Jevon Priestley left school early to work on a farm.

He wound up going back to polytechnic to complete his NZ Certificate of Engineering (mechanical) and now runs his own company, Vortex Group, which is currently undertaking two major multi-million dollar small hydropower projects in Samoa.

"I wasn't a great scholar, though I always loved to read,"said Mr Priestley.

"I left school early because I wanted to earn some money, and I loved farming. I started off learning to shear, but I realised that wasn't going to earn a lot of money, so I eventually went back to study."


Born in Dunedin, his early years were spent in the South Island, then his British parents took him back to the UK for a visit. They returned to settle in Hamilton where he attended college. Early jobs included working at a construction business doing general welding and fabrication, and working in sawmills. Once finishing his time at the Waikato Polytech, he was offered a job as assistant workshop manager looking after the vessels in an Auckland fishing company's deep sea fishing fleet. That was followed by stint leading the maintenance team for a company working with Carter Holt Harvey.

"But I missed the countryside," he said. "I decided it was time to go back."

He moved to the Rotorua area, working for a time as a maintenance team leader at the Tachikawa Sawmill, then joined Allied Industrial Engineering in Kawerau as a quality assurance and planning manager moving quickly on the become in turn engineering estimator, contracts manager and eventually sales and marketing manager, and oversaw large contracts.

"With my sales and marketing activities, Allied grew from an annual turnover of approximately $6 million in 2003 to a peak of over $18 million in 2015," said Mr Priestley.

He had become a shareholder when Allied was bought out by its management, and last year decided it was time to go off on his own and set up his own company, Vortex Group. The company now has a staff of nine, including a number of members of his former Allied team.

"I was interested in focusing on the larger project activities and saw an opportunity to specialise into the areas of small hydro," he said.

For Vortex that includes projects from about 1MW up to 10MW. And while these smaller scale projects are still being commissioned in New Zealand, with his Allied team completing projects for companies including Trustpower, Westpower and Tasmania Irrigation with various partners, Mr Priestley sees the major market potential being in developing countries in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

Vortex is working on a $4 million Asian Development Bank-funded project to rehabilitate three cyclone-damaged power stations in Samoa. Components for repair arrived in Port of Tauranga this week in two containers.

Vortex also recently won another contract in Samoa to build three new hydro generators of just under 1MW each.

"We have some really strong partnerships for this kind of work," he said. Vortex works closely with civil works company Map Projects in Rotorua, a major US construction company, and a European turbine design company.

Tony Davies, director Maskell productions, which supplies penstocks, has worked with Mr Priestley on a number of projects. "He's technically very strong and he has good hydropower experience he developed in recent years," said Mr Davies.

"He chases the jobs hard and works hard. The business development side of the business is very robust. He did a good job of building up that sector when he was with Allied, and he's done a good job of landing these new projects." Mr Priestley said Vortex understood the market in Southeast Asia and the South Pacific.

"We know there are a number of areas in the developing part that have a really huge demand for power.

And meeting that by non-renewable means is becoming less attractive. There are incentives to put in clean ways of generating power."

Jevon Priestly:

* Role: Director/founder, Vortex Group

* Born: Dunedin, New Zealand

* Age: 45

* First job: Shearer

* Recently read: Batavia by Peter Fitzsimmons