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Working the dream

When your childhood passion is making things, the choice between following your father into a career in accountancy, or opting for an engineering degree is an easy one. By Mary Searle Bell.

AFTER COMPLETING HIGH school, Paul Herbison left his hometown of Whakatane and headed north to begin a Bachelor of Engineering degree at the University of Auckland, but later transferred to Carrington Polytechnic to complete a NZCE Civil instead.

“When I graduated, there weren’t many engineering jobs to be had, so my friend and I set up a business painting boats and doing underwater hull cleaning until I landed a cadetship as a surveying assistant with Harrison Grierson,” he says.

“My introduction to the world of engineering was at the Glenbrook Steel Mill on the stage two extension project setting out piles for the pile drivers – all 2200 of them.

“We had five, five-tonne diesel hammers banging away for three months. After that came the basement and bed foundations, which had to be constructed to millimetre accuracy.”

Then it was back to the design office for 18 months, working on plans for retirement villages, but with his engineering certificate finalised, Paul headed over the ditch to Australia.

His first Australian job was surveying and project engineering on a 16 kilometre stretch of road for the state roading authority in the tiny settlement of Elliot, 770 kilometres south of Darwin.

More importantly, while in Australia, he met wife-to-be Angela. Together they headed to the UK to work and travel. From a base in London Paul undertook a range of freelance work, including tunnelling, work on the British Library, and as site agent on an extension of a sewage treatment plant.

In 1990 the pair returned to New Zealand to get married and start a family. Paul got a job as project manager with Works Civil in Auckland, working on the Patiki to Te Atatu widening of State Highway 16 and the State Highway 1 extension at Bombay. This was followed by various project management roles with Works Civil, including three years as the branch manager for Kaipara.

In need of a change, in 1998 Paul took the role of general manager for Forest Roading Services – a joint venture between Highway Stabilizers and Smith & Davies.

The contract was a key one for Carter Holt Harvey, building and upgrading 220 kilometres of unsealed roads in 52 forests, from Tairua to North Cape. From a staff of three, the business grew rapidly to a staff of 20, plus another 100 or so indirect reports.

When that contract ended four years later, Paul moved into Highway Stabilizers and was seconded out to Downer for a few months, undertaking slip repairs in Northland.

In 2003 he transitioned into freelance engineering mode, continuing to work for Downer at the Ardmore and Huia wastewater treatment plant projects, a project he describes as “very complex”.

“Then I got a call from a friend saying he might need a hand on a project – that was the Springhill Prison earthworks, and we had 1.5 million cubic metres of dirt to move in five months.

“There were lots of challenges – soft soils and sediments. As well we had to construct access roads, a culvert and 20 kilometres of sub-surface drainage. It was about $45 million of work in seven months.”

The project was built by an alliance, and Paul was contracted to Henry Walker Elton. However, the company went into receivership during the project, and the work was taken over by Multiplex.

Once the earthworks were complete at Springhill, Paul went across to the Multiplex tendering team where he was involved in a number of tenders on both sides of the Tasman.

A few of the notable Australian tenders included the $500 million Alkimos wastewater treatment plant in Perth, the 3500 kilometre-long, $2.5 billion-plus Papua New Guinea to Queensland gas pipeline, and the site works proposal for the $2 billion Gunns pulp mill in Tasmania.

In New Zealand, the company won the Mangatawhiri Deviation project – seven kilometres of greenfield highway construction – and Paul went down to Waikato to help build it in 2006.

Around that time, he also took a trip to the USA where he scoped a piece of kit for the project – a Walk’n’Roll – a roller that is mounted on a grader. He told the salesman, Gerry Lyngby, he was thinking of buying one, to which Gerry replied, “Why don’t you sell them?”

“I gave him a short sharp response – those who know me will know what I said.

“I said I’m not a [bleeping] salesman, to which he said, ‘but you can talk…’.”

Intrigued, Paul returned home to think about it. He thought that New Zealand – even the whole of the Southern Hemisphere – was too small a territory to bother with, so he said to Gerry, “What about the rest of the world – everywhere except the USA and Canada?”, to which Gerry agreed.

So, in 2007, Walk’n’Roll International was established and the brand is now well established throughout the country, Australia and the Pacific.

Not one to say no to an opportunity, Paul soon followed this venture with a second business, Bison Industries, established in 2010, which trades commodities between China and the USA.

In 2014, following a meeting with Livio Pace, the owner of Boss Attachments Australia, the pair decided to combine resources. Today the two companies, operating as Boss Attachments, supply earthmoving, demolition and other attachments to the contracting, recycling, forestry and mining markets throughout New Zealand, Australia and the South Pacific and have a combined staff of more than 20.

Paul’s work with Boss Attachments has come in addition to his fulltime freelance engineering work. In the past few years he’s been involved with several significant projects, including Transmission Gully, Huntly Bypass, Hamilton Motorway, and Puhoi to Warkworth. But it’s time for a change and Paul has recently made the strategic decision to focus on Boss Attachments and relinquish his freelance hard hat.

“It’s been really great, and has fulfilled my childhood dream, but there are only so many hours in the day,” he says.

“Also, my boat has only done two hours this year – so I’ve got to correct that.”

This article first appeared in Contractor August 2017.

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