Peter "Big Pete" Alexander got into property almost accidentally, on the recommendation of his friend's father, valuer Ron Aubury.
"He said it was interesting, you cover a lot of things, you get to meet a lot of people, see a lot of things and it isn't office-bound," he says from his office at 80 Greys Ave. "But I saw opportunities outside that, in Auckland and property investment and development."
He started his bachelor of property at Lincoln University, transferring to Auckland after only a year for more opportunities. He never practiced as a valuer.
Property development was so busy in the early to mid-1980s that even as an under-grad, he scored a job, as an Aetna Life assistant property manager in the business which owned forestry, orchards, deer farms, offices, shops, industrial real estate and even a hotel joint venture.
Then he worked for the Auckland Harbour Board on development and special projects, as a Bayleys property manager in the late '80s when receivers were vendors and developers were in recess.
Then he got a taste for travel in the 90s with a private securities trading company in its London and Bermuda offices.
He returned in the mid 1990s to be appointed a Westpac Banking Corporation property finance manager, responsible for a portfolio of loans in aged care, hotel, motel, investment and development. Then he was general manager of CBD New Zealand, a small listed property investment company.
But it was as general manager of the listed Property For Industry from 1998 and 2002 that he took on a more prominent role and also where he met Malcolm McDougall.
"He was focused, very good at setting goals and chasing them down."
From 2003 to 2006, he worked at AMP Capital Investors New Zealand, responsible for establishing a satellite property business and development activities including student accommodation, land subdivision, a retirement village, hotel/apartment project and a master-planned housing community with 750 lots as well as a commercial component.
He established AMP Retirement Properties through buying Summerset Holdings. Alexander went to Goodman Group NZ in 2006, as its general manager of acquisitions and new business, taking on the role of leading it into Christchurch, spending $80 million on a 50 per cent stake in local office park development and investment company Henshaw Developments.
He left in 2008 and it was his next role as Auckland International Airport's property general manager that he recalls as a highlight.
"The airport was unbelievable, the opportunity to really kick-start that whole development was an amazing opportunity," he says, recalling a $280 million investment programme implemented under his watch and still being carried out today.
The programme included planning and building new award-winning eco-friendly premises for the airport company and shifting it out of the international terminal, creating new hubs of commercial and retail development and master-planning land use and precincts for the decades ahead in the area he referred to at the time as an Aerotropolis. "The portfolio was valued at over $500 million and a land bank valued at over $175 million," he said of the airport assets.
The highlight of that phase was developing the new Novotel, successful financially, culturally and in terms of occupancy and Alexander credits former airport chief executive Simon Moutter as a visionary.
"He is a fantastic leader, really ambitious, really challenging, very supportive." Alexander's biggest role is as chief executive of NZX-listed DNZ Property Fund, which he joined in December last year, with assets valued at $780 million spread across the retail, commercial and industrial sectors.
DNZ's biggest opportunity is at Westgate where it bought property from Mark Gunton's NZ Retail Property Group to build a new 90-shop mall. Alexander has made swift changes at DNZ, cutting five jobs as part of a restructure to save an annual $1 million. Casualties included the senior executives of general manager investment, development and capital Management, Philip Brown, and general manager property, Patrick O'Reilly.
"This decision is in no way a reflection on the calibre and dedication of the employees who are leaving DNZ," Alexander said at the time.
The restructuring came after Alexander's review, launched soon after he took over, and focused on ensuring DNZ was working efficiently and cost-effectively. He got feedback the business was too expensive to run and also realised that himself but he has now pruned staff from 33 to 28 people - 20 in Greys Ave and eight in DNZ's property centres.
Bruce Catley, CBRE South Auckland managing director was at uni with Alexander and recalls his big, gregarious personality.
"Peter is a visionary sort of guy. He's very much about team culture and working collectively when he's running a business," Catley said.
"He sets a very clear direction and has reasonably high expectations, very good on the add-value side. He'll do really well," he said.
"At university, some people try for As but he was reasonably sociable. That's why he relates across the spectrum, whether you're a CEO of another company or a factory worker."
Shane Solly of Harbour Asset Management, which owns DNZ stocks, says Alexander was great to work with when he was at Property For Industry. "He's aware of what was the key to me as an investor which are returns, managing risk and making sure the portfolio is in good shape. He's been instrumental at the airport," Solly said, although he warned DNZ's biggest single threat in terms of competition was the airport and Goodman land banks - which he once controlled.
DNZ's total returns (dividend combined with share price) were below its peers so the business had under-performed, Solly noted.
"That's the challenge for the new management team," he said.
Alexander is a keen surfer, developing a passion for water as a youngster when he held a 400m Manawatu freestyle record at the age of 12 and competing in surf lifesaving competitions at Christchurch's North Beach.
He got a first-hand taste of development on a personal level lately, building a new "traditional-style" Mt Eden house. As for his nickname: "I don't mind being called Big Pete. It's pretty descriptive."