Farm boy to CEO: The life & times of Neil Ridgway

Our past and present
Farm boy to CEO: The life & times of Neil Ridgway

Asona’s owner and founder, Neil Ridgway, didn’t set out to make ceilings and wall coverings. But, with an innate curiosity and a knack for innovation, he was destined to do something interesting.

Neil grew up on a farm and, despite spending his life in big cities all over the world, he says he still misses it sometimes. Being a farm boy made him independent, self-reliant, and interested in how things worked. This led to a love of science at school, followed by Waikato Tech to study microbiology.

He started his working life in a white coat, working as an industrial scale microbiologist for a pharmaceutical company. But he soon realised that he didn’t want to plug away in a lab working for someone else for the rest of his life.

His goal was focussed on management, or running his own businesses, and that the best way to move up to a management role was to start in sales. That led to a technical sales role with a London-based ceilings company, which gave him a grounding in the skills he would later use at Asona.

Neil moved back to NZ with his wife in 1988 and got a role as National sales manager for USG. He travelled throughout Asia and the Pacific, then transferred to Europe in 1997. Getting his hands dirty to develop new products to help turn around a struggling manufacturing plant in Belgium gave him the technical knowledge and links to material suppliers that would come in handy later.

Back in NZ in 2003, Neil realised it was time to start his own business. He started in his garage, playing around with materials, testing acoustics, and doing production trials. His first efforts were technically interesting but not all that functional. He eventually settled on a glass matt composite and moved out of the garage to start a factory with a couple of employees.

Neil and his team then developed and launched a range of products unique to NZ, started to get attention from architects, moved into bigger factory, and hired more staff. Asona was born! Patents, more production machinery, and industry awards followed.

Twenty years later, Asona is a leader in the acoustic ceiling & wall industry, and Neil Ridgway is still at the helm. Still creative and driven, his focus these days is on making materials that are better for the environment, rather than simply making a profit. It’s a long way from the farm, but it’s a fitting place for a man with a passion for innovation. 

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