"It's been an emotional day for me. The Port of Tauranga has been a big part of my life and all the staff are like my extended family."
Those are the words Port of Tauranga chief executive Mark Cairns used to describe his impending retirement after more than 15 years at the helm of the largest port in New Zealand.
He credits the team for his success and says "it's never been about me".
"I will certainly miss my colleagues but I am excited to see where the company goes next, driven by the creative and innovative team we have built."
Cairns is happy to be leaving next year in June on a high note and is reluctant to focus on any of his achievements. But he said a major highlight included the port's ambitious, six-year infrastructure and dredging project to allow for big ship capability.
"For us that was a very big investment at the time. The board put a lot of commercial tension and scrutiny around that.
"It was a very big $350 million infrastructure project so delivering that within budget and then, more importantly, getting the customers to buy into it and getting those big ships to call in on a weekly basis."
He also paid tribute to the board and said, in his opinion, they had always managed the succession of chief executives and directors well and had stepped to the fore again on this occasion.
Chief operating officer Leonard Sampson will take over the reins from Cairns next year.
"I am really pleased the board has had the courage, we went through a process and did some external benchmarking we got a firm in to say Mark is going to retire in a certain time period and we identified Sampson internally," Cairns said.
"He was benchmarked externally against candidates that were in the market and they decided the best thing for the port would be to invest in that succession planning with him.
"The port is like a family to me and Leonard will maintain that culture. I am certain he will do things differently to me but he will maintain that special culture we have."
Cairns told the Bay of Plenty Times he did not have any executive gigs left in him however he was looking forward to giving back to business.
"I'd like to take on a few board governance roles."
Port of Tauranga chairman David Pilkington, said Cairns' leadership had seen the company grow from a regional bulk export port to New Zealand's international cargo hub, as well as one of its most successful listed companies.
When Cairns took over as chief executive in 2005, Port of Tauranga handled 12.6 million tonnes of cargo and 438,214 shipping containers. In the year to June 2020, the Port handled 24.8 million tonnes of cargo and 1.25 million containers.
"Mark has kept the company strongly focused on future opportunities while maintaining an industry-leading safety record and the highest productivity rates in Australasia," he said.
He said the company's success had delivered wide-ranging benefits to the Bay of Plenty.
Local ratepayers own just over half of Port of Tauranga's shares through Quayside Holdings and the average compounding total shareholder return has been 19 per cent.
Market capitalisation has increased by $4.4 billion, from $665m to $5.1b today, Pilkington said.
Meanwhile, business leaders in the region praised Cairns dedication to the port.
Priority One chief executive Nigel Tutt said Cairns was highly respected in the local business community.
"The Port of Tauranga has a reputation as being very well run. The legacy of Mark's leadership is a port that is the best in New Zealand by a long shot, a huge asset to this area and New Zealand."
Tauranga Chamber of Commerce chief executive Matt Cowley said Cairn's legacy would last for generations.
"This is particularly true as Mark's foresight saw the Port of Tauranga become New Zealand's deepest and busiest seaport, which will benefit the wider Bay of Plenty economy for future generations. Under Mark's leadership, the Port has financially supported a range of local charities, events, and community services.
"The Tauranga Chamber of Commerce thanks Mark for his vision and leadership that has made the Bay of Plenty a central cog of New Zealand's logistics industry."
Tauranga mayor Tenby Powell said Cairns had made a significant contribution to the Port of Tauranga.
"In his time it has grown into New Zealand's two largest and most high performing ports.
"Obviously, one is based on the east and one on the west side of the harbour."
Cairns previous expertise as a roading engineer had also proved invaluable, Powell said.
"He has been very helpful in assisting our understanding of the traffic challenges we have. I wish him a and his family all the very best for his future and thank him sincerely for his contribution as chief executive."
Mark Cairns achievements
• Doubling in cargo volumes
• Successful execution of Port of Tauranga's strategy to become New Zealand's only "big ship capable" port
• Nearly trebling container volumes
• More than seven times increase in market capitalisation
• Named Chief Executive of the Year in the 2012 Deloitte Top 200 Business Awards
• Winner of the Caldwell Partners Leadership Award in the 2019 Institute of Finance Professionals Awards