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‘Stellar leadership’ key in remarkable recovery

The man behind the astonishing turnaround of a Wairoa-District Council-owned roading company has been praised for his “stellar leadership”.

Quality Roading and Services departing chief executive Nigel Pollock has now taken up a Gisborne-based role with Downer — but not before giving QRS the confidence it needed to become a nationally-respected roading contractor, QRS board chairman Guy Gaddum said.

“After Nigel's four years at the helm surrounded by a stellar leadership team and committed staff, QRS is where it needs to be to survive and prosper for the next 50 years.”

Mr Pollock was this month farewelled by staff and board members, four years to the day after he started at the Wairoa District Council-owned civil construction company.

At his farewell, he said he'd had a “dream journey” and loved working with the QRS team.

“I will really miss QRS, particularly the people, they've been key to the great run the company has had.”

Mr Pollock's departure comes after a strong 12 months. The company made a record pre-tax profit; was named Hawke's Bay Chamber of Commerce Supreme Business of the Year; secured a Provincial Growth Funding loan; and won millions of dollars in local and national contracts.

But it hasn't always been so solid.

In 2017, the QRS dividend to WDC fell after it posted its maiden loss, prompting the council to ask whether it was suited as a Council Controlled Trading Organisation, and initiating a review to test its cost-effectiveness.

Mr Gaddum said that “while gruelling”, the review had served as a turning point for the company in how it related to its shareholder and the type of work it did.

“From then on the council and QRS were on a new path and we started looking for the right leader to bed in those changes.”

Mr Pollock had been working in the civil construction industry for 10 years and was already living in Wairoa, travelling to Gisborne each day for work.

He'd observed that while things had been hard for QRS, change was already afoot.

He said former chief executive Mark Brown had successfully injected health and safety, business and commercial acumen into the company and had provided a good platform from which to build on.

“This month QRS recorded 18 months of no workplace injuries and that's part and parcel of the work Mark began,” Mr Pollock said.

In 2018 the board and the leadership team transformed the company's 50-page strategic plan into a single page overview of the company's priorities.

“It was so simple it's crazy” Mr Pollock said. “We have it up on our wall so staff can refer to it when making decisions, and everyone can see how their own course, training or apprenticeship fits into the QRS growth plan.”

Mr Pollock said the plan's goals were both inward- and outward-looking. Building a better relationship with WDC was a top priority.

“Our local community is the sole reason we exist and we need to look after each other. Relationships are built on trust, track record, and personalities, and you can't form those in five minutes. We could see there was something great there to salvage.”

Consolidating the business was another goal so the company returned to its core business of civil contracting and road construction, stepping away from managing landfill, maintaining water infrastructure, and doing small rural jobs. As a result, it could direct its energy into high-value contracts like those secured with Waka Kotahi NZTA over the past three years. QRS also began working more with supply partners that had complementary skills and strengths.

Mr Pollock credited further growth to the QRS board of directors and their individual expertise in governance and civil contracting.

“I particularly thank Guy Gaddum for his leadership, honesty and trust in what I was doing, and industry professional David Proctor for his intuition and foresight.”

Having the right leadership team was also crucial. “Being surrounded with good people helped us achieve what we did.”

That leadership team includes Jeremy Harker, Anthony O'Sullivan, Mike Wilson, Michelle Hedley, Siobhan Story, Steve Mockford and John Menneer. He also paid tribute to former chief financial officer Karen Burger, who he worked with for three years.

“The company is bigger than any one individual person or decision,” Mr Pollock said. “The real strength of this company is its people, and its vision of ‘a strong and successful company growing the Wairoa community'. We live by that every day.”

Mr Gaddum said Mr Pollock brought new confidence to the company, helping set it up as a supplier, contractor and employer of choice.

Mr Pollock has left QRS for a position as Downer's Gisborne regional manager. He and his family continue to live in Wairoa and he remains committed to the local Rotary Club, Contract Bridge Club, Boxing Club and, of course fishing.

“My drive was always about giving something back to this town. I've enjoyed watching the business grow into a company that people seek out and speak of with positivity,” he said at his farewell.

“Thank you to everyone who has been part of my QRS journey.”

GONE FISHIN': Former QRS chief executive and avid local fisherman Nigel Pollock was thrilled with his departing gift — a QRS-branded chilly bin. Picture by Melissa Stanaway