If there’s one Canterbury company bound to survive the current post-quake economic tightening, it’ll be the old family firm of C. Lund and Son. Hugh de Lacy looks closer.
In 1934 Charles Lund might have been just another fresh-out-of-his-time carpenter bravely and briefly launching out on his own, but for the influence of the first of two women family members who have ensured the business he founded has a serious chance of surviving the current squeeze in the construction industry.
The business nous of those women, backed by the trade and professional skills of four generations of their men, has seen C. Lund and Son ride out the wild waves of quake-battered Canterbury that has sunk such hefty vessels as Mainzeal, Ebert, Corbel, Arrow and – very nearly – Fletcher.
The key to Lund’s survival has been to stick to its knitting as not just a family construction company, nearly all of whose shares remain in family hands, but one in which the finances were handled by talented women who could read the rapidly-changing trends in the industry, and adapt to them.
Charles Lund billed himself as “the conscientious builder” when he started out on his own 85 years ago, extending a family involvement in building that went back generations.
But Lund would have been the first to admit that he was no businessman, and he might have stuttered along as a one-man operation were it not for his daughter, Thora Lund, who in effect ran the slowly expanding business for him, and went on to do so for 60 years.
Thora Lund was there to guide the enterprise through the generational transitions from Charles to his only son Ray, then to Ray’s sons Bruce and Ross, and on to Bruce’s daughter Joanne Macgregor who runs the company today with her husband Andrew Macgregor.
Senior quantity surveyor Wayne Radburnd is also a shareholder, and now the fifth generation is represented in the company workforce by the Macgregors’ son Jamie.
Charles and Thora Lund got the business, initially residential building, off to a good start and were joined just before World War Two by Charles’ son Ray.
Charles died in 1944, and soon after the war Thora and Ray Lund took on a freshly returned veteran of the Battle of Cassino, Charlie Kenny, a surveyor and quantity surveyor.
While Thora brought precision and predictability to the financial management, and Ray ran the construction team, Kenny and a couple of other veterans became the schoolers of the young trainees brought in to form the basis of an expansion programme.
The ambition was mainly Ray Lund’s, and it was he who formed C. Lund and Son in 1955 with Thora Lund and Charlie Kenny among the shareholders, and with a focus on the new commercial building opportunities that were springing up everywhere throughout the South Island during the wool-driven post-war boom.
The expansion was well under way by the time Ray Lund retired and his two sons, Bruce and Ross, joined the firm.
Within a few years the firm’s completions included the Dominion Breweries’ plant in Timaru, the Chief Post Office in Nelson and the Christchurch Law Courts.
The last of those eventually led to the company shifting permanently to Christchurch after Ross Lund sold his shareholding to other family members, and Bruce Lund’s daughter Joanne and husband Andrew Macgregor took a controlling stake.
Both Macgregors had graduated with civil engineering honours from Canterbury University and, with Bruce Lund still on board, the focus switched first to the mostly government commercial works of the 1990s and 2000s, and then, after the 2010-2011 earthquakes, to the $40 billion rebuild of the shattered city.
Joanne Macgregor became as engrossed with the increasingly sophisticated administrative side of the business as her husband with the hands-on construction.
It was during the 1990s that C. Lund and Son, now with a staff exceeding a hundred, eyed up the $80 million Christchurch Hospital rebuild, only to lose the main tender bid to the like-sounding company which was already a Christchurch icon, C.S. Luney Ltd, itself in partnership with that other signature South Island building company, Fletcher.
Peeved at missing out on such a plumb job, Bruce Lund decided to try to beard the Luney lion in its den, setting up a meeting with the redoubtable then-octogenarian Charlie at the latter’s Bromley headquarters in Christchurch.
Bruce Lund recalls that Charlie Luney was “not over-awed” by his approach and, after keeping Lund waiting for quarter of an hour, “he bursts into the foyer with the words, ‘What do you want, young fella?’”
Bruce Lund confided that he was disappointed that Luney had chosen Fletcher as partner for the hospital joint venture, and suggested that, if the old man were considering retiring, Lund would buy his business.
“With that he exploded,” Lund tells Contractor, “slammed his hands on the table, jumped out of his chair and said ‘Never!’
“After he calmed down we had an enjoyable discussion, reinforcing the perils of borrowing money” – Luney never borrowed a cent in his life – “[then] he took me on a guided tour of his yard and we all lived happily ever after.”
Luney continued to exert a strong influence over his company until not long before his death in 2006 at the age of 101.
Lunds and Luneys went on to work side-by-side on projects including the Christchurch Hospital redevelopment in which Lunds a little later won the contract to build the Oncology Block, and on the development of Lancaster Park where Lunds built the South Stand, and Luneys the West Stand in another joint venture with Fletchers.
By then C. Lund and Son was established as a medium-large player in the South Island market, and might well have gone national with the quake rebuild, only to be stymied, it seemed, by the alternative procurement models and contracts for building projects that the Government insisted lead contractors sign up to.
This was a further development on the use of independent project managers on most large projects, itself a step towards the running of big companiesby computer-bound finance specialists with little experience of the actual building environment, and the resultant rash of collapses over the past few years.
C. Lund and Son was deemed too small to dance among the lead contractor elephants, and perhaps thankfully so given the number that have subsequently perished – Fletcher being the notable survivor, though it was a near thing.
Bruce Lund retired about 10 years ago, and Joanne Macgregor carries on the behind-the-scenes work pioneered by her great-aunt Thora Lund.
Today the Macgregors have C. Lund and Son nicely poised to thrive in the quieter economic climate that is emerging in the wake of the completed quake repairs.