As of this year’s CCNZ AGM, Tony Pike will step into the role of president. He’s a well-known name in the industry, having held senior roles on a number of landmark projects throughout the country. Tony talks to Mary Searle Bell.
Tony’s career began when he got a job with Richardson Drilling, working on the construction of Ewen Bridge in Lower Hutt.
“I was a bit of a late starter, I think I was about 24, and was the gofer on site,” he says.
“I did it for a couple of years and I really liked it – I liked construction and I liked heavy infrastructure.”
He moved to Taranaki after getting a job with Works Infrastructure. A little later the company gave him a project manager role in Nelson where it was building a number of marinas.
“That gave me a taste for big projects. They’re great – if you like accountability and if you’re a bit entrepreneurial, you can take advantage of the opportunities they present.
“I also loved the team environment. You’re nothing without good people.”
Tony then took a job with Brian Perry Civil in Wellington. Always keen for something new, Tony never let an opportunity pass by.
“I was sitting in the office one day and the boss walked in and said, ‘I have a new job, who wants it?’ I immediately said yes, even though I had no idea what it was.”
That job was six months in Timaru building a new tank farm. The deadline was tight and unmoving, and the role high pressure and Tony absolutely loved it.
“As well as the engineering complexities, I had to build the team, manage the deadline and budget – there was a lot of responsibility. But we had a lot of fun along the way, and I got a big buzz everyday seeing the project develop.”
Tony’s success on this particular project saw him pulled out of Brian Perry Civil and rolled into parent company Fletchers, where they sent him round the country on various big projects.
“I was the project engineer on the Hutt Valley wastewater treatment plant, which was challenging thanks to the amount of underground work we had to do in an area with a high water table.
“Then I headed to Northland for the construction of the deep water port, Northport. That was a career-making project. It was very exciting – we had a great team, and it was the biggest budget I’d ever had.
“The project was a bit of a wrench for me though. We were building on a beautiful golden beach, and I decided then and there that when it came to engineering I would make as little impact on the environment as I could.”
His next project took him to Auckland and the Freeflow Alliance for the Grafton Gully project. This was the country’s first alliance and a new way of thinking for the industry. The Upper Harbour Bridge project followed before a return to Northport to build a second wharf.
And, while he describes it as a really successful project, it wasn’t without its challenges.
“We had 3000 tonnes of sheet pile wall turn up from China all at once and had to unload the ship in just 24 hours. No one slept.
“We all worked non-stop, operating like a Swiss watch.”
That project won the National Project of the Year at the then-NZCF awards, and Tony’s next project also went on to win the same coveted prize.
It was the Tauranga Harbour Crossing – something the community really wanted and so they were hugely supportive, which Tony says was nice for a change.
He was then asked to manage Fletcher’s screw piling company, Piletech, just as the Canterbury earthquakes hit. Screw piles had performed really well during the quakes and the business got really busy in Christchurch for a couple of years.
Finally, in 2012 he moved up to his ultimate position within Fletchers.
“I was appointed operations manager. This was a role I had always aspired to, as it puts you across the whole business.”
Subsequent changes in Fletchers leadership altered the culture of the company. Tony was thinking about moving on when he got a call from a recruitment agent, looking for someone to lead Leightons’ business in New Zealand.
“Leightons had come across from Australia in partnership with Fletchers for the Central Motorway Project and had never left. However, their approach had always been project by project.
“Now they were looking for a more solid Kiwi presence and they wanted a local to head it up, with a focus on mid- to large-sized civil projects.”
Rapid growth followed and a great team was established, however, over time the corporate focus changed so after five years Tony decided to it was time to move on.
“I contemplated a lot of options, from going out on my own through to a change in industry, but after a bit of time thinking, I concluded that the contracting industry was under my skin and I liked working in a constructive environment with a strong culture.
“So I went looking for that.
“Downer had a space for a project director and I liked the way it operated, its culture, and where it was headed, so I joined in October last year and since then have become the GM of major projects.”
Tony’s relationship with CCNZ has evolved alongside his career.
“Back in the day it was all about competition with our mates – once a year we’d connect with the industry, put in for an award, have a laugh and let our hair down for a bit.
“When I got the operations manager role at Fletchers, I wanted to have a bit of a say in how the industry works so I joined the Auckland executive and the national executive at about the same time.
“It was very interesting to learn how an industry representative group works – the political side, the considerations of everyone in the industry from SMEs to the big guys. It felt a bit like an apprenticeship at first.”
Now he is president, Tony says his first priority is the health of the civil construction industry.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges over the past 10 years, from earthquakes to Covid. I feel like we’ve been on a constant treadmill of activity.
“Our industry is on the front end of any economic recovery and is able to distribute stimulus right across society. It is up to us to step up.
“We have to listen to our funders and have to deliver what they say we need to achieve.
“Representing CCNZ requires a mindset flip from being ‘Downer’ or ‘Fletchers’ to being NZ Inc. When you’re in an operational piece of the industry, you can make what you do really matter.
“In an industry body you feel less empowered – what you say makes good sense but there’s always competing opinions and politics!
“My job is to ensure the CCNZ message is simple and consistent – what we say is thoughtful, accurate, and can be relied on to reflect the industry.”
Tony says the country’s recovery from the pandemic will likely shape his presidency.
“Our borders are closed and complete industries have disappeared. This is very different from a usual economic crash.
“We have to think wider than our industry. We need to rebuild the whole of New Zealand.”
However, Tony and the CCNZ board will always have the membership at heart.
“We have a number of members struggling already. For some, 2021 could be even worse.
“We need to support our contractors and help them achieve a sustainable contracting environment, with risk profiles allocated properly – we don’t want any members taken advantage of.”
Training and development will remain another priority for CCNZ, and Tony says there’s an opportunity to convert people from industries heavily impacted by Covid-19 to infrastructure. For example, converting airport and tourism machinery operators to construction machinery operators.
Tony also wants to renew the association’s focus on sustainability.
“As an industry we’re generally pretty good, but I believe CCNZ could and should have a bigger influence on this, sharing best practice and promoting practical and workable solutions.
“During lockdown we saw a number of environmental benefits from our behaviour change. I believe there is a duty on us not to forget this and to do what we can – whether it’s using sustainable construction technology or simply saying ‘no’ to polystyrene – to ensure a future for our kids.”
In the September issue of Contractor we will run an interview with past-president, Tim Ford.