He lives part of each week in Wellington, but works with his builder brothers and nephews to head a development business which has become a $1 billion-plus force in Auckland.
Mark McGuinness is part of a family-owned and managed, Wellington-headquartered builder and developer which took on Auckland and scored arguably the city's best waterfront opportunities.
It's a surprising story, and the things McGuinness has to say about the difficulty of building on the waterfront, given climate change and rising sea levels, adds more interest.
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"I've got a place at Clyde Quay Wharf [in Wellington]," says McGuinness from his offices on level four of 12 Viaduct Harbour Ave, from where one of his family company's tower cranes can be seen on the horizon. The family home was in Khandallah, but it's little surprise that McGuinness' main residence is on the capital's waterfront, in a scheme his company developed.
McGuinness runs developer Willis Bond & Co and his brothers run builder LT McGuinness.
The head contractor in two of the first three Wynyard Quarter apartment blocks up so far has been that same family-owned builder, LT McGuinness. It's a model McGuinness says others in the turbulent sector could look to for better outcomes and fewer failures.
While Auckland-based Haydn & Rollett was appointed head contractor on 132 Halsey, his family's third-generation construction business got the other two: LT McGuinness built the new Wynyard Central and is now building 30 Halsey.
Tenders were never called for any of those three substantial apartment blocks: in an unusual twist for New Zealand's construction sector, the head contractor was appointed directly by the developer.
"And it wasn't for the lowest price because that's not how you get a good end result and quality," McGuinness says.
"There was a report by the World Economic Forum in 2016, looking at global construction and asking why it was broken. At the heart of the problems is the model and structure and focus on the lowest cost. We chose LT McGuinness because they are our trusted partner. We've been together nearly 30 years on 20 projects in Wellington and Auckland."
LT McGuinness was established by his father Laurie, who died in 1974. Mark's older brothers - Peter, Brian and Jim - are closely involved "along with eight nephews but it's not just the family. There are some very able non-McGuinnesses there too.
"The model we have here is an example of how the sector should work," he says of the lack of acrimony between developer and builder.
Since 2010, Willis Bond has spent about $200 million on 16 projects worth about $1.56b. Ventures were formed with Panuku Development Auckland, Housing New Zealand, Hobsonville Land Company (HLC), Wellington Waterfront and Wellington City Council.
Chris Aiken, former HLC boss and now deputy chief executive of urban development agency Kāinga Ora, has worked with McGuinness at Hobsonville Point and is surprised about the move from the capital.
"It's not common for a Wellington business to come to here," says Aiken. "It shows a gap in the market for medium density developments at that quality end. Their pedigree in Wellington has enabled them to come to Auckland and pick good projects."
Because the two businesses were family-owned and essentially "vertically integrated", Aiken says that created strong values. Although the propensity for disagreements among family members is high, he says the Willis Bond/LT McGuinness duo show another side of the equation: strength and trust.
"They're humble and open to learning. We've reached many agreements with Willis Bond and we've had to work through some issues. It's been able to be done quite simply. Their word is very strong. They have good financial investors. A business like that tends to attract smart capital. That method of financing helps because it takes a longer-term view compared to weaker-capitalised businesses which get nervous, which causes problems with projects."
Willis Bond Capital Partners has raised $128m, Willis Bond Capital Partners II, $100m and Willis Bond Capital Partners III, $132m. The business says its funding gives it "agility to secure outstanding development projects".
Precinct Properties has the sole right to develop commercial properties at Wynyard but after an international design competition, Willis Bond won the sole right on residential. In two out of three projects, Mark McGuinness picked his family company, LT McGuinness, to build the blocks.
Willis Bond doesn't carry the family name but the construction company does. Why?
"When we started many years ago with Malcolm McDougall, it was called McGuinness McDougall," McGuinness recalls. But the name was changed "to Willis Bond based on Willis St and Bond St", well-known central Wellington streets.
"It felt quintessentially solid and appropriate," he remembers.
McGuinness grew up in Khandallah, went to Wellington's St Patrick's College and was later on the school's board. He has an MBA from Otago University, studied law for a short time and founded Willis Bond in 1988.
In a media interview four years ago, he said Wellington is "in my blood, so I'd never leave it".
As well as its work at Wynyard Quarter, the business plans to develop new Hobsonville Point apartment blocks of up to 10 levels or so, near the area's markets, and images have just been released.
So far, it has developed cafes, shops and 164 apartments and townhouses at Wynyard: the 113-unit Wynyard Central and the 51-unit 132 Halsey.
Now being marketed is its new 149-unit 30 Madden, under construction and at 12 levels the tallest project at Wynyard so far, where units are being sold from $635,000.
"For all developments in Wynyard Quarter, Willis Bond has pre-paid the leasehold on the land for 128 years, meaning no ground rents for purchasers in their lifetime," McGuinness says.
"All up, we'll build over 600 Wynyard Quarter apartments, worth about $800m."
Not everything has gone according to plan. Some people who have bought places from Willis Bond had to seek redress for problems, but they say the business has been co-operative and problems are being resolved.
When it comes to rising sea levels, McGuinness says the business takes account of what could happen. "Basically, you make sure you're up high enough. You don't build within a few inches of the water. We design our buildings to cope with spring tides, for example at Clyde Quay Wharf where we have a carpark under the wharf. There's engineering to cope with that being full of water. There's change, but the blunt reality is no one knows the exact details so we just take the best advice we can buy and apply that to our buildings."
For now, McGuinness spends "three to four days a week" in an Auckland waterfront hotel, but he's buying an apartment. Where?
""I've just bought at 30 Madden."
Still keeping it all in the family.
• Job: Chief executive, Willis Bond & Co
• Raised: In Khandallah, Wellington
• Education: St Patrick's College, Wellington; MBA from Otago University
• Lives: At 1 Clyde Quay Wharf, Wellington and an Auckland hotel
• Projects: In Wellington and Auckland
• Last book read: Principles by Ray Dalio
• Last trip: To Japan for Rugby World Cup quarter-final, All Blacks v Ireland
• Last film: Ford v Ferrari