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Kozma, Elemér (1929–2003)

by Attila Urmenyhazi

Elemér Kozma, n.d.

Elemér Kozma, n.d.

photo supplied by family

Elemér Kozma, master instrument & toolmaker, manufacturer, industrialist, and founder of Kozma Industries in Bayswater, Victoria, was born in Csíkszereda, eastern Transylvania's pure ethnic Hungarian region of Romania. Renamed Miercurea after World War II, the township lies in the midst of idyllic alpine, forested country. Kozma’s master tradesman toolmaker father, Áron Kozma, had his own machining and die-toolmaking business whilst his mother took care of the three children: Béla, Elemér and Klára. The family was devastated in 1941 when Áron died aged 41. It was suspected he may have been poisoned due to his leftwing political activities. 

When Elemer graduated from middle school in 1944, he fled to Budapest with his sister, mother, uncle and aunt. His mother, Klára, worked at a patisserie while he enrolled in high school (the Berzsenyi Gimnázium). That year Budapest turned into a war torn city in ruin — the result of Nazi German occupation and Allied bombings. All formal education came to a halt. Heeding his uncle's advice, Elemér took an apprenticeship in the toolmaking trade. His first employers were Sved & Tsa, fine instrument makers. Afterwards, as a qualified tradesman toolmaker, he joined Medicor works until the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution in October 1956. Elemér was a star ski jumper since childhood and when his club Bp., Honvéd, asked him to join a forthcoming ski jump training camp in Poland, he decided to go but changed his mind when two close friends, planning to escape to the West, persuaded him to join them. The three friends crossed the Austrian border on 6 January 1957 to become Hungarian refugees under UN protection. 

Living at the refugee camp in Linz for a year, Elemer was able to work in his trade outside the camp. He applied to settle in Switzerland but when not successful he opted for Australia. He arrived by boat on 15 January 1958. 

By the end of his first week at the Bonegilla migrant camp, Elemer had found a job in Melbourne, in his trade, at the American-owned Ferguson agricultural machinery company. Later, he took up the offer, made by a chalet hotelier friend in the Victorian Alps, to become a full time, live-in ski instructor. He also took part in the ski jumping nationals, winning the bronze medal. He maintained that had he not been marked down by the referees, who were unacquainted with modern techniques, he would have scored enough points to come first and win the gold medal. 

After two years he left the snowfields to return to Melbourne and his trade. He married Eleanore, an Australian woman, in 1960. A year later he set up his own company. At the beginning, he was given a corner in his father-in-law's shoe heel fabrication workshop where he worked tirelessly, saving hard to later invest in lathes and production machinery. He then became his own sales representative, going from company to company showing samples of gadgets and contraptions, to promote his work. Later on, when he owned a full set of metal press machinery, he realised that it was better to mass produce and deal with the big-time players. From 1969 he began supplying General Motors with car parts and components, developing further his business which was now operating under the name of Kozma Engineering Pty Ltd. 

1975 saw the arrival of Toyota in Australia and Elemer's company began to supply seats, seat adjusters and recliners, head restraints, etc. as well as car parts to their local assembly plant. Because the plant had no large storage facility, he supplied the materiel required regularly, at pre-set times, in keeping with mass assembly and the production of Toyota cars. Working very long hours to deliver his quality products on time, Kozma Engineering earned the satisfaction and respect of the Japanese company. He visited Japan several times on business to study their technology and methods. His manufacturing company changed its name to Kozma Industries to reflect its expanding operations. The big expansion occurred in 1985 when, having outgrown the site of their production facilities, Elemer purchased a suitable large tract of land at Bayswater, outside of Melbourne, investing all his savings in the new venture. A steady and methodic construction of the planned buildings followed. In those days he devoted 16 hours daily to ensure that his project materialised. The spectacular growth of the company was helped by the employment of highly skilled and qualified staff headed by the Managing Director, Charles Ellul, who, as engineer with 30 years experience, greatly contributed with his specialist knowledge, and at times designed machine tools that were necessary for the success of contract operations. Kozma Industries now occupies five sites in Bayswater, totalling 10,000 m², and comprising four principal manufacturing plants and a tool manufacturing plant. It employs over 100 workers and produces a wide range of items, particularly for car assembly plants.  

Three of his four children, Andrew, Tim and Felicity, are associated with the company. His other son, Martin, nowadays works for himself. After Elemer handed over the reins, when a friend asked about his new project, he quipped that: "I've talked to St. Peter, He is waiting for me. My heart won't allow me to stay!" The tenacious achiever, the happy natured man, Elemer Kozma, departed on 14 November, 2003 with a substantial corporate legacy.

Original publication

  • unpublished, 2011

Related Thematic Essay

Citation details

Attila Urmenyhazi, 'Kozma, Elemér (1929–2003)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/kozma-elemer-14031/text24975, accessed 19 September 2017.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2017

Elemér Kozma, n.d.

Elemér Kozma, n.d.

photo supplied by family