It started off as a family-run wholesale giftware business run out of a Brighton garage, but today H.A.G. Imports is one of the most influential homewares importers in the country, celebrating 50 years in business. The group, which represents numerous brands both international and home-grown, brings magic to kitchens and tables around Australia through not only the brands it imports but also through those it creates, Maxwell & Williams being the best known. On the eve of H.A.G.'s 50th anniversary we caught up with the Maxwell of Maxwell & Williams, CEO Max Grundmann, to talk style and entertaining.
GT:*How does the H.A.G. story begin?*
MG: It's about as humble as it gets because my parents started the business in the garage of their home in Brighton.
What's H.A.G. about now?
From those very humble beginnings, we're now a company which is probably Australia's leading homewares importer. We employ about 100 staff, we have numerous brands that we either represent or we've created, and the most notable of those, of course, is Maxwell & Williams. Maxwell & Williams goes back to Max and Bill, because Bill Ryan, or William Ryan [pictured on the right with Grundmann, above], is my partner and I'm Max, and we represent Maxwell & Williams, Casa Domani, Krosno (in Australia) and Ritzenhoff and so on.
How does it feel to have reached the 50-year milestone?
I joined Dad as a sales rep and I was the fifth employee. My mother was handwriting the invoices, Dad was the senior salesman, I became the junior salesman, we had a country rep on commission and one stall man - it was a pretty tiny business. So 50 years later, we employ 100 people or so and the Maxwell & Williams brand is sold in more than 50 countries. It's quite a change.
What changes have you noticed in the way we entertain in Australia?
I think we've been instrumental in moving to a much more casual lifestyle. The objective and the philosophy of Maxwell & Williams was to always enable people to entertain in their homes without massive expense and to express their individuality, so our style and flair has always been based on affordability. We've created the opportunity, with Maxwell & Williams, for everyone to express themselves.
What do today's cooks and entertainers want?
There's a tendency now for some of the designs coming through to be more formal and that doesn't surprise me at all. We've got the Enchanté collection, which has been massive for us. It reflects a more elegant, old-world style and I think that's starting to make an influence because I guess we've created so much of the casual, very modern look, but there's always going to be the tendency for the pendulum to swing the other way.
Where do you hope to see H.A.G. in the next 50 years?
Well, I can tell you now - the biggest single problem that we have in Australia is that we're very far away from the rest of the world and we have a 22 million population. To reach scale for world markets isn't easy to do out of Australia, and that's not suggesting it can't be done because we've done it. But clearly, the billions of people around the world suggest that the [aim] for us futuristically is going to be solidly grounded in developing our brand's capability internationally.
What's your personal approach to entertaining?
If you don't entertain with passion then you've lost the meaning of life and that passion should be driving what you do and how you do it in terms of your entertaining. That's certainly the way I see the whole of life. I don't think there are solid things that you should copy; I think you've got to be your own person and the Maxwell & Williams brand is aimed at saying "do it the way you want to do it, not the way somebody else wants you to do it".