Rider Levett Bucknall (RLB) is delighted to celebrate our treasured Technical Director and renowned healthcare specialist Bob Buskin’s 50th anniversary of tenure.
The beginning of Bob’s journey from the UK to the Antipodes
Born in Edgeware Hospital in Northwest London, Bob never predicted he would end up an industry-leading hospital specialist at the other end of the world – but RLB Auckland is very glad he did.
Bob left regular education and went to a building school at just 13 years old. At Willesden Technical School of Building, Bob could drop subjects like history and geography in favour of hands-on education in plastering, carpentry, painting, plumbing and, of course, construction.
When he graduated in 1965, Bob had three job interviews– one for an estimator role at a construction company, one as a quantity surveyor for a mechanical and electrical firm, and one as a professional QS with Harold Rideout and Partners. Bob chose the third option because “the business was located in Soho and the lunchtime walks were fantastic”.
His first pay check was for $5 guineas a week – 5 pounds and 5 shillings.
Paperwork to PDFs: Basic beginnings
How has the QS role evolved over a 50-year career?
“When I first started, the office in the UK used to sort QSs into four categories: Estimators (who estimated), Worker-uppers (who sorted all the paperwork – including dimension sheets, calculations and descriptions – to take it to the typing pool for production into bills of quantities), Taker-offers (who carried out measuring), and Post Contract.
“I spent the first year squaring in imperial, not metric, which when you look back now seems nightmarish having to manually calculate duodecimals: 20 ft 11 inches by 12 foot 7 inches, and such – with no adding machines or calculators, as they weren’t invented yet.
“I did the calculations, but I wasn’t experienced enough to check them so more senior people had to inspect my work. People like (RLB Auckland Director) Richard Anderson would understand what it was like in those days.”
The first big move abroad
Seven years later, in 1972, Bob moved to Adelaide while chasing after his now-wife, Sylvia. Bob found work as an Intermediate QS at Rider Hunt Adelaide, where he ultimately spent 15 years and became an Associate.
Bob remembers his time in Adelaide as formative and keeps in close touch with some of the friends he made in his colleagues at Rider Hunt. These close friends include Mark Burrows, former MD of RLB Brisbane; Stephen Knight, former MD of RLB Adelaide; and Alastair McMichael, former MD of RLB Perth (all now retired). The four and their partners still go travelling together. Bob attributes their firm friendships to the positive culture in the RLB Adelaide office.
“When I first came to Australia, I didn’t know anyone except Sylvia’s parents. But everybody was welcoming, and a strong team formed quickly. Culture was such an important part of the office.”
Bob worked on some fascinating projects in Adelaide. One of these was for the State Government Insurance Co., which had purchased a big site that unfortunately had the old heritage Marine and Harbours Board building “smack bang in the middle of it.” Being a heritage building, they couldn’t build around it or demolish it, so the consultant team came up with the idea of just moving it six metres to the left. The project demanded significant risk mitigation and creative thinking, and involved jacking up the building and placing it onto skates. It was “probably the most interesting project I worked on over there.”
Seeing innovation start to take flight at RLB
Creative thinking was and remains a key feature of quantity surveying. The senior partner in Adelaide (the structure was a partnership then) was John Hemmett, who Bob admired as “very much a ‘thinking outside the square’ type of chap.” John couldn’t understand why the measuring and estimating was not being computerised, so, always one to roll up his sleeves, he engaged a software company. Within about 18 months the team – who had been “absolute guinea pigs” – had helped to develop two bundles of software, called RIPAC (for measuring schedules of quantities) and Everest (for estimating).
RLB (or Rider Hunt) offices in Adelaide, Melbourne and New Zealand were all crucial in the development of the boutique software, which RLB still uses, though it has grown immensely into its current iteration of ROSS 5-D. RIPAC and Everest were later released to the market for purchase by other QS businesses and are still in use by some today. Bob looks back on that period of high-quality innovation:
“You could still use Everest in today’s world and get along quite well with it, it’s that good. We used it right up to when we developed ROSS 5-D.”
Arriving in Auckland
While in Adelaide, Bob also enjoyed stints for projects with RLB offices in Brisbane and the Gold Coast, which he describes as “easy when you’re young and upwardly mobile”. He travelled to then-Rider Hunt Auckland too, in order to assist the office for four months with an initial upgrade of the Māngere sewage works. Bob knew Partner Keith Coombes already through the Rider Hunt network.
He liked what he saw across the ditch (at least, whenever he wasn’t located at the sewage works), so in 1987, 15 years and three sons later, Bob and Sylvia and their young family came to New Zealand, with Bob joining Rider Hunt Auckland as a Director. He has been here ever since – an impressive 35 years, making 50 years in total with RLB.
The early days were a challenging time economically, he says.
“My first impressions of NZ in terms of business were actually pretty bad due to the stock market crash in the 80s. A lot of businesses were in dire straits and quantity surveying was more important than ever for the construction industry.”
Bob was a Director when Rider Hunt merged with Holmes Cook and Cardiff, and in the later merger when Rider Hunt became RLB Auckland.
Delivering iconic Auckland projects
In the 10 years after he joined the Auckland office, Bob gained significant experience in a wide range of sectors. One of his most memorable jobs was the now skyline-dominating SkyCity Sky Tower, delivered concurrently with the SkyCity Casino, SkyCity Theatre, and SkyCity Hotel development (all of which RLB acted as QS).
“It was such a big job we had to split up who was doing what. I put my hand up at the time to manage the scheduling. Brian Dackers and Neville Graham did a lot of the estimating, and Richard Anderson ran the post contract. I measured the whole Sky Tower: concrete, foundations, steel, windows, services and all. It was a very tight programme for such a major project, and we delivered it very successfully.”
The project was of a unique scale for Auckland. Bob remembers that Warren Hollings, from Fletchers, had a bed in his office on site during construction. He describes Warren standing up in front of large groups of stakeholders to explain the logistics.
“You’d look out the window of the office and see all these concrete trucks lined up through the streets.”
The then-Fay Richwhite Building, the tall A-Class copper coloured commercial tower at 151 Queen Street (now the SAP Building), was another major project Bob recollects as one-of-a-kind.
“It was unique at the time for having air conditioning and plant built floor-by-floor, on each floor, so there was no huge dedicated plant room. And it was the first building in New Zealand to have that gorgeous hung glass assembly façade.”
Developing his specialist healthcare expertise
With a slew of various complex and iconic projects under his belt, including the Bob Jones Tower, a range of data centres for Vodafone, four radio towers, and more, Bob’s significant specialty in health came as a matter of course. It was a clear opportunity for continued work as NZ’s health infrastructure was degenerating fast.
Bob had already worked on a range of hospitals in and around Adelaide, so healthcare wasn’t new to him. As a result, his last 15 to 20 years have been heavily focused on hospitals.
Bob has now worked on many of New Zealand’s major hospital new-builds, refurbs and rebuilds, including Auckland Hospital, the new Waitākere Hospital, North Shore Hospital, and all the major new-builds in Christchurch, Wellington, Dunedin, Taranaki, Rotorua, Tauranga, Whangārei, Hawkes Bay, and Waikato. Clients have also included a range of other public and private clients.
“I can’t think of many hospitals I haven’t worked on,” he says. “But when RLB Auckland first entered the healthcare sector, we went through a couple of years of just doing smaller stuff like ward refurbishments – you don’t build a whole new hospital every day.”
Bob continues to provide his significant specialist healthcare expertise on a wide range of healthcare projects throughout New Zealand. His specialist skillset is very highly sought-after. He muses on healthcare project challenges:
“Masterplanning for new hospitals isn’t for the weak – struggles can include even just getting decisions made on options. Budgets and scope creep are always an issue. Hospital projects almost never involve delivering a complete campus, which complicates planning somewhat. The other buildings on site have to keep operating, so live site infrastructure becomes a significant cost issue.”
Bob has also seen an immense amount of change in the sector over the decades.
“Sustainability wasn’t even in the vocabulary back then. The increasing focus on building ‘green’ in healthcare from the last 10 years or so is quite new, with the government mandate now being that all hospital projects have to target 5 Star Green Star (provided the budget can cope with it).”
He is currently providing services on New Zealand’s first fully Green Star rated hospital, Project Maunga Stage 2 in Taranaki.
“I don’t feel any need to retire whatsoever”
Bob has passed standard retirement age, and has no intention of retiring soon. Why?
“Every project is different, so every day your work brings you interesting new things. You might do similar tasks, but for the most part every project brings different issues, different requirements, and different people. The variety keeps me curious. This career has always kept me on my toes, and I’ll never stop learning. I don’t feel any need to retire whatsoever.”
RLB Auckland Managing Director Steve Gracey credits Bob with being highly instrumental in the success of the business.
“Bob is a people person, and has often been tasked with recruitment over the years – his eye for talent has helped our business to build the highly capable group we have today. I still remember my job interview with Bob, and him being shocked by how much money I wanted! An incredible career that I’m delighted to say is still going.”
Although RLB Auckland now operates out of the 16th floor of the Vero Centre (and continues to expand), Bob remembers well the first office he worked in here.
“It was a repurposed space in one of the old heritage homes on Princes Street [now part of the University of Auckland’s property asset collection]. We paid $100 a week rent. The building is still standing, but I don’t know how.”
Bob’s dry wit, cheeky personality, love of football, and flair in attire have made him an ever-popular fixture in RLB Auckland. We thank him for his loyal tenure, unmatched work ethic, endless contribution, and invigorating charisma.
“His loyalty to RLB is only matched by his loyalty to Arsenal,” says RLB Auckland Director Richard Anderson. “I’ve worked alongside Bob for 35 years and he’s never wavered in his support for either.”
Bob’s 50 years at RLB, and 57 in the QS industry in total, have provided him with an immense wealth of knowledge, an unrivalled skillset, an interesting and varied history and future, and treasured professional and personal relationships.
His final thoughts on his long, illustrious career revert immediately back to his wife and family.
“They say behind every good man is a good woman, and I could not ask for a more supportive and wonderful wife than Sylvia.”