Lifetime commitment to building

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As the principal of one of the Registered Master Builders Federation’s longest standing members, Rodger Bradford, from the Bradford Management Group, knows a thing or two about building. 

When Rodger became involved in the family business in 1965, he was paid in pounds and pence, everything was measured in yards and inches, New Zealand had a rigid wage awards structure, builders applied for permits rather than consents and Sir Keith Holyoake was Prime Minister of New Zealand. 

“Building was vastly different from the environment we work in today,” Rodger says. “It is especially noticeable in the housing sector in rural New Zealand in the 1960s. “When we arrived in a paddock to build a house, we were greeted with a heap of timber and shingle, and proceeded to build the whole thing from scratch. 

Now a house is divided into a series of packages, with someone doing the digging, another contractor laying the concrete and so on,” Rodger says. “Conventional house builders have become an industry of assemblers. 

The builder now manages a whole range of processes using subcontractors, most with a narrow focus of work and limited skills. There are fewer companies that have the necessary expertise and trade skills to totally manage the process today.” 

The Bradford Group was established in 1951, the same year as the Ashburton Registered Master Builders Association was formed. It is a South Island-based company that builds in the Canterbury region. “We faced extremely challenging times in the mid-80s under ‘Rogernomics’ where we redeployed nearly 70 employees onto government contracts in and around Christchurch. 

“There was literally no work available in rural midCanterbury. Early on, we realised we needed to restructure in order for the company to survive, so we developed a precast business,” Rodger says. “By doing precast work we were able to employ carpenters in Ashburton and keep them continuously employed. 

At the same time we established a branch of the building operation in Christchurch. For two-to three years during this period our work was generated in Christchurch as nothing much was happening anywhere else,” Rodger says. 

“Our ability to accept and embrace change kept us going and, with our range of highly skilled and trained staff, we can turn our hand to most things,” he adds. The range of projects the Bradford Group has undertaken is testimony to this fact. 

Over the years the company has been involved in civil structures such as the Potts River Bridge, commercial structures including Ashburton College, Ashburton Public Library, the hospital, the community pool and many other contracts in Christchurch. 

The company was recognised in the very first House of the Year Awards with the Acland House at Mt Somers Station, the first winner of the supreme award in the 1995 House of the Year. “We’ve been lucky to undertake a large number of fulfilling projects. 

Ashburton College was interesting because it was the first large secondary school of its type built in New Zealand after standards were revised in 1968,” he says. In addition, this was one of the first projects in New Zealand using critical path in construction, an innovation Frank Lu, reader in engineering at Canterbury University, adapted and brought back to New Zealand from Seattle where he had worked with General Electric building Polaris missile submarines. 

“Frank was my tutor at Canterbury University at the time, and this was an invaluable exercise to put into practice during the construction of the college.” Challenges include the civil works for the new boiler house at the Clandeboye diary factory built in 2003. 

“It was well into the ground, about 11 to 12 metres below the water table in what was free running water. It was a technically challenging project,” he says. Acland house was a very satisfying project. “The owners have great respect for the tradition and history of the region, and what was particularly enjoyable was the house had a story to it. 

“All the materials used in the project either came from the property or had some connection to it. It was a project I am particularly proud of.” After working on such a vast array of projects in many locations across the Canterbury region and some in challenging conditions, Rodger has sage advice to pass on. 

“In order to be a builder it is important to embrace every challenge that comes your way. If you join the industry purely as a way of making money then forget about it — you won’t get much pleasure out of it. 

“Building is all about enjoying the people you work with, and the relationships you develop with clients and the other contractors. Building is all about people,” he says. “Building is one of those few professions you can drive past after 30 or so years and can say with pride, ‘I worked on that’. 

That, to me, is great job satisfaction.”

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