Obituary: Ashley Hartley

If anyone ticks all the boxes of being a great man it's Ashley Hartley.

He was a great builder, a great leader, a great husband, a great father to two daughters and the greatest supporter of the Hurricanes. It will also have given him great joy that after travelling from his home in Esk Valley, to all the Hurricanes home games at Westpac Stadium since 1996 that his beloved team finally won the Super Rugby title this year.

Ashley will be regarded as a giant within the construction industry. A builder, project manager, general manager and industry representative that always gave his time to others as well as ensuring his own construction projects were completed on time, to budget and to perfection.

His adage was that "if you put in 110 percent, you'll be certain to achieve 100 percent".

During his 50-year building career Ashley led the construction of prominent buildings such as Whakatu Freezing Works, Takapau Meat Plant, Hawke's Bay Prison, Te Taiwhenua O Heretaunga (previously DB Heretaunga), UFS Pharmacy Napier, EIT Nursing Block, BNZ Hastings, Sacred Heart Church Hastings, HB Regional Hospital, Regional Sports Park Grandstand, Farmers Hastings and numerous others.

Ashley was raised in Dannevirke and was destined to be a builder, although rugby and music came close to unraveling those plans.

The Hartley family were Country & Western musicians, touring A&P Shows and broadcasting on regional radio stations. One of Ashley's first personal building projects was to shape his own guitar, with the neck built from a macrocarpa fence batten.

At 18 years old he moved north to take up a building apprenticeship with John (JC) Mackersey in Hastings, who quickly noticed his talent, hard work ethic and willingness to learn.

By the age of 21 years John gave him the responsibility of project managing the $15 million new freezing complex at Whakatu, a 3 year project overseeing 60-80 staff.

John Caccioppoli started at Mackersey's five years earlier than Ashley. They struck up a competitive but strong relationship as they were both eager to deliver successful projects for John.

"John was a perfectionist and a hard worker, and that rubbed off on both of us.

"We soon worked out our place and JC showed his confidence in Ashley by giving him the project lead role at Whakatu at a very young age.

"Ashley was meticulous and a workaholic but in a way that inspired others."

In 1989 Mackersey's was part of a joint venture to build the $21m Mangaroa Prison. For much of the project John and Ashley worked seven days a week. When the job was completed in 1991, Ashley was determined to hand it over in perfect condition.

"I finished checking over the site and went to see Ashley who suggested that we do one more check of the site. As we walked around the site out of the corner of his eye he noticed a mark on a window pane, he quickly pulled out his handkerchief and cleaned it," Mr Caccioppoli said.

In 1991 Ashley won two National Building Manager of the Year awards - the first for a project over $5 million (Mangaroa Prison) as well as the under $5m award for a job at Watties.

Soon after the wins Ashley took a break from the local building scene and joined Palmerston North based firm McMillan & Lockwood, commuting between Napier and the firm's Wellington branch for the next five years.

During this time a new construction firm, Gemco Construction, was setting up in Hawke's Bay by a former Mackersey colleague John Sarten, businessman Terry Pratley and Darren Diack.

When Mr Diack started Gemco in 2003, he knew the key to the businesses success would be to recruit Ashley.

As a new business, Mr Diack needed an all-rounder who would ensure projects didn't run at a financial loss.

"He could price jobs accurately; got on well with everyone on site; was an accomplished builder; had strong morals and values and at the end of every day enjoyed a beer with us."

"He was always in control and would never let a client down and if something did go wrong he would make sure it was put right. He was accurate right down to knowing how many toilet rolls, coffee, tea, milk and sugar would be used during a project."

Mr Diack says the building industry is indebted to Ashley.

"Every day he would provide advice to builders and quantity surveyors around New Zealand, he was a mentor to so many."

Most weeks Ashley dedicated 60 - 70 hours to his job. It was this dedication and drive for perfection, which on many occasions wife Denise said to him "you may as well take your sleeping bag to work!"

Mr Caccioppoli recalled talking to Denise Hartley about Ashley's work ethic, which extended to household chores.

"Denise and I compared notes once. She said Ashley would arrive home and go straight to his office and continue to work. She would call him for dinner and before sitting down to eat he would go an inspect the already cleaned pots and pans and if they weren't up to his expectations he would clean them again."

Anthony Leighs of Christchurch and Auckland based firm Leighs Construction first met Ashley about a decade ago when he was first appointed to the board of Registered Master Builders Federation.

Ashley was a veteran of many building industry association groups and was the first to put out his hand and welcome Anthony into the fold.

"He was one of the more approachable and open-minded members and he welcomed me as a young person into Master Builders.

"There was no question that Ashley was meticulous. We could always rely on him to review documentation in incredible detail, I have no idea how he found the time. But he did, and he always made a hugely valuable contribution at a high level," Mr Leighs said.

Ashley was made a Life member of Master Builders in 2008, having progressed from regional councillor roles through to vice president in 2005 and President in 2006-2007.

"As president he was probably the first in that era to dedicate a lot of time to the role. Over his two years he probably spent about 200 days on the road each year meeting Master Builder branch members, while at the same time continuing his day job as general manager of Gemco," Mr Leighs said.

During his career Ashley held numerous industry roles with BCITO, BRANZ, NZ Institute of Quantity Surveyors and NZ Institute of Building.

He was the author of the Guide to Building Administration Best Practice Manual. This manual has become an instrumental part of the Registered Master Builders Education platform.

Ashley Hartley passed away on September 3 while on holiday in the United Kingdom with his wife Denise.

- Damon Harvey

- Hawkes Bay Today