As two of our longest serving people prepare for a well-deserved retirement, it is timely to reflect on their enormous contribution to the growth of Northpower. Lloyd Richards and Andre Watts have been part of the journey from a regional electricity distribution board in Whangārei with around 200 staff to the Northpower of today, an integrated infrastructure company with 14 locations and 1,300 staff across the North Island.
Lloyd joined Northpower in 1978 as an engineering cadet before moving into the planning office. Things were certainly different in those days says Lloyd, “there wasn’t a lot of co-ordination between the office staff and field staff. One of the things I really enjoyed was helping to get the two teams working together – it was like early contractor engagement these days!” he says.
Andre began his career at Northpower as a utility worker in the ‘stripping shed’, cleaning assets for re-use to go back out into the field. He learned how to drive a truck and got his licence “despite having not much practice!” says Andre. From there he was a trainee linesman and became an integral part of the business.
Northpower’s first foray into contracting was in 1995, after lunchroom conversations about seeing the possibilities in venturing outside of Northland, to winning a contract to replace 13km of lines in Taranaki. The team headed down and got stuck into the job despite the freezing Taranaki winter. “It was the first time I had ever seen snow!” recalls Andre.
The team continued, working on the Powerco network in Tauranga and a new subdivision project in Auckland for the Vector network. The opportunity came to bid for Vector’s south-eastern zone maintenance contract, and despite an Australian partner pulling out just before the bid deadline, Northpower won. This marked the beginning of Northpower contracting's growth.
Initially, teams travelled from Whangārei to Auckland on a rotation basis before establishing a permanent depot in East Tamaki, led by Lloyd as General Manager - Contracting. They subsequently secured further contracts with Vector, Powerco, Transpower, and Wellington Electricity, resulting in a multi-million dollar business and the establishment of additional depots throughout the North Island.
Andre remained in Whangārei but was heavily involved in works planning and scheduling, and travelled to many of the major customer sites, training up staff and working on-site. “I reckon I’ve been to most places all over the North Island,” says Andre, who also has worked internationally for Northpower in Tonga and Perth.
It is an example of two careers that have taken different paths – into management and technical field excellence - but have both provided options and lifelong opportunities within our industry. Both Lloyd and Andre still occasionally pass by those first poles in Taranaki that are still standing strong, and say it gives them a sense of pride.
Lloyd credits the people and culture at Northpower as the main reason he has enjoyed coming to work over the years. “Supporting people is so important,” he says.
He also emphasises the ongoing importance of health and safety in our industry and says he’s particularly proud of the work that has been done in recent times on identifying critical risks and putting in place control management to help make a safer workplace for us all. “It’s by looking after our people that we get the best results, and the number one way to do this is keep health and safety at the forefront of all we do”, says Lloyd.
Andre says he’s loved his career.
"If I had my time over, I’d do it all again. I hope new people coming into the industry understand how much of a career you can have here.”
Thank you, Lloyd and Andre, for your tireless service and exceptional leadership over the years, and we wish you all the very best as you hang up your PPE and enjoy your retirement!