A is for aptitude

They were a couple of young tearaways who escaped the education system at the earliest opportunity, but went on to found the highly respected Rangiora civil construction firm of B-G Contracting.   BY HUGH DE LACY

BG.jpgBrian “Blue” Inwood and Gavin Hayton became mates from the day they started in Primer One at Belfast School, on the northern outskirts of Christchurch, only to discover they were not cut out for the disciplines of academia.

By the time he was 13 Hayton was wagging school three days a week to work on a dairy farm, with his parents only finding out a year later when he bought a car he was not even legally entitled to drive. Inwood stuck it out at Papanui High School until his 15th birthday when he quit to work at the Belfast freezing works.

Though both of them hated school and were grateful to put it behind them, they were remarkably quick learners, and possessed both plenty of self-confidence and the drive to make the most of the considerable abilities that education system had failed to tap into.

Hayton soon moved out of dairy farming and went to work at the old Stoneyhurst sawmill at Chaney’s Corner. Inwood wasn’t long in realising there wasn’t much future on the chain at the freezing works, so left after about a year to start in at the lowest levels of the civil construction industry, ditch-digging. He joined one of the big drainage crews, comprising up to 30 men, that did the bulk of the water and sewerage reticulation donkey-work in those days before hydraulic diggers arrived on the scene. It was the most basic of training grounds, but it gave Inwood a fundamental understanding of the dynamics of drainage and civil construction.

With the basics of the industry under his belt, Inwood took jobs with a series of leading Christchurch contracting companies, beginning with Ryan Brothers, which was about the biggest contracting business in Canterbury at the time. The company later moved into mining, eventually evolving into Nelson’s Lime and Marble (L&M) which today is a significant and partially listed player in oil and gas exploration, as well as being a pioneer in the gasification of the Otago/Southland lignite deposits.

Inwood’s stint with Ryans’ was followed by others with O’Shaughnessy and Son and A Edmonds and Son before he wound up with March Construction. With each of these employers he displayed not only a natural aptitude for the work but also leadership, to the degree that he quickly found himself appointed foreman. At March Construction he got his first sniff of management when he was promoted first to supervisor and then to a position on the company’s board, which he held through most of the 1980s.

Once firmly established at March, Inwood persuaded his old schoolmate Hayton to join the firm, and together they set about absorbing everything they could about the civil construction industry, with an eye to eventually going out on their own.

That time finally came in January 1982 when they quit March and set up B-G Contracting with the princely capital of $20 each, all they had left from their last Christmas holiday pay. Nor were they well-endowed with machinery. Hayton owned an XA Falcon car with a towbar, and together they built themselves a tandem-axle trailer which they still own to this day. To that meagre inventory they added shovels and a wheelbarrow, and they were in business.

One of the first jobs B-G Contracting landed was with Christchurch Readi-mix Concrete where manager Roly Grant had them do the concrete cut-downs and kerbing and channelling at the entrance to the company depot. Next they landed a sub-soil drainage project at Porritt Park for the Christchurch City Council.

Within a year of forming the company, the pair bought their first major item of plant, a Massey Ferguson 50 tractor with a back-hoe, for $10,000.

“I lost more sleep over wondering where I was going to get the money to pay for that tractor than I did in the rest of my life,” Hayton says.

But find the money they did, and soon afterwards added to it a Massey Ferguson 40 with a front-end loader. With those machines they landed their first major project, the kerbing, channelling, under-channel piping and footpaths on Barbadoes Street, from Edgware Road to Bealey Avenue, for the city council. They not only completed it within budget and ahead of schedule but also did the same for a couple of other smaller council jobs they took on at the same time.

“That council work was what really set us up,” Hayton told Contractor. “After that we never looked back.”

For the next 10 years they continued on a relatively small scale with just themselves and a couple of employees, but by then they’d established their credentials across a range of civil construction services from drainage to water and sewerage treatment and pumping stations. About the only things they didn’t continue with or take on – and still don’t do – are road-sealing and kerbing and channelling. Instead they subcontract the sealing to Fulton Hogan and the kerbing and channelling to Christchurch contractor Tony Smith of AE Smith Contracting.

Today B-G Contracting, from its Flaxton Road base in Rangiora, has an annual turnover of between $15 million and $20 million, employs about 70 staff and operates 120 items of plant, much of it John Deere machinery and the rest Hitachi. The machinery inventory includes 14 excavators, two bulldozers, 10 loaders, five big rollers, two graders, five dump trucks, 10 other trucks ranging from water carriers to six-wheelers, and 35 runabouts.

Though water and sewerage reticulation has been a major activity over the years, the company has lately ridden the housing boom through a succession of large-scale sub-division projects on the rapidly-expanding northern outskirts of Christchurch, including the Northwood residential sub-division and the adjacent Styx Mill Country Estates. Northwood, completed two years ago, was a high-profile RD Hughes Developments project beside State Highway 1, involving the development of 685 lots in five stages over a period of five years. It was the biggest sub-division in Christchurch in 20 years, and B-G’s involvement was particularly important during stage one, which included the installation of the infrastructure for the entire project.  Styx Mill, completed 18 months ago for Carlin Enterprises, comprised two gated communities totalling 290 lots.

Closer to home at Rangiora was the 52-lot Northbrook Waters Water Ski Estate. The first subdivision of its kind in Christchurch, it involved transforming a big paddock, which previously had carried only livestock, into a large residential area surrounding a man-made water-skiing lake.

More recently the company has begun to expand outside of Christchurch, firstly to the construction of a recirculating sand filter sewerage treatment station for 130 homes at the Terrace Downs Golf Resort on the banks of Lake Coleridge, west of Christchurch, and more recently to the handsome Ocean Ridge Estate next to the golf course at Kaikoura.

Early this year B-G took a slice of the buoyant Otago tourism development by starting the $10 million Peninsula Bay sub-division at Wanaka for the Infinity Investment Group.

For the man on the spot, Blue Inwood, this involves dividing his six-day week evenly between Wanaka and Kaikoura, but it’s these upmarket projects where quality is of the essence that he and Hayton get the most satisfaction from.

“People are the key to success in this business,” Inwood says. “Most important are our own people, but also the tight group of subcontractors we take on because we know they operate to high standards. Out motto is, ‘A top-quality job on time’.”

Hayton and Inwood may not regard themselves as exemplars of the state education system, but over their 25 years in the industry they’ve certainly proven they know a thing or two about civil construction.

Contractor Vol.31 No.8 September 2007
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