Longevity in business, especially in the construction industry with boom and bust cycles, is quite an achievement.

This year, the company that John Mackersey (1924-2002) founded, J C Mackersey Limited, (now MCL Construction Limited), celebrates 70 years since beginning in 1948.

John Mackersey had enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Air Force as a 19-year-old during World War II and after some training in New Zealand, was posted to Canada in 1944 to continue preparation for service in bombing, gunnery and navigation.

At this period of the war, the Allies had started to take control, so John was sent back to New Zealand where he did some more navigation training before being demobilised at the war's end.


Like many returned servicemen, John began to look for a job, and didn't settle in a labourer job, or adult joinery apprenticeship.

When the government began rehabilitation courses in carpentry in Hastings, John enrolled, and completed the course at the end of 1947.

An old school friend, Bill Esam (1924-1948), had finished at the end of 1947 a carpentry apprenticeship he began before the war. John and Bill would form a partnership for shop fittings, repairs and maintenance and houses.

There was a post-war boom of house building, but as many of the established builders in Hastings preferred to take the easy work within city boundaries, Bill and John concentrated on the outlying areas of Hastings.

Tragedy struck in April 1948 when a car accident claimed the life of his business partner, Bill Esam.

John's brother, Godfrey, assisted him with a home build in progress in Havelock North for a couple of months.

Borrowing £300 (2018:$22,000) from his mother, John was able to purchase supplies to carry on his work. John would be doubled on brother Godfrey's motorbike for a few weeks to the house, until a government rehabilitation loan enabled him to purchase a Ford one-ton truck.

John was joined by Jim Simonsen (1922-2001), who would become a shareholder in the business.

The first apprentice, Dick Libby, was employed in January 1949, and would spend 49 years working for Mackersey's.

A feature of what would become Mackersey Construction Limited, was the long service of many staff, some spending almost their whole careers there. John Caccioppoli, who still works for Mackersey's, has been with the company for just over 55 years.

At the end of 1949, a workshop was built in Kaiapo Rd, Hastings, on land John had purchased in 1948. A joinery factory was established on the site in 1949, when Jack Baird asked John to work for Mackersey's and establish a joinery factory. Mackersey's still operates from this location today.

John Mackersey established a reputation as an excellent businessman whose word was his bond and concluded negotiations with a handshake. Subcontractors who worked for him, and performed to expectations, were paid on time ‒ not always common in the industry.

Staff could expect John to arrive and meticulously go through their work and that of sub-contractors and he earned the nickname "The Phantom" as he seemingly came from nowhere on to a building site.

In 1956, Mackersey's were successful in a tender to build Waiapu House in Havelock North. This was a significant construction project for the company, and John remarked that building a house was considered large project for them at that time.

Other construction projects followed, including the Hastings District War Memorial Library during 1958/59. Jim Simonsen, the foreman for the job, was used as inspiration for Peter McIntyre's mural inside the foyer of a long-range depiction of a soldier in the desert. Jim had served in the desert during World War II in Egypt and Libya.

The construction side of Mackersey's business increased dramatically during the next decades. Buildings they completed included the NIMU six storey building in Railway and Lyndon roads; Department stores for McKenzie's and Woolworths in Heretaunga St; the multi-storey BNZ and Westpac buildings (originally for Eastern and Central Bank) and the Hastings District Council building in Lyndon Rd. It could be said, Mackersey's built modern Hastings' skyline, such was the volume of work completed by them.

The largest project completed by Mackersey's was Takapau Freezing works, where staff numbers peaked at 150.

John's son David became managing director when John retired in 1989.

Mackersey's had undertaken property development work over many years, and in 1989 it was decided to retain the property development in J C Mackersey Limited and form Mackersey Construction Limited for the construction side of the business.

In 2016, Mackersey Construction Limited was rebranded as MCL Construction Limited.

With David Mackersey focusing more on property development and management through Mackersey Development Limited formed in 2003, John Bower is now managing director of MCL Construction Limited.

David, in conjunction with other partners, has done significant development work in Hawke's Bay, especially in Ahuriri and Havelock North. He is now joined in the business by his daughter, Annah.

MCL Construction continues the legacy created by John Mackersey with its large construction projects, including the new Hastings Police Station and the Hawke's Bay Community Health and Sports Centre.

*Michael Fowler is writing the history of John Mackersey and Mackersey Construction to celebrate their 70th year in business.

*Michael Fowler's Historic Hawke's Bay book is now available and is for sale at $59.90 at the Hastings Community Arts Centre Gallery, 106 Russell St South, next to Westerman's café.

Alternatively, post a cheque to Michael Fowler Publishing of $59.90 to PO Box 8947, Havelock North, or email below for bank deposit detail including delivery in Hawke's Bay. Please state if you want it signed. Ideal as a Christmas present.

*Michael Fowler FCA (mfhistory@gmail.com) is a chartered accountant, contract researcher and writer of Hawke's Bay's history.