Fraser May talks to Tim Ford about his long career in civil construction and his time as CCNZ president.
Tim Ford says he is is proud to represent the civil construction industry, and it’s an industry he has been a part of since completing his NZ Certificate in Civil Engineering in 1984.
His first job in civil was for Kaipara Excavators in Auckland on a project to construct a marina at Pine Harbour in east Auckland. Work included site supervision, on and offshore survey and general engineering support.
“It was tremendously challenging to start in the marine environment. In that project, I learned to be respectful of mother nature.”
Tim saw the project through to completion and got a tremendous amount of experience before joining Ross Reid Contractors in Auckland in 1988 for a four-year stint on earthworks and subdivisions, learning the ins and outs of contract management and project claims in addition to site engineering.
In 1992, he encountered Fulton Hogan as a new player in the region while working on a subdivision. Tim was impressed enough to send his CV through to the Waikato branch, and joined the company as a construction department manager with 16 staff.
His career with Fulton Hogan progressed, with many moves back and forth between Auckland and the Waikato. Tim eventually worked his way up to become Auckland Regional Manager under Cos Bruyn in the late 90s, then took on the Northern Regional general manager role Bruyn left when he moved on to Downer in 2004.
And in 2016, Tim was appointed to the role of executive general manager for Fulton Hogan’s Regional operations across the country from Cape Reinga to Bluff.
From State Highway maintenance to acquiring new businesses, Tim worked on a huge range of projects, contracts and initiatives. His latest Fulton Hogan venture was managing the acquisition of Stevenson, a large family business with more than 100 years of history, as chief executive over its transition to become part of Fulton Hogan.
He says his time on the construction front lines prepared him well for a career in senior roles.
“I first learnt my trade on the tools. It was site driven, a lot of the time I was working out of Portacoms.
“It gave me a good grounding on how to work with people and machinery. Some people want the top job straight away, but there’s a lot of value in doing time on the tools.
“Each step was a massive learning curve, but I applied project management skills, then made sure I had teams around me with the right experience and expertise. My background in working on construction sites complemented their work.”
Tim’s advice for those building their careers is to set goals, be prepared to move around and take opportunities, be prepared to put in the time required to get the job done and consider work-lifestyle balance very carefully to guard against burnout.
“There’s a difference between the roles. When you’re at the front line of operations, you’re tasked with delivering projects to your customer. In senior roles, you have to delegate to others. Your focus moves away from the physical act of building to getting your team structure right.
“I’m very proud of the people who reported to me and I’m very happy to see the results they are getting – and their achievements.”
He also strongly believes in the power of feedback and personal responsibility and one of his favourite sayings is “The standard you walk past is the standard you set,” which is something he traces back to his years chairing the Fulton Hogan Health and Safety committee.
“If I go to a site and see a situation that is incorrect or non-compliant and don’t say anything to correct the problem, that indicates I’m accepting of the situation.”
Tim has been able to bring that approach and the governance experience he had gained to Civil Contractors New Zealand in his time on its executive council, and as president, making a massive contribution to how the organisation operates and supports members.
His direct involvement started in 2015 shortly following the amalgamation of the Contractors Federation and Roading New Zealand, joining when Bob Fulton stepped down from executive council.
“We had a great debate about what the new organisation should be called. I could see there was a lot of untapped potential at a time when I was looking to put something back into the wider industry and share my perspective.
“This is an industry that has looked after me well.”
Tim took on the role of vice president when Brian Warren was elected president. He says a lot of progress came from the meeting where he, Brian and newly appointed chief executive Peter Silcock sat down to draft up a new team and organisational structure to take the organisation forward.
Tim says the CCNZ is now closer to reaching its potential in a mature place where he is happy to pass the reins on to newly elected president Tony Pike (interviewed in the October issue of Contractor). He points to CCNZ’s role in the Covid-19 response as a key indicator of how the new structure created an organisation that could respond quickly to challenges and deliver real value for members.
Tim believes the organisation has moved with the times and taken a resilient and agile direction, now communicating through webinars, online meetings, websites and social media platforms.
Project after project has been completed, he says, from the launch of technical handbooks and a national career promotion to a new membership system. Increased media and advocacy efforts have secured recognition amongst government and media as the authoritative, credible voice of industry.
The new structure has enabled the organisation to front-foot challenges rather than react to them. Ford sees CCNZ’s role as streamlining whole-of-industry thinking centrally and creating working models that suit all players in civil construction, and in a way individual companies cannot.
And at a time when CCNZ can contribute to new entities such as the Construction Accord and Infrastructure Commission.
“There are certainly a lot of challenges that lie ahead, but this is where CCNZ is going to come into its own.
“Where individual contractors go off lobbying the Government, they will achieve limited results, but through CCNZ we can get better leverage and better results. This is where, as NZ Inc, we need to unite and work as a team going forward.”
Tim adds that some challenges are ‘universal’, and opportunities for growth often come from pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.
Just as it has been for an industry veteran who is far from flamboyant, yet has risen to the challenges of not just managing a major civil construction business, but also representing the civil construction industry as president of CCNZ.