Led by a purpose of saving lives and livelihoods

Argus Fire Protection designs solutions to protect life, property, and assets from fire. Founded in 1981 as a sprinkler contracting company, it consisted of a few old vans and a team of five hard-working sprinkler fitters.

In the late 80s, Jacqui’s father Erle Bensemann responded to an advertisement placed by Gilligan Sheppard to sell an electrical contracting business. Erle met with Bruce Sheppard, who refused to sell it to him because it was not the right fit for his entrepreneurial spirit, he was then in his 60s. He was looking for his third fire company to found and grow. Bruce told him about Argus and suggested he buy that instead. It wasn’t for sale. Erle and Bruce worked together to buy the company (also a Gilligan Sheppard client), and a happy transaction occurred for all parties.

Bruce warmed to Erle almost immediately despite the fact they were a generation apart in age. Jacqui his daughter, and Bruce are the same age! Bruce offered to buy in, and Erle warmly accepted.

Erle contacted two of his lifelong friends, Ian Maclean who he met at university and Neil McNaught. Both were investors in Benefis Alarms, Erle’s previous fire company. Both agreed to back Erle and Bruce in the acquisition. Ian brought in his half-a-generation-younger friend, Graeme Mander, a large plumbing contractor in Wellington. From these five formed and bonded as the founding owners.

However, Erle was an autocrat, a man of his generation, and the others left him to it. If any of you know Bruce as a partner, that must seem a very unlikely occurrence. The trust and bond were real and Erle headed it.

Led by the purpose of saving lives and livelihoods with a set of strong values, Argus Fire Protection designs and engineers fire systems and installs new protection systems into a vast array of sites. From manufacturing and geothermal power plants to warehouses, offices, heritage buildings and high-rise apartments.

Jacqui’s first introduction to Gilligan Sheppard was through her father in the early 1990s. Back then, Jacqui and her husband were living in London and were in New Zealand for a visit. Her father told her she had to come and meet this guy Bruce Sheppard, who was taking care of family finances. Not having brought any of her corporate London attire with her, she anxiously cobbled together an outfit from her holiday clothes and went to meet Bruce with her dad.

The first thing she realised was that she needn’t have been worried about her lack of business attire. As she recalls, Bruce was wearing cycling shorts. She also remembers walking away from that meeting with the feeling that Bruce Sheppard was the most interesting and different “accountant” she had ever met.

In a tragic set of circumstances, Jacqui found herself at the helm of the Argus Business. She had worked off-and-on in the business on special projects but was not prepared to lead the business nor understand the complexity of it.

The sudden passing of Jacqui’s father presented turbulent times. Although Jacqui had stacks of commercial experience, it was understandably a difficult season for her, so she turned to the one person she felt could offer her some sort of support – Bruce.

It was the best thing she could have done, as she got more than a little advice. Bruce worked with Jacqui to formulate a plan and then helped her execute it. And that painful, stressful period turned into a long, strong relationship. Jacqui recalls,

“Bringing Bruce on was the starting point that led to the company’s new growth. Under Bruce’s guidance, we reshaped our Board, which gave me the support and backup I needed.”

Bruce however says, “It was at hand, she just had to use the Board she had, and make it fit for purpose and then reassess what she needed.”

Jacqui’s brother Clive, a psychiatrist by training, joined the board. He is a medical doctor and a health sector senior administrator, but also unprepared.

An eclectic lot that bonded, and rolled up their sleeves to guide and help Jacqui and Argus succeed. Graeme and Bruce led the initial charge around the board table and Clive rapidly grew into the role of Chair.

The next big step for Argus was to bring outside independence onto its board. The first such appointment was with Pekka Orpana. Pekka was a past CEO of Plumbing World, where Graeme Mander was the Chair and founder. Pekka fitted like a glove and was every bit as challenging as Bruce around a board table. All respected each other and the dynamism of respectful honest challenge drove the culture of Argus. More recently they have appointed a neat fit, Paul Smart, to the board. He was also on the Plumbing World Board with Graeme. During this time, Argus recruited some awesome leadership by way of Bryce Donaldson and Ben Hanif.

If there is a lesson in this journey, it is that networks of good people matter, birds of a feather and all of that. Trust, challenge, alignment, and resilience drive success. In the words of Clive, “We have created a Whanau.” In the words of Bruce, “Why would we sell this business, we get lots of offers, but how do you price joy?”

Gilligan Sheppard still takes care of the financial reporting of Argus as well as the shareholders’ compliance, and when necessary, more.

“Bruce and the partners at GS have built an organisation who cares about their client’s wellbeing and success. Having a strong team of talented accountants and business growth experts with strong ethics on tap is a valuable resource. Everyone at Gilligan Sheppard is of the highest calibre, all going above and beyond what you’d expect from a typical accountancy firm.” Says Jacqui.

“It’s comforting and easy doing business with people you connect with,” Jacqui says. “The people at Gilligan Sheppard– they make you feel like family. During my learning phase, they never made me feel as though my questions were stupid – they have a knack of explaining things in a way that I could understand.” 

The thing Jacqui admires about Bruce and the GS team is that if you’re part of their whanau, they will walk over hot coals for you. “They are driven by a strong sense of justice and are happy to put their neck on the block. Integrity and strong core values are very important to the GS team, and they will happily fight for what’s fair and right.”

“They’re a brilliant fit for our business, with services way beyond just accounting and a tremendous breadth of connections.”

“Strategy, business growth, personal development – Bruce and the team understand our business holistically. They care about us and will recommend services that will improve our business. They will also promote us canvassing for service providers but also ask if they can throw their hat in the ring if they offer the service as well. That’s different.” “Argus and Gilligan Sheppard are very alike. We have shared values, we care about our people and our customers, we deal with integrity, we support our supply chain, we continually reinvest and Argus and Gilligan Sheppard both run an infinite game, based on purpose, and belonging. Gilligan Sheppard is one of us, and Argus is one of them.”

Jacqui Bensemann, Managing Director of Argus Fire Protection
“To protect your people, your business, your livelihood, and your property, through tailored fire protection solutions.”
Visit the website here; https://argusfire.co.nz

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