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Business on a handshake

Over four decades ago two industry veterans, one in extraction, the other in civil contracting, crossed paths and sealed a huge deal on a handshake and trust. By Alan Titchall.

GEORGE CUNNINGHAM started work in the quarry industry at Horokiwi Quarry in Wellington in 1952 and has recently retired after over six decades in extraction.

When he read the profile on civil contracting veteran Arnold Bayliss (aka Mr Airport) in the May issue he remembered a deal he did with him supplying metal for the Auckland Airport extension contract in 1973.

That year Arnold moved to Auckland where Downers was building the Auckland International Airport runway extension.

George at Puketutu Island Quarry with the late Murray Cohen.

“At that time we had developed the Puketutu Island concrete aggregate production unit after taking over the quarry in 1967.

“Our owners, Wilkins & Davies, had built the original airport in a joint venture with Taylor Woodrow back in the 1962-1965 era, and were determined to get the tender for the extension. They came to me and said: ‘What price can you supply us aggregate for concrete?’ for the tender.

“We ran an independent operation and I decided not to give our owners any concession and I worked out a price for our aggregate for that job and I said, ‘that’s it’.

“It was the same price we gave all the extension tenderers, such as Fletchers, Downers, and McConnell Dowell.

“Right from day one from when we bought the quarry we decided to call it the Puketutu Island Quarry and not mention the name the Wilkins & Davies on any documentation.

“We felt this would have given us a disadvantage because there were people that didn’t like Wilkins & Davies as competitors in the construction industry.

“As a supplier we kept our individuality pretty much right through my time at Puketutu Island.

“Our resource was a basalt – and a pretty competent basalt. We got under way with concrete aggregates supplying ready-mix concrete in Avondale. And that’s where we cut our teeth on producing concrete aggregates and we had been doing that for a couple of years already.

A Roadmakers’ Euclid 16TDT being push loaded by an Allis-Chalmers HD-16 Auckland International Airport.  (Photo courtesy of Richard Campbell)

“Downers eventually won the contract. So we sat quietly until about three weeks later a car drove into the quarry and a chap got out and introduced himself as Arnold Bayliss and said he want to talk about the supply of aggregates for the airport extension.

“At that time there were about four other quarries able to supply that product. There was Downers at Wiri under Harry Tapper who was a manager there and Winstones at Lunn Avenue. Stevensons also had a good operation at Mt Smart.

“We had a mileage advantage on delivery, so I said, the price I gave you at the time of the tender holds.

“He replied that they had decided to accept our price.

“I was a bit surprised as they had a quarry just around the corner. Then we did have a distinct advantage over distance and cartage costs. In those days Downers’ supply route from its quarry was back out to the Great South Road and down through old Papatoetoe.

“Stevenson’s Mt Smart supply would have had to come through Onehunga and over rickety old Mangere bridge which had weight restrictions on it. Winstone’s were a bit too far away in any case to swing through from Lunn Avenue to be competitive delivering at the airport. We were only about nine kilometres from the point of use. So it was economics that won the day.

“Arnold had Downers’ concrete technical manager with him who was going to be in charge of mixing the concrete at the airport through an onsite plan. He had looked at our aggregate and was pretty happy with the product and asked us to be ready to supply in two months. Arnold and I shook hands and they left.

“Two months goes and we get an order number in the mail for supply products and we started the job.

“Then Wilkins & Davies head office management came over and asked for the contract documents.

“I said we don’t have any as I have shaken hands with Arnold about the supply and we’re ready to go.

“They chastised me something terrible. They said what if they reneg on the deal? I said that cuts both ways. Downers has to rely upon us and we have to rely upon them.

“Anyway, the contract went on and we did the job – probably 230,000 tonnes or yards, whatever the measurement was in those days. We didn’t have a weigh bridge so it was probably yards.

“At the end of the job, Arnold drove in a week or so after they’d finished taking delivery of concrete aggregates, shook my hand and said: ‘Thanks very much for your cooperation of support and supply’.

“Your May Contractor article also mentioned he worked on the upgrade of the New Plymouth airport. I recall us supplying basecourse from Taumarunui for this project. We produced it from Whanganui river gravels and freighted it to New Plymouth in railway wagons.

“I think Arnold was also the client at that time, but I didn’t have any direct dealing with him.

“So that was my enduring memory of Arnold Bayliss.

“There was no retention money, no arguments over quality and I found that he was a very very nice guy to deal with. In fact, one of the best I’ve dealt with in a supply situation where everyone wants to haggle.”

Earlier days at Puketutu Island Quarry.
This article first appeared in Contractor July 2017.

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