Celebrating 40 years of success

What started out as a ‘one man band’ 40 years ago has grown to become one of the largest, privately-owned contracting companies in the country. MARY SEARLE looks back to how it all began.

September_175.jpgForty years ago this month, Bill Hurlstone of Egmont Village in Taranaki acquired a Caterpillar D6 bulldozer and diesel Land Rover and Hurlstone Earthmoving was born.

Bill had started his career with a mechanical apprenticeship at WR Phillips, spending nine years with the company. While there, he also did a bit of work on the side for a local contractor, Don Marsh, undertaking mechanical repairs and driving a bulldozer. Marsh eventually offered him a job and two years later, in September 1969, sold him the dozer and Land Rover and 26-year-old Bill Hurlstone was out on his own.

The first job he tackled was the Kapuni-New Plymouth condensate pipeline for Fletchers, at $7 an hour dry hire. From there he tackled farm work around Egmont Village – filling creeks, making tracks and bush clearing.

Around Christmas that year Bill began work at Whitecliffs on the gas pipeline which was being installed from Kapuni to Auckland, taking his wife Teresa and baby son Dean to a bach in Tongoporutu to be with him for this job.

Hurlstone_8.jpgThe company slowly began to expand with the purchase of a second bulldozer, an Allis Chalmers HD 6EP, and Bill’s first employee was hired to drive it. The company continued with farm work.

The first civil contract for Hurlstone Earthmoving was the Henwood Road Realignment in 1972 for the Taranaki County Council. A Carryall scraper was purchased to go behind the D6, and although this “contraption” was not Bill’s best purchase, it did the job and the project was completed on time and to a high standard – a theme that would continue throughout the years.

Over the next six months, the work simply dried up. In that time Bill had banked $10,000 – quite a lot of money in those days.

“Of course you had to pay tax on it, and then the tax man thought you were going to make that much for the next six months…

Hurlstone_1.jpg“It would have been easy to have just spent it – you could have bought a new car for around $1000,” says Bill.

It was a steep learning curve for a young man and new business, but resisting the temptation to spend what he’d earned meant Hurlstone Earthmoving survived the quiet times and continued to prosper when the work picked up.

In 1973 the company carried out its first subdivision contract, and throughout the 70s constructed numerous residential subdivisions throughout the Taranaki region, including their first industrial subdivision for the New Plymouth City Council near the old airport.

Contracts for the oil and gas industry played a significant role in putting Hurlstone Earthmoving on the map. The site works at the Kapuni ammonia urea plant near Hawera in 1980 was the company’s first $1 million project and the start of years of success in this specialist industry. 

Hurlstone_2.jpgThroughout the 80s Hurlstones expanded rapidly as the search for oil in Taranaki intensified. The company developed sites for many exploration wells, did the reinstatement and site works for the methanol plant at Waitara Valley, completed Stage 2 of the New Plymouth northern outlet, the McKee production station and was a subcontractor for the civil works at Motunui gas-to-gasoline.

“I know for the methanol contract we weren’t the cheapest, but I just think that we got on well with the client and they were happy with our work.”

“We’ve always tried to do a quality job as it was meant to be done - or better if we can. We never take shortcuts,” Bill says.

All the energy work came to an abrupt end with the introduction of Rogernomics in the late 80s. This forced the company to look for work elsewhere, leading to the move north and the company’s first Auckland contract on Redoubt Road for the Manukau City Council.

Bill brought some of his staff and plant up from Taranaki for this project and the company has since become well established in the City of Sails.

Hurlstone_3.jpgThe mantle has now passed to Bill’s son Dean, who bought out the company in 2004 after the passing of Teresa. Bill has since retired, although he was spotted driving a D6 during a very busy last earthworks season at the company’s own industrial subdivision in Bell Block, New Plymouth.

Today, Dean Hurlstone has propelled the Hurlstone Group into one of the largest contracting entities currently in operation in New Zealand. He has led the company through an unprecedented period of growth and diversification with astute business acumen and an innovative approach to business. Dean now has around 120 staff and 150 pieces of equipment. Dean has invested significantly in plant and mobile crushers and the company now boasts one of the largest, modern Caterpillar fleets in the country.

Dean continued his strategy of growth and expansion with the acquisition of Hayes Earthmoving in October 2007. He retained the services of company founder John Hayes, who has more than 40 years of extensive earthmoving and civil construction experience, including major tunnelling contracts for rail, major highway realignments, forest roading, wind farm and hydro contracts.

Hurlstone_4.jpgHurlstone now has offices in Auckland, New Plymouth, Napier, Wanganui and Melbourne. The head office has relocated to Auckland and is situated in the recently completed Highbrook Business Park in East Tamaki, a 107 hectare subdivision that Hurlstone’s began constructing in late 2004 for Goodmans. The Highbrook development is one of the largest industrial subdivisions ever undertaken in New Zealand and the contract value exceeded $50,000,000, covering three project stages over four-and-a-half years.

The company’s work in Auckland has further enhanced their growing reputation as a key player in the industry on a number of the large roading projects around the city, such as Grafton Gully motorway project for Fletcher Construction and the State Highway 20 Mt Roskill extension for Fulton Hogan.

Hurlstone_5.jpgThe company is still busy in the energy sector. It’s seems the company has come full circle from that first condensate pipeline job in 1970 – Hurlstone’s two largest jobs on the books at the moment are both high pressure gas pipelines – one for Origin Energy in New Plymouth and another for Vector in Mt Wellington, Auckland.

The company’s 40th anniversary will be celebrated with a party this month. Joining Bill and Dean will be friends, clients, fellow contractors, and suppliers such as Goughs, which has provided the company with much of its machinery throughout the years, as well as the company’s loyal staff. Some of these include 78-year-old Phil Fleming, who’s been driving graders for the company for more than 20 years, earthworks foreman Bernard Morgan who’s been with the company for over 30 years, and Ernest Wray, Paul Benton, Ian George and Wayne Busby who were also with Bill Hurlstone all those years ago.

Now, the company’s focus is to build on its proud history by continuing to offer an innovative approach to civil contracting across a diverse range of services, yet never losing sight of the traditional family values and integrity which are fundamental to the Hurlstone business. 

Contractor Vol.33  No.8  September 2009
All articles on this website are copyright to Contrafed Publishing Co. Ltd.