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One of the features of Gavan Jackson’s career has been the variety of projects he has worked on, including power stations

Gavan Jackson – a career of two halves – By Warren Mearns

Gavan Jackson has recently retired as the managing director of Electrix after leading the company for the last 23 years. Over a career of 42 years he has worked on many landmark projects, overseen significant growth of Electrix, and built an enduring company culture that has been critical to the company’s success.

When he graduated as a civil engineer in 1976, Gavan started working in the construction industry and commenced a career of two halves. The first few decades were spent in the civil sector and from 1990 the electricity sector.

One of the features of Gavan’s civil career was the variety of projects he worked on, from the original Mangere Bridge and the Marsden Point Refinery, to a number of marinas around Auckland.

Between 1979 and 1982 Gavan did his OE where he worked in the UK on a number of projects, including the impressive Thames Flood Barrier Project.

“After 42 years I think I’ve learnt a few things along the way and I’m keen to mentor some young professionals who are in the early stages of their careers”

The second half

Gavan moved to the electricity sector in 1990 when he took up a role at a subsidiary of Electrocorp, and while there was involved in wrapping up the Clyde and Ohake power projects.

At Powermark, his next port of call, Gavan’s boss suggested that he needed to improve his people management skills, and what followed proved to be transformational.

Gavan attended an internationally recognised leadership programme. “The programme was less about acquiring skills and more about having a hard look at ourselves and seeing what made us tick. It was about being very honest and discovering what makes us authentic and real,” he says.

The outcome provided Gavan with clarity about his leadership style and set a tone for the rest of his career.

In charge

“When I joined Electrix as general manager in 1995 I didn’t intend to stay long,” Gavan says. “There were some early challenges, including an attempted takeover and the loss of a number of managers. It wasn’t quite baptism by fire, but once I had my own team in place, I was able to stamp my mark on the company.”

Gavan oversaw a number of strategic acquisitions and significant organic growth. The company entered the gas, rail, water and resources sectors, and moved into the Australian market in 1996. Electrix now operates in 30 locations across New Zealand and Australia, and during Gavan’s tenure, revenues have increased from $30 million to almost $400 million.

Gavan identifies three important events that have had a major influence on the development of the company. “There was the deregulation of the electricity industry which is why we were able to enter the Australian market. The winning of and retaining long-term maintenance contracts has provided security and almost instant growth. Our contract with Vector in 2009 doubled our size.”

International power

The purchase of the company by Vinci Energies, a major international company, in 2014 proved to be transformational. “Vinci Energies was a revelation from the outset. They were particularly focused on the cultural fit between the two companies,” Gavan says. “We gained access to the resources of a major international company and still had the autonomy to control our own destiny.”

The expertise of Vinci Energies was instrumental in Electrix recently winning a seven-year, $90 million, energy-performance streetlighting contract in Canberra.

One of Gavan’s legacies will be the culture that he was responsible for developing. Electrix is very clear about what it stands for and this has become the foundation of the brand and the driver for the company’s success.

“By the time I arrived at Electrix, I was clear about the difference between leading and managing. I didn’t need to know everything, but I needed enough knowledge to ask the right questions!” Gavan comments.

The key to managing the growth of the company has been developing its own leaders, and 16 years ago the Electrix Development Programme was established. “It ensured our people had opportunities to develop their careers and we had the best talent available to lead the company at any time,” he adds.

Between 1979 and 1982 Gavan did his OE where he worked in the UK on a number of projects, including the impressive Thames Flood Barrier Project

Built to last

Jim Collins, author of ‘Built to Last’, recommends that companies home-grow their management. His research has shown that visionary companies that do this are significantly more successful over time than those that recruit their CEOs externally. Their core values are retained and they continue to grow, adapt and lead their industries. Electrix, take a bow.

Gavan can point to a number of direct links between company culture and business performance. “The retention of long-term contracts underpins the overall success of the business, and the way we manage our customer relationships is critical to achieving this. And because we hold on to our people, those relationships have continuity in personnel.”

Into the future

“Do I know what Electrix will look like in five years? No. Do I know what Electrix needs to do to be successful in five years? Yes. Electrix will need to continually adapt to the world of rapidly changing technologies – we’re seeing this with ‘smart’ cities – and we’re well positioned to be part of this.

“Electrix has an entrepreneurial culture, and with a strong pool of talented leaders and the support of Vinci Energies I have no doubt that Electrix will continue to be a relevant and successful business.”

Gavan’s primary focus now will be on governance. He is a member of the Institute of Directors and has a number of directorships, including Connexis, the industry training organisation for the infrastructure sector.

“After 42 years I think I’ve learnt a few things along the way and I’m keen to mentor some young professionals who are in the early stages of their careers,” he concludes. “I had some great mentors, so it’s time for me to return the favour.”

Warren Mearns is a brand strategist and copywriter at Marque, a brand, digital and design agency that works extensively in the construction sector

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