Thirty years on a high note

They don’t come much better than multi-award-winning Jim Juno. But his one low point in a career of achievement did contractors everywhere a tremendous service.   BY GAVIN RILEY

Juno.jpgMore than 17 years ago this magazine wrote excitedly about a little-known 35-year-old contractor based in the eastern Hutt suburb of Stokes Valley.

In the space of a few weeks the young man’s decommissioning of the 80-year-old Morton Dam in Wainuiomata had won him, successively, the Contractors’ Federation Wellington branch construction award and the small-company category in the federation’s Caltex national awards. 

The magazine conveniently overlooked the fact that it had taken the “newcomer” 13 years of hard, self-employed graft to become an overnight sensation, and that his abilities had already been recognised by his election the previous year to the Power Crane Association council.

But the magazine got it exactly right when it declared: “Jim Juno is one of a band of younger contractors whose intelligence, skills and hard work will enable the industry to advance with confidence into the 21st century.” 

Within four years of that statement Juno had become president of the Contractors’ Federation, following on from another young leader, John Rowell, and (like Rowell) making a strong contribution to preparing the industry for a new millennium.

What intrigued Contractor in its 1990 article was Juno’s approach to his craft. He operated with a staff of only five, most of whom he had trained himself after hiring them for their self-motivation; he believed in keeping overheads down and productivity and workmanship standards up; he owned little plant, preferring to hire subcontractors on an hourly or contract basis according to the demands of the project; he worked almost exclusively for local authorities and government departments (because he considered they offered proper tendering procedures and no in-house dealings); and he tendered for the type of work hardly anyone else wanted because of its technical difficulty and high risk.

Even before being “discovered” by Contractor, Juno had tackled a number of million-dollar-plus jobs. That prompted him in the article to make no apology for doing well materially and to state memorably: “When people grizzle at the money contractors make, they should always remember that no matter how efficiently contractors perform there’s a limit to how much they can make, but there’s no limit to how much they can lose…you can lose everything.”

Juno’s decommissioning of the 164-metre-long, 12.5-metre high, 485-million-litre-capacity Morton Dam was an accomplishment well above the norm for Caltex national award winners. The judges said the standard in the small category was the highest they had ever seen. Moreover, in the Wellington competition the Juno project had narrowly beaten what went on to become the national medium-category winner, John Rowell’s construction of the New Zealand hockey stadium all-weather playing field in Wellington.

It was also no secret that the Caltex judges rated a second Juno entry equally highly – his repairs to the Oporua spillway in the Wairarapa. Only the environmentally sensitive nature of the Morton Dam was believed to have given it the nod.

The following year Juno proved his 1990 brilliance was no fluke when he was again declared the winner of the Caltex small category, this time for his breakwater repair at Wellington’s Clyde Quay boat harbour.  And again he had a second high-calibre project entered – his Wellington-award-winning construction of a three-span concrete-and-structural steel bridge on a one-in-five gradient in the Hutt Valley.

Juno was in the news once more at the start of 1992 when his audacious joint venture with two-time Caltex winner Rowell beat off intense competition to capture a $7 million bridging and roading contract at Porirua, north of Wellington.

Juno knew he could handle the bridge and flyover construction, but what to do about the roading component? “I thought of John Rowell within 10 minutes of seeing the contract details,” he said later.

It was believed the duo’s revised tender was just $7000 ahead of their nearest competitor.

The project didn’t win a Caltex award, but Juno was back in the frame in 1996 when his 170-metre-long, four-lane, six-span Ewen Bridge replacement over the Hutt River received a “highly commended” in the medium-sized-company category.

However, the project cast a dark shadow. Juno’s demolition of the old Ewen Bridge following the building of the new bridge led dramatically to the nadir of his high-achieving career and provided a haunting reminder of his “you can lose everything” observation in that 1990 article.

He subcontracted the removal of the 1929 structure to a demolition company and a resource consent stated that the bridge had to be dismantled section by section and taken off site to protect the river environment. Unfortunately, while the work was in progress, parts of the bridge fell into the river and were not able to be removed till the next day.

This happened over a weekend while Juno was overseeing repairs to the Pahiatua town bridge and attending annual meetings of the Manawatu and Wairarapa branches of the Contractors’ Federation in his capacity as national president.

But J. Juno Construction, as the contractor, was judged responsible and was prosecuted by Wellington Regional Council for breaching the Resource Management Act (RMA).

Although such a case would normally have been held in the Environment Court, Juno contested the charge and elected to have the case heard before a jury in Wellington District Court.

After a 1998 hearing lasting six days and producing more than 300 pages of transcripts of evidence, the jury took just one and a half hours to find Juno’s company guilty. It was fined $20,000, though the judge castigated the council’s claim for more than $88,000 costs as “astronomic” and instructed that detailed costs be submitted to him in writing.

It was immediately obvious from the rapidly reached “people’s” verdict that the RMA was a “strict liability” law under which there was virtually no room for a transgressor to manoeuvre in court. In that respect Juno had done contractors everywhere a considerable service by creating something of a test case with his not-guilty plea.

In other spheres Juno rendered more conventional service to contractors. He served on the Power Crane Council from 1989-92 and 1999-2004, received the PCA’s Weighload Trophy

in 2004 for meritorious service, and followed his 1994-96 Contractors’ Federation presidency with work on the NZS 3910 revision committee, the national excavator operator championship, and eight years on the board of the Contrafed Publishing Co, which publishes this magazine.

He was made a life member of the federation in 2001 and while that might have been expected to mark the end of his golden days as a frontline contractor, he burst back last year to win a federation Hirepool construction award for projects from $500,000 to $3 million with his Opahu floodway protection scheme in Lower Hutt. It was reminder, if any were needed, that high standards are still the name of the Juno game.

Juno’s passions are construction, cranes and concrete (he is a member of the Concrete Society) and his record of excellence suggests he has much to celebrate as he looks back on 30 years as a civil contractor. And celebrate is exactly what he did recently when he and his supportive partner Belinda held a function in Wellington for more than 200 friends of Juno Civil (the company’s modern name).

It’s not difficult to sum up those 30 years in a single sentence. One need look no further than the eight-word headline to that Contractor article way back in 1990: “They don’t come much better than Jim Juno.” 

Contractor Vol.32  No.4  May 2008
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