Sons of Depression built roading empire

MEGAN PEARSON AND MARIA SLADE
Last updated 05:00 11/06/2014

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In 1900, few would have believed a baby abandoned on a Dunedin doorstep would grow up to found a company employing 5500 people across New Zealand and Australia.

Yet this was how life began for Bob Hogan, one half of the duo who built roading and infrastructure construction company Fulton Hogan.

Robert (Bob) Hogan was three days old when his mother Delia Hogan left him wrapped in a blanket and took off back to Invercargill.

Over a hundred years later the achievements of Hogan and his business partner, Julius (Jules) Fulton, are being recognised with their induction into the Business Hall of Fame.

Jules Fulton had a luckier start. He was born in 1901 into a farming family on the Taieri plain outside Dunedin, although his father had qualified as an accountant. They were one of the original pioneering families of the Otago area, their forebears having arrived in 1848.

The young Fulton went to boarding school at Waitaki, and went on to work for a civil engineering company in Dunedin where he learned road building skills.

Hogan was brought up in an orphanage, and later by a woman who was paid to look after him. Because of his circumstances he would have had to leave school at 12, except that he was bright, his grandson Hanlin Johnstone says.

"He won a scholarship to stay at school, and he always liked mechanical things, and he did an apprenticeship with a company in Dunedin that imported cars."

In the early 1930s both young men worked for Neuchatel Asphalte laying roads around Otago. But by this time New Zealand was in the grip of the Depression, and in 1933 they were laid off.

It was the need to put food on the table which drove them to start a small contracting business, Fulton's son Jim Fulton says.

"[Jules] came into roading almost because he didn't have a job, he had a wife and young family to look after and they were fairly desperate times for most people in New Zealand."

They picked up a contract to repair a crack and potholes in a stretch of road between Saddle Hill and Fairfield. In 1935 they registered Fulton Hogan Ltd.

The time between the wars was tough, and they learned their trade by experience, Jim Fulton says.

"They worked hard to survive. Then they had the Second World War and all the work dried up. So they turned at that stage to crushing lime, and that was a national job, really, the government of the time needed lime to produce food."

But after the war they got back into road contracting "with a vengeance", and there was a lot of work to do, he says.

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While the pair may have had their moments, on the whole they had a good working relationship and complemented each other, their families say.

They had a few ground rules - one of which was that they would never tender for any job without them both agreeing on it - and they had their own roles within the company.

Jules was the numbers guy, good at management strategy and business networking, although he didn't suffer fools, his son says. He worked in the office liaising with customers and tendering for jobs, and was chairman of the company.

Bob, a physically strong man who was skilled with anything mechanical and loved dealing with staff, would be out leading the road gangs. His practical experience proved invaluable as the company grew and he designed and adapted machinery, crushing plants and equipment for road work.

On drives to Queenstown with his grandson, Bob would talk about the roads and their various problems.

"Basically he'd built every road from Dunedin to Queenstown. I think the two [Bob and Jules] added together equalled more than two," Johnstone says.

"They didn't socialise together every weekend or anything like that, it wasn't a relationship in that regard. However they didn't not socialise together, either . . . but they were different people. I think that's the success of it."

By the time Jules retired in 1961 the company had 80 staff and was turning over around $3 million a year, Jim Fulton says.

Bob Hogan took over as chairman until 1966, but it was after their time that the company really grew. By 1980 there were 300 staff, and by 1990 that had expanded to around 1000. Today Fulton Hogan employs 5500 people.

The New Zealand Business Hall of Fame was created in 1994 by Young Enterprise Trust, and is presented each year with the support of Fairfax Media, Auckland Chamber of Commerce, Ricoh and Kaimira Estate. The 2014 gala dinner will be held on Thursday, August 7, at The Langham, Auckland. Tickets can be ordered by phone on 04 570 0452 or online at businesshalloffame.co.nz.

- Stuff

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