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Five minutes with Peter Hughes, Prime Super Regional Manager for Western Victoria

June 18, 2020

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When a major client went into liquidation, quick action was needed

Waitangi Day 2013 was a lovely sunny Wednesday. I was in the garden pulling weeds when Josh, my senior staff member from our Construction Labour Hire team calls me and says he's heard rumours of Mainzeal going into liquidation.



My heart stops. We have 30-plus skilled construction staff on one of their flagship projects at Victoria University Wellington and they owe us a LOT.
We had been in business for six years and although, well established, we were not equipped to take a hit like this. 


My business partner and I had poured our hearts and souls into Key Skills Recruitment. I wasn’t sure how I was going to tell her this news.


I jumped into my car and immediately called one of the Senior Mainzeal Site Managers, a good friend of ours. I told him his company had gone bust. He was in the car with his kids and he hadn't heard a thing up to that point... I still feel bad about that.


I met Josh at the office. We went through all of our records to establish who we had working for Mainzeal and we started calling. They had tools on the site and needed them to work on any new assignments we got for them.


So many questions: how were they going to get their tools? Would they be paid for the for two days they had worked that week? The answer was probably not.


I looked closer at the accounts, Mainzeal owed us nearly $200k. Could we survive that? At that point I honestly didn’t know.


I tried to contact anyone I could to get answers for our staff. No-one could or would talk; we were simply directed to the liquidators. A big meeting was to be held at the VUW campus at 7the next morning. I couldn’t sleep knowing everything was on the line.


There was a crowd gathered, we listened to the receivers tell us that the site would remain in lockdown and there was no opportunity of retrieving tools and equipment until early the following week.  


This news didn’t go down well with the crowd.  No tools means no livelihood for them! There was a feeling of disbelief, frustration, anger. How could this possibly happen?


I met with the receivers and made the case for our workers, but the site was in lockdown.

I went back to the office exhausted and started the process of saving our company and looking my business partner in the eye. I called BNZ, our bankers (ironically it was BNZ that put the final nail in Mainzeal’s coffin) and I asked for their support. 


We had to demonstrate our current position, the debt, our forward work load and luckily we received their support to get us through the next few weeks and months.


We were some of the lucky ones. Other subcontractors just watched as their livelihood, their hard work and their staff went down the gurgler. Marriages broke up, stress levels skyrocketed even suicide was discussed. How could this possibly happen?


We received confirmation on February 8 from Price Waterhouse Coopers that we would be allowed in the following day. I was the second contractor allowed on site and they would only let me in for one hour with one helper because they couldn’t allow a stampede of people “collecting” tools and equipment. 


I collated a list of our workers’ tools and approximate locations knowing most of the tools were tagged with the workers names.