Forestry from 1910.
But for Boaz Herszfeld, the town was renowned for its yabbies, which he caught behind his grandfather's business.
"As a little boy I'd go on holidays to Creswick and yabby in the stream behind the woollen mill," Boaz says.
"Because I'd go there so often as a child, it built up deep inside me and I realised I wanted to be in my grandfather's business.
"He was such a strong man, who I admired so much that it really was a big part of me."
His grandfather, of course, was Paul Ryzowy, who founded Creswick Woollen Mills in 1947 as a Polish post-war migrant.
Today, it's run by Paul's grandchildren, Boaz and his sister Sharon, and thanks to globalisation and the rationalisation of the textile industry it's the only coloured woollen spinning mill of its type in Australia.
Back when Boaz started in the role in 1998 - a decade before Paul retired at 96, just before he died - business was grim.
"Six months after I started at the mill (electric-blanket manufacturer) Linda went broke, which lost half our volume," Boaz, 38, says.
"It was a difficult time, but to my grandfather it was a small hiccup. He had moved countries and continents in difficult times and he didn't drop his bundle at that kind of thing.
"Older people are much more resilient that way."
Resilience clearly runs in the family. Boaz, with Paul's help, turned the business around and today, though the mill's volume is below its 1970s and '80s peak, it creates a high-value product.
Using Australian Merino wool and alpaca, the mill makes its own branded rugs and throws, which are sold through David Jones, while importing cotton and cashmere goods from overseas and outsourcing manufacturing of other items.
One of its best-known products is the personal protection blanket used by the CFA.
And one of its most popular divisions is its mill tours - 75,000 visitors each year watch carding, spinning, blending, weaving and fringe-making machines at work.
Tourism is a key to the mill's success, so a retail shop was launched in Beechworth in May.
Boaz says while he always has had a sentimental love of the business and his role model is Paul Ryzowy, his decisions may not always be to what his grandfather would have liked.
"He could understand the transition from low value to high value, but he could never understand why you'd get other people to manufacture products for you," he says.
"That's because he was a manufacturer and believed in Australian-made," Boaz says.
"But in this day and age it's really difficult for a company just to be a manufacturer. Diversification is key.
"He would say, 'Don't import. They'll send you rocks'. What he meant was just be careful.
"He did the same thing for 50 years and like any human, it's hard to change. He might not like everything I've done, but he'd still be happy."
Paul was born in 1912 in Poland and studied law before fleeing his homeland at 27 in the midst of war.
He travelled first to Japan, then China, where he worked for two years trading commodities, and then to New York.
Finally, a friend who worked in textiles suggested the two go into partnership running a mill in Creswick, Australia.
"The partner (who finished in the '50s) knew everything about textiles and Paul knew everything about finance and in 1947 he went to the ANZ bank to get a loan," Boaz says.
While other mills fell by the wayside, due in large part to the dismantling of tariff protection, Creswick Woollen Mills continued, at its peak spinning half a million kilograms of yarn each year for electric blankets, dressing gowns, picnic rugs and garment fabrics.
Boaz, a father of three, studied accounting and worked for the now-defunct Arthur Andersen before starting at the mill.
"I wanted to work there after school, but he said I had to go to university, and when I finished at university he told me I had to work for someone else first".
Even to the end of his management, Boaz says his grandfather was a "raging bull with all his faculties".
"He made a speech to staff when he was 90. He stopped driving at 92 and he was only just starting to slow down at 94," Boaz recalls.
"On one side he was really proud and on the other he was frustrated by his own mortality.
"Even now, though, I hear him in my head, talking to me, when I have to make decisions."
- Creswick Woollen Mills, creswickwool.com or ph (03) 5345 2202.