Foster’s out to create ‘a great community’

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Waikato’s supreme business for 2017, Foster Construction hopes to further encourage a trend of generosity to staff and the community among the region’s businesses.

The iconic construction company is not only associated with completing high profile projects but for its community focus, typified by its creation of a charitable trust from which a percentage of its profits will go to be distributed to the community.

Commercial manager Leonard Gardner says being recognised as the Business of the Year in Waikato in 2017 is a massive accolade and with it comes the responsibility to keep growing as a business. Foster’s was awarded both the Strategy and Planning Award and overall Supreme Business of the Year at the Westpac Waikato Business Awards dinner in November.

“My biggest buzz was seeing the faces of the team when it was announced,” says Leonard.
“We have a team that is so engaged and so excited. It’s going to encourage our team further.”

From left, Foster Construction commercial manager Leonard Gardner, estimating lead and director Ross Pacey, construction manager Adam Findlay, finance manager Lee Patchett and general manager Nigel Sun (Photo: Chris Hillock Photographer).

The company’s catch cry is “creating a great community”. As well as ensuring it treats its 150 staff well, Foster’s will next year ask those employees to give away $500 of the company’s profits to a community organisation which is important to each of them.

Furthermore, in April, Foster Construction created the Foster Construction Custodians Trust from which a percentage of its profits will go for distribution to the community in various forms.

Leonard, a chartered accountant who joined Foster Construction in 2003 and bought into it in 2006, stresses Waikato has a proud tradition of community-oriented businesses.

“What we are doing is not new and we are certainly nowhere near a Perry Group or a Gallagher but we are taking the first steps to being a generous business. And I hope we can encourage others to be equally generous.”

Leonard says he was struck at the business awards dinner by the number of businesses whose focus was not just about being profitable and sustainable but who were generous to their employees and the wider community. He has seen a lot of movement in businesses’ approach in the last decade.

Foster Construction’s roots go back as far as 1956 with builder Len Foster who specialised in building schools. In 1973 Len’s son Graham and Graham Mallett formed Foster Construction. The company has been through various ownership changes and now Foster Construction Group which is a majority owner of all the Foster businesses is jointly owned by Leonard Gardner and Ross Pacey.

Foster Construction really made its mark in Hamilton in 2010 when it led construction of the $68 million Claudelands Event Centre.

“We were up against national contractors and the city council took a bit of a risk on us in terms of using a local company. I think in the end 87 percent of the spend went back through local contractors and suppliers in very difficult times which was a fantastic outcome from our perspective. But for us that project helped show that Fosters could complete complex commercial projects of scale. For us Claudelands was a game changer. It altered our whole mindset and what we could do.”

He says going to see the Event Centre’s opening with his family and seeing the community come together and celebrate was just “magic” and he feels the same way about all of Foster’s projects, be they public or private.

“All of these things, whether they are Claudelands or The Verandah– or the commercial work we do – is about making a great community. We are proud to be part of it.”

The company has recently completed the Genesis building in Bryce Street in partnership with DV Bryant Trust, which Leonard says transformed an empty supermarket into a civil defence-rated building with a national call centre housing more than 500 staff. Foster’s is also constructing the DHB building at the old Farmers site and Cambridge’s impressive Lakeview development. There are a host of upcoming projects on Foster’s agenda including a big build at Mt Maunganui’s Bayfair, a possible hotel in Hamilton and a number of office blocks and warehouses.

Leonard says central to its success with construction projects is Foster’s ethos of “beginning with the end in mind”.

“It’s how we think about going into projects and our team understanding why they are doing construction. It’s not just because we need the job, a big part is thinking who is going to use it, how are they going to use it, how we deliver and how long this thing is going to last for.”

He believes the approach is also reflected in how Foster’s deals with people.

“We are firm but fair. Everyone has to make money in the process as part of their own business in order to be sustainable.”

Leonard says with construction of large projects such as Claudelands Event Centre there’s a lot at stake.

“We have a team that puts in a massive effort to make this happen. There is a huge amount of expectation in construction in terms of delivering quality on time. What we do in some ways is manage the risk of drawing many people together to deliver things – especially in a resource constrained market like we have at the moment.”

Leonard, who is also a director at Anthem Homes is widely involved in the community through organisations such as Hamilton Gardens Development Trust and Momentum Waikato which he chairs. He admits he doesn’t have “clear lines”between his role at Foster Construction, community roles or his church life and says they are all about channeling towards a better community.

“My view is that all these roles are about making a greater Waikato and inspiring the community to be the most generous community in the world. I’m proud that Foster’s is helping to bring about that step change.”

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Geoff Taylor

Waikato Business News editor Geoff Taylor.
Email: geoff@wbn.co.nz

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