As a Dundas kid who earned his McMaster engineering degrees while taking part in the Canadian Navy’s officer-in-training program, Alf Zeuner didn’t have a typical university experience.
“My life was oriented toward the navy, not toward university,” admits Zeuner, who completed his B.Eng in Engineering Physics in 1980, then spent the next five years studying part-time between deployments to earn his Masters degree.
After 13 years of naval service as a navigation and watchkeeping officer on Canadian ships deployed in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, Zeuner returned to Hamilton to marry, start a family and put his engineering degrees to work.
Following a few years working as a project manager at an engineering firm, he and partner Gary Harvey founded Burlington’s AXYZ International in 1991.
Originally launched as a service company in the emerging CNC (computer numerical control) router system business, the pair quickly saw an opportunity to build better machines than the ones they were working on.
While that leap of faith eventually saw AXYZ grow into a leading global manufacturer of CNC routers that has now manufactured and sold more than 6,500 machines around the world, Zeuner says the early days had their challenges.
“You decide you know more about building a machine than anyone else, but of course, that’s not true,” he says laughingly. “But by the time you realize that you’re committed, so you just tough it out until you figure it out.”
As a business owner in need of engineers, Zeuner re-established his relationship with McMaster a few years ago. He connected with the co-op office and eventually brought three Mac grads aboard as permanent employees, with several others continuing to work through the co-op program.
Two of his three children also have McMaster degrees. Jeffrey earned a Masters of Occupational Therapy, while Christina graduated in May 2018 with her B.Eng in Chemical Engineering & Society. Michael has a computer science degree from Laurier.
Recently, Zeuner sold most of his interest in AXYZ. “I was looking around to what I might want to do to pay it back, as it were,” he says.
Eventually he decided to establish an endowment that would provide a bursary to a deserving McMaster Engineering student from a Hamilton inner city neighbourhood.
“My passion is to provide opportunities for kids in those areas to go to McMaster,” he says. “There are smart kids in those areas, but the system as it sits now is pretty inaccessible for a swath of the population. I hope this makes it more accessible.”