Today we catch up with Mario, development manager on our largest project, West Hills in the northwest of Auckland – that we will be launching later this year.
Crosby: Thank you Mario for giving me your time today. After that development marketing meeting we just had I can see you are very busy, so I won’t keep you too long. Now you are the lead in our largest housing project, but for the uninitiated of us can you describe how you fit into the Universal Homes creation machine?
Mario: Thanks, yes, I am a development manager for one project, a big one that will deliver over 1000 homes in North West Auckland over the next eight years. Basically, my role is to make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to be doing, that everything is being done and a lot of follow up.
Crosby: So you are like a director or a conductor of the team that puts the project together?
Mario: Yes, making sure everyone is playing to the right tune: The architects, Council, engineers, contractors, our team internally: there are a lot of musicians involved.
Crosby: Ha, Ok before the cliché goes any further, what about some specifics day to day. Give us an example.
Mario: Well, at the moment, we have an issue with the infrastructure that I need to sort out. It’s not very glamourous, it’s a sewer pump station. However, it is a very expensive one. The main problem is the solution that our engineers have presented involves us spending over a million dollars on a new pump station that will become redundant in a years’ time. So I am looking into the options and discussing with Watercare and Council what else we can do.
Crosby: The engineers didn’t originally present options?
Mario: Well, not really, they gave us a solution, but the ultimate pricing thereof necessitated a rethink. It’s just not going to help us keep the price of new homes down. This is one of many infrastructure issues we are sorting through. We are taking a large piece of farmland and turning it into new houses, complete with roads and parks and everything else. There is a lot of work involved.
Crosby: And at the end of it, what do you want to see?
Mario: Let’s say in five years I want to stand back to see what has been delivered and I want to see that it is quality, robust and is working as intended. All the boring bits that new homes might not appreciate: the roads, the storm water systems, the retaining walls etc.
Crosby: Sometimes they don’t work?
Mario: Yes, I have had 15 years’ experience in land development in New Zealand and more overseas. Sometimes developers cut corners, or consultants and contractors just don’t get it right. With Universal we keep stable relationships with our extended team members, the engineers etc. We understand the process, know how to work well together and we actually grow together. That really helps solving difficult technical and strategic infrastructure issues – many of which involve negotiation with Council and utility providers. I have some customer service experience so that comes in handy for those discussions as well.
Crosby: Customer Service – what did you do before Universal?
Mario: Well I have been here about ten months now and prior to that I worked as a consultant on other large-scale subdivisions in Auckland. However, before that when I first came to New Zealand I worked in the rental car business.
Crosby: Rental cars, as an engineer??
Mario: No, I used to lease them out! Back in South Africa I got fed up with the construction game and moved to work in the rental car business. When I moved to New Zealand, that was the first place I looked. Then of course once we were set up, I got back into development and 17 years later here we are.
Crosby: What happened to make you want to leave working on construction projects in South Africa?
Mario: A gun to the head. I was responsible for consents and claims for new subdivisions. One day I was at a site visit at one of our latest projects with the construction team and three youths rolled up. They held us up and stole my Ute. You could say it shook me up just a little, and I left out of frustration really.
Crosby: Wow, so many people from South Africa have these sorts of brutal stories. Well the good news is you are in New Zealand now.
Mario: Yep, and I’m just learning to surf as well! My brother moved away from South Africa also, to Vancouver, so hope to get there one day for a visit as well. In addition to building slightly ambitious chicken coops for the kids.
Crosby. Yes, from those photos it looks like that would have taken its own project directorship! So three final questions. One: what do you think Universal does well? Two: what tip would you provide to an aspiring development manager? and thirdly: what are your thoughts on the future of housing in New Zealand?
Mario: So, on the first I think Universal does communication very well. That is communication between ourselves and all the people that need to be involved to deliver these projects.
What would I say to an aspiring development manager? Hmm, well I think they really need to learn the process of land development. It takes years of experience to really understand all the pieces to the consenting and engineering approval and signoffs and all the things that can trip you up along the way. Having a firm grasp of the development process, and making a real effort to understand it as quickly as possible is probably the most important aspect for someone new to focus on. Without that knowledge, or relying blindly on others, will lead to more trial and error and inevitably expensive mistakes.
Crosby: and slower to get homes to our clients!
Mario: Indeed. Now on the third point I have a dream to put the car underground. So much of my time is spent thinking about roads and car access, and how cars dictate the design to a large degree on these subdivisions. Wouldn’t it be nice to drive in somewhere and your car goes down a lift underground and out of the way.
Crosby: Thanks Mario, I'm going to google that now….