"I've become a member of that group of people I used to despise," says Auckland builder-turned-developer Shane Brealey.

The engineer - who also answers to "Jerry Maguire" - sold his holding in commercial builder NZStrong and had a break from the corporate life, but is now back with NZ Living, developing affordable Auckland apartments starting from just $375,000.

A prominent name in commercial construction, Brealey hasn't been much on the business scene since about 2014.

That's because he took a spell on Waiheke Island.

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But now his mid-50s career change has seen him back in business, this time in a new role: developing value-oriented Otahuhu apartments and eyeing up his next apartment project.

And even island life wasn't a totally laid-back stretch for this businessman because he and wife Anna built a new home near Oneroa.

"I've had a couple of years out from the industry. Instead, I've been at the coalface on a digger, labouring on a shovel building a new home. Picking olives has proven to be therapeutic but hardly sustainable," says Brealey, who is also the former head of the local office of Multiplex Constructions.

During that island time, a vast black barn of a house designed by Sumich Chaplin rose on a sloping site, its garage tucked beneath and living/kitchen/dining in a vast cavern with extensive windows.

Brealey also took on a philanthropic role, assisting with Waiheke's Sculpture on the Gulf exhibition by helping to install the huge works of art, as well as assisting in accommodation for artists in residence. His new house is also being opened to visitors to raise funds for charity in an island tour.

"I've decided to get back into development," Brealey says, referring to another previous role, when he spent five years as New Zealand boss of Australian company Mirvac Developments.

During his time running the operation, Mirvac developed a number of significant projects including the Quay West apartment tower on Albert St, Ascot Apartments in Remuera and Broadway Park in Newmarket.

Anthony Leighs, managing director of Leighs Construction, describes Brealey as "a creative thinker, particularly clever".

"I suspect he will become a very successful developer. He takes quite a unique approach and that was very visible at NZStrong in the Auckland marketplace."

Brealey made "a massive contribution to the NZ Master Builders through a big period of change," says Leighs.

"He has a great ability cut through the clutter, understand what the issue is, not over-complicate things and find a good solution."

Now, says Brealey, "I've decided to employ my 30-odd years' construction experience to put some well-built, well-located and well-priced apartment projects together."

I believe a number of developments that have had issues in recent times have suffered from not having a good understanding of construction.

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He is talking about his first big scheme, Mason Square. Starting at only $375,000, units at the Otahuhu development flew out the door. What was expected to take many months to sell will probably sell out in only two, he calculates.

Brealey's connection with the Jerry Maguire name comes from the Tom Cruise character in the movie of that name, who resigns from a big corporate to form his own business.

Early last decade, Brealey left his role as New Zealand managing director for Multiplex, an Australian company, to set up the New Zealand-owned construction business NZ Strong.

Brealey, who had spearheaded Multiplex's push into New Zealand, said his "Jerry Maguire moment" came when he decided he had the skills and contacts to leave a large corporate.

The Sebel Suites in Auckland, one of the developments Brealey was involved in.
The Sebel Suites in Auckland, one of the developments Brealey was involved in.

In 2004, he realised he was no longer happy working for big business and would gain more satisfaction starting from scratch.

These days he's taking a different approach, looking at life from the developer's perspective - with a builder's expertise. So he is particularly sceptical about some big Auckland apartment plans.

"I believe a number of developments that have had issues in recent times have suffered from not having a good understanding of construction," says Brealey. "It is the single largest cost element of any development. If you don't get the design, construction methodology, subcontractor selection and programming right ,the apartment sale prices have to be higher."

When video emerged this month of land sliding from a Waiheke clifftop, Brealey said he was out assessing that situation.

"I was that stick figure," he says of social media speculation about the identity of a man seen in the footage, braving the huge storm to check the site's stability.

Despite all the changes in his career, he remains an engineer at heart.

Shane Brealey

Age: 54
Job: Developer and orchardist
Family: Married to Anna with three boys - Tom, Isaac and Joseph
Last book read: George Orwell's 1984 (on Audible)
Last overseas holiday: Houston-to-Salt Lake City road trip.
Last film watched: Terminator 2 ("the best movie ever made")
Favourite song: You Are The First, My Last, My Everything "by the late great Barry White"

Career path

Education: Bachelor of Engineering, Canterbury University
1986-88: Project manager/design engineer, Econotech Construction
1988-89: Project manager/design manager, on projects in Auckland and London
1990-94: Project manager/business unit manager, Lend Lease Corp
1995-99: General manager, Mirvac Developments (NZ), which built Quay West apartments and operated Viaduct's Sebel Hotel
1999-2004: Managing director, Multiplex Constructions (NZ), built $600m worth of buildings in his time
2004-14: Founded and headed NZ Strong Group, which delivered $370m of projects in first 10 years
2014-17: Owner/director NZ Living Mason Avenue, a new affordable housing scheme in Otahuh