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Construction leaders moving on

Keith Saywell and Bruce Hargood are selling up after more than 20 years as directors of Loader Construction Engineering. PHOTO/TOM TAYLOR

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“How long have you got?” Keith Saywell replied when asked about the history of Loader Construction Engineering.

With a combined tenure of more than 100 years at the structural steelwork company, Saywell and co-director Bruce Hargood are finally selling up.

Keyten Gibson, who had been learning the ropes as a manager at the company for the past four months, takes the reins as its new owner this week.

“Keyten’s got plenty of work and can carry on the work that we’ve done,” Saywell said. “We’re getting a bit old for this.”

“Some people can run companies for years and years, but you’re always more successful if you bring in somebody younger,” Hargood said.

Saywell and Hargood both started their careers as apprentices at the company, then known as Loader Engineering.

Hargood began work in 1965 at the age of 15.

“This is virtually all I’ve known,” he said.

Saywell joined 10 years later in 1975.

“I was a tradesman when he was apprentice,” Hargood said. “I taught him he everything he knows.”

When Loader Engineering went into liquidation in 1998, Hargood and Saywell bought the company’s assets and changed the name.

“The opportunity was there for someone to carry on,” Saywell said. “We were offered the chance to do that, so we took it on, not knowing what we were getting ourselves in for. Twenty-something years later, we’re still here.”

Loader specialised in structural steelwork, seismic strengthening, and crane hire.

As a side venture, Hargood had also designed a safety frame for quadbikes.

WorkSafe now strongly recommended that all quad bike users fit their bikes with crush protection devices like Hargood’s rollover frame, with enforcement likely in the future. Greater Wellington Regional Council had already adopted the frames.

Hargood said Gibson was well-placed to take on the diverse workload of the company – although it would not be without its challenges.

“It’s not easy owning and running a business, especially an engineering business … It can be quite stressful. You’ve got to be a juggler to keep everybody happy.”

Saywell said he was always thinking about 10 different jobs – completing drawings, pricings, and liaising with clients.

Loader had a pipeline of work until the middle of next year, whereas in the past, they might be lucky to be booked three months in advance.

“It’s the best it’s ever been for the industry. It’s a good time for the likes of Keyten to walk in and take over because it’s guaranteed income for him for at least the next year.”

The biggest challenge at the moment was supply lines, which had been affected by covid-19.

“The industry is good – as long as you get the product.”

Loader had about 60 tonnes of steel sitting in the workshop, Hargood said.

“Some of it may sit here for another three months, but we’ve bought it and stockpiled it for the simple reason that the price keeps going up. To keep the clients happy, we’re getting the steel now … We don’t want them to have to pay any more than they have to.”

Hargood said he could walk around central Masterton and point out all the buildings he had been involved in: McDonald’s, Burger King, ACC, ANZ, Farmers. The company had even had a hand in the old town hall extension.

“That one there will be 100 per cent strong. It’s just the front piece that is the complaint.”

In the coming months, Loader would provide the steelwork for new learning spaces at Greytown School.

Although Hargood joked he was now being made redundant, he would be in no rush to retire once Gibson took charge.

“I don’t just want to walk away. This has been my life for more than 50 years … We’ve put a lot of hard yards into this place between the pair of us, so hopefully, Keyten can keep it going and freshen it up.”

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