|Country of Origin||Hungary|
|Date of Birth||1935|
|Year of Arrival in Australia||1957|
|Submitted by||Attila Urmenyhazi|
Story: A stellar career from humble beginnings as machine tool tradesman to extraordinary career advancement. Newcastle based founder of major ship repairs and dockyard companies, large employer, owner-entrepreneur-industrialist specializing in Australian Navy contracts.
Stephen (István) was a country boy from Farmos, a village 80 km East of Budapest. Following his long apprenticeship in an engineering works in Budapest, he qualified as tradesman toolmaker fitter and turner. The historic and bloody Hungarian Revolution in 1956 started when Soviet tanks and troops indiscriminately fired at freedom seeking, mass protesting unarmed civilians like students, workers and citizenry. This eruption was to be ruthlessly crushed in two weeks, after which Stephen and his soon to be wife girl-friend Gizella managed to cross the border to Austria to become refugees like 200,000 of their countrymen. The couple chose to migrate to Australia in preference to Canada, arriving by ship in 1957. They stayed at Bonegilla (VIC.) refugee camp until he went to Newcastle (NSW) to look for work in that industrial town.
BHP was his first employer but he later joined Ullman Engineering as a machinist. In 1962 he bought Ullman’s and went on to build his empire, Forgács Engineering, a business that is now one of Australia’s largest privately owned shipbuilding, repair and heavy engineering companies; a company that trades internationally and is a major supplier to the Australian Defence Force and has its headquarters in Newcastle. Forgács employs about 1250 people at seven industrial sites and shipyards in NSW and Queensland. Stephen Forgács acquired some of Australia’s most sought-after marine sites and infrastructure in the 1980s and 1990s on his way to creating an international company run from the Port of Newcastle. About 65% of Forgác’s work is now for the Australian Navy, notably the air warfare destroyer block build contract, on which Forgacs employs about 700 people in Newcastle. The company refits cruise liners at its Brisbane dock, manufactures mining truck bodies in Gladstone and rail locomotive underframes in Newcastle.
Stephen was an innovator, a non-conformist individual with strong conviction and principles. He subscribed to the KISS principle: keep it simple, stupid. His approach to business was never complicated, and this simplicity led to impressive growth and national importance. He saw opportunities where others failed. He operated the Newcastle floating dock and in 1999 bought the Brisbane Cairncross Dockyard. In 2010 Mr Forgács was named manufacturer of the year at the Hunter Manufacturing Awards, but he never sought recognition and shunned the limelight. While he contributed so much to Newcastle and to Australia he was always a proud Hungarian-Australian and a strong advocate for his country of birth and its people. Stephen and his wife Gizelle had nothing when they came to Australia, not even the ability to speak English, except energy and a burning desire to succeed in life. His motto in business was: ‘The key is to balance best worker conditions and international business competitiveness’. So, when Stephen Forgács took over Newcastle Shipyard and Floating Dock in 1987, he first forged amicable working arrangements with several unions who represented the workers. He negotiated with them to create a one-union site, which he considered the most efficient way to work.
Stephen never forgot his early life as apprentice and later as a tradesman and thus strived to provide best opportunity to upcoming apprentices which counted a total of 120 in 2012. The tireless worker-businessman-empire builder, the Hungarian-Australian Stephen was an altruist who helped many Hungarians who came his way and ensured they have a better start than he did. One of his last requests of his treating doctor was to make him better so he could go back to work. He maintained his dignity and quiet resignation to the end.
Mr Stephen Forgács passed away on August 3, 2012 in Newcastle. His memorial mass was held at Christ Church Cathedral.