Straight as an arrow the way to do business

Arrow International's influence can be seen throughout the New Zealand building industry. Business reporter Neal Wallace meets one of the men behind the company which is celebrating 25 years in business.

Ron Anderson, a founding director of Arrow International. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Ron Anderson, a founding director of Arrow International. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Sealing multimillion-dollar deals with a handshake, and doing business built on trust and his word, is as natural to Dunedin businessman Ron Anderson as the southern mountains he treasures.

In an increasingly litigious world, what could be considered antiquated values of ethics, humility, honesty and relationships are still a priority for Mr Anderson.

"Our partnerships have been so strong; it's [hand shake] more powerful than a contract."

Those values stem from bonding formed from adversity and the physical and mental challenge of adventure racing, tramping and hunting when you rely on your team members.

It may sound warm and fuzzy, but that thirst for the outdoors has shaped and continues to shape Mr Anderson's approach to life and the way he runs his project management company, Arrow International, which he started 25 years ago with Bob Foster.

He and Mr Foster have competed in 10 Southern Traverse multisport endurance events, and said when a team headed in to the mountains, it either worked and completed the race together, or it disintegrated and failed.

Arrow regularly organises trips into the mountains for clients, taking them out of their comfort zone and exposing them to similar life-altering pressures.

Mr Anderson recites stories of people who have changed their lives after such trips, shedding weight or giving up smoking and later tackling events such as the Speight's Coast to Coast and the Kepler mountain race in Fiordland.

They have a similar - some could say unorthodox - philosophy to employing staff, with an applicant's personal attributes often carrying greater weight than their CV.

While this core outdoors-influenced philosophy has shaped Arrow International, its business model has been refined over 25 years and is evident in its project management role of the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

Mr Anderson said Arrow would deliver the $188 million project on time and to a budget finalised 4 earlier during the concept phase, and it would do that by holding and driving the contractors to the agreed timetable and budget.

"Here is Dunedin, a south-of-the-Waitaki attitude of `We can do anything if we muster enough energy and cohesiveness'."

It will show the world what a small city can do.

"At the end, that project will turn people's heads worldwide and people will ask how did they do it, what is their secret?"

The key was to get buy-in and ownership from the local community, a task he believed had been achieved despite some vocal opposition.

He described the community's attitude as "massive support, belief and passion," which had seen the project clear every obstacle put in front of it.

Arrow International's business model of trust and relationship was also built by sticking to its primary function of project management and not tagging that role on to an existing function of being a construction company.

"We drive it from the client's shoes," he said.

The construction industry was a vastly different story 25 years ago when Mr Anderson and fellow director Mr Foster left Fletcher Construction and launched the company in the basement of a Clark St building in Dunedin, with $250 worth of second-hand furniture and a $200 typewriter.

The concept of project managing design and construction of buildings was new, and Mr Anderson recalled that the phone didn't ring for several days.

"It was quite nerve-racking."

But experience told them their idea had potential.

Mr Anderson had been overseeing construction at Dunedin Hospital and witnessed how building firms submitted the lowest tender to get the work, but would exploit variations and time extensions to inflate the final cost.

Their system is based around all parties to a project working within their field of expertise: the designers work to their strengths in design, tradesmen to their strengths in the trades with Arrow providing leadership and acting as the client's agent.

Mr Anderson gave the example of an investor knowing the return required from a property development, but that financial figure was, in turn, influenced by the development's final cost.

To achieve a 10% return on a $3 million development, became a 16% return on $3.5 million.

It is a policy that has worked, with Arrow avoiding being caught by the financial turmoil that has hit property development in Queenstown.

Arrow's big break in those early days, came when DB Breweries asked them to oversee the $750,000 makeover of the Captain Cook Tavern in Dunedin, a project which was successful and led to them getting similar work redeveloping other hotels in Otago as well 55 DB hotels throughout the country.

Since then Arrow has managed more than 2000 projects and grown to employ more than 150 people in New Zealand and Australia.

The brewery work enabled Arrow to secure a contract with Lion Breweries supervising the construction of hospitality services on the Olympic Stadium at Homebush in Sydney and later to work redeveloping 24 hotels in Victoria.

Since then they have established a project management office in Melbourne employing 35 people.

Their list of achievements includes some of the most conspicuous buildings in the country, but Mr Anderson singled out as a highlight the work conserving and restoring huts and the more than 8000 artefacts left by early explorers in the Ross Sea region of the Antarctic.

The task required skills and expertise harnessed from around the world, while the logistics of working in remote sites had been honed by working on remote huts in national parks throughout New Zealand.

"We were used to projects in New Zealand such as the Routeburn, the Milford Track. We were project manager for the Hump Ridge track We have worked in all manner of conditions in the mountains and in the snow. It's part of our culture."

But it was still to prove a challenging project, with materials only delivered when ice-breaking ships were available.

In 2002 he visited the Antarctic huts with Princess Anne to unveil a plaque commemorating the centenary of Robert Scott's voyage, but the outdoors fanatic was forced to subdue the desire to go diving and explore the most inhospitable place on earth, given his other responsibilities.

While chief executive Hugh Morrison is based in Auckland, Mr Anderson remains loyal to his Dunedin roots.

Born and raised at the head of Otago Peninsula where his father worked at the Taiaroa Head signal station and light house, Mr Anderson enjoys an idyllic outdoor lifestyle exploring the area.

He attended school at Otakou and Bayfield High School and, on leaving school, he realised his love of the outdoors by heading to Fiordland to hunt and fish.

He was always going to be a builder but he was not going to work for anyone, so walked the streets looking at building sites before applying to the company he considered the tidiest, Fletchers.

Later he met Sir James Fletcher in an exchange which was to have a lifelong influence.

Mr Anderson was a junior apprentice on a Fletcher's building contract and had put a Fletcher Construction sign up on site.

"Sir James saw the sign and told me 'It is The Fletcher Construction Company and it is to be painted black on highway yellow'."

His knowledge, attention to detail, influence and standards were to be lasting lesson. 


- Founded 1984 by Ron Anderson and Bob Foster.
- Has managed more than 2000 projects.
- Ten branches throughout New Zealand and in Melbourne employing more than 150 people.
- Estimated turnover to date estimated at more than $2.5 billion.

Projects Include:
- Conserving explorer huts in the Antarctic.
- Queenstown Airport terminal expansion, apron upgrade and transportation works.
- Southland Hospital redevelopment.
- Dunedin International Airport terminal and car park development.
- Coronet Peak base building and snow-making facilities.
- Te Waonui Forest Retreat at Franz Josef on the West Coast.
- The Sir Edmund Hillary Alpine Centre, Mt Cook.
- Hermitage redevelopment, Mt Cook.
- Aoraki Mt Cook Visitor Centre.


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