Anthony Leighs' Leighs Construction has a track record that includes more than $500 million of Auckland buildings since moving north half a decade ago.
From his Auckland headquarters in College Hill's Hargreaves St, he names significant work as Smales Farm's B:HIVE office block, the Mt Eden Corrections Facility Building C, Fisher & Paykel Healthcare's fourth campus building, Douglas Pharmaceuticals' 4500sq m research and development block, and the big new Wellesley St West carpark for Les Mills Auckland City.
The Cantabrian, who is also a director of Christchurch-headquartered Ryman Healthcare, is extremely patriotic.
"Philosophically, I feel very strongly that we as Kiwis should be building our own infrastructure," he says, citing prisons, hospitals and commercial jobs. "The Government is to be applauded for encouraging the construction sector to improve collaboration and outcomes through the sector accord."
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A Herald feature on who's who in the construction sector, published a few weeks ago, showed the dominance of New Zealand-founded, privately-owned businesses in commercial construction - something that Leighs acknowledges.
He sees more opportunities for his business in Auckland but says the firm he founded is national and has completed overseas work too: "We were always trying to do things in Timbuktu."
Being the first private company to build for the Government at Scott Base, Antarctica, is one example he cites, and designing and building the New Zealand Embassy in East Timor is another.
Leighs is the preferred contractor for the $250m Scott Base redevelopment project, which replaces the existing base with three interconnected buildings. He says he struggles to put into words how excited he is for his company be part of that project. The redevelopment is one of the most technically challenging building projects won by a New Zealand business for some years, he says.
The Scott Base replacement project is still in the planning stage. Since 2004, Leighs Construction has built or altered more than half the existing base, which is now set for complete replacement.
Leighs, who is also a Porsche motor sport racer, splits his time between an apartment in Auckland's Viaduct Basin and a modernist home in Christchurch's Riccarton.
Significant Christchurch post-earthquake rebuilds by Leighs Construction include the Cashel St Re:Start container pop-up buildings, Burwood Hospital, the new BNZ off the Cashel St Mall, as well as the new ANZ building. He cites businessmen Nick Hunt, Tim Glasson, Anthony Gough and Philip Carter as "key" people working to bring the city's rebuild to life.
In Auckland, the company has made a name for itself for taking on more challenging projects for institutional and long-term investor clients, the Government and social infrastructure work.
"I was pretty keen to leave school and join the army," says Leighs. "My grandfather was a navy captain who ended up installing the first security cameras in banks when Lloyds had an architecture team," Leighs recalls of that influence which nudged him into the building game.
"I ended up finding an architectural drafting, construction management and quantity surveying course at polytech that satisfied the influences of my family." His first job was just after the 1987 stock market crash.
"Downers took me on as a cadet - the South Island manager, Colin Chisholm, and he gave me four years' great training. Brierleys owned Downer and left vertical construction so I was made redundant in 1992."
Leighs was unemployed, aged 21 and "ready to set the world on fire; what am I going to do with myself?". He worked for a civil engineering company on a contracting basis, then went overseas for two years and came back to found his business in 1995 "literally myself and one employee, my uncle Denis Anderson".
The pair's first job was to design and build the Barrys Bay Transfer Station on Banks Peninsula. From that humble start, the company now employs about 300 staff and has "between half a billion and three quarters of a billion in our secured pipeline" of work. "We've worked almost everywhere bar Wellington. We think of ourselves as North and South Island-based."
How does Leighs reflect on his career and where his business fits into the sector?
"We'd like to think of ourselves as one of the smaller of the big guys who do key pieces of work for the Government, like hospitals and prisons."
Leighs has many accolades to his name. He is a winner of the NZ Institute of Building young achievers award, its supreme award and innovation award early in his career. He won a commendation in the EY Entrepreneur of the Year awards, and got a special commendation from the Champion Canterbury Awards for his contribution to that area.
He is also a past chairman of the Registered Master Builders Association and former deputy chairman of the Building Research Advisory Council.