Smith & Caughey's

Gilligan Sheppard was a tenant in a building on Swanson Street, central Auckland. Six months into a three-year lease (at $3,000 a year), Chase Corporation bought the building. It was the mid-eighties and tower cranes were all over Auckland building towers of concrete everywhere you looked.

Chris Minty from the Chase Corporation arrives, explains the situation, and offered Bruce Sheppard $1,000 to move out. Bruce felt he had just won Golden Kiwi and was quite happy for the argument. So, he said no. Chris upped his offer to $3,000. Bruce still said no.

Chris decided they would demolish around Bruce. Bruce pointed out that the lease said tenants will be able to have “quiet enjoyment”. Chris exited the other tenants and began soft demolition.

Six months pass, so Chris goes back to Bruce and offers him $20,000.

Bruce countered “Yes, if you find us new premises and pay rent for the remaining term of the three-year lease, less the $3,000 per year I am contracted to pay.”

Shortly after, Chris found the top floor of the Smith & Caughey (S&C) building. Manu Bhanabhai’s firm ‘Dwyer Whitechurch & Bhanabhai’ had moved across the street. In the 30’s and 40’s, what is now Simpson Grierson and Brookfields, used to be tenants there. In 1986 Bruce, Kevin Gilligan and the two Margaret’s moved in. It was a palace compared to Swanson Street and three times the space of what they originally had.

In late 1986 they signed a lease and moved into the fourth floor in early 1987. Smith & Caughey’s CEO was Joe Setters who was in his 80’s and he had worked there for over 70 years joining them as a stable hand when he was 12 years old (in the 1910’s). There were horses in the basement then, and they carried S&C’s goods all over Auckland in carts. Then cars came along and now the stables are a storage area with bays where the horses once were.

There were also pneumatic tubes that S&C had used to transport mail and money. We could send documents to each other at our desks, fun, but more work than walking over to someone and talking to them.

Joe knew the building like the back of his hand. If anything went wrong; power, water, sprinklers… he knew exactly what needed to be done. This one time, it was raining and there was a leak in the building next door. He came up to our floor, went out onto the roof through our offices. He stood on a chair, climbed out, cleared the drain, and came back in. A drowned rat, he put the chair back and gave his thanks for the access. For someone in their 80’s, he did amazingly agile things. They pensioned him off soon after that and he died shortly after.

As Bruce always says, “Retirement and expirement are closely correlated. If you stop, you die.”

Kevin found out that the fourth floor was available, so he went and had a look. The firm now had six people and back then wages were around $30k each. Bruce heard that the rent was $50k annually and decided it was too risky. Kevin kept on about it, so Bruce finally went and had a look.

A year previous, Nationwide Credit Services (now Bay Corp) had 100 people on the floor and had left behind their desks. Bruce described it as a complete rat hole. It had cubicles with wires hanging out everywhere and was an absolute mess. It had one very fancy room in the corner, probably a board room.

Bruce eventually came around and Gilligan Sheppard took the space in November 1986. They signed a nine-year lease and sublet it to themselves on a month-by-month basis (risk management). They cleaned out the North side of the building and got their tenants in – various businesses who came and went;

  • Albert, a wealthy migrant, who lived on Waiheke Island, and wanted his own office (he took the fancy room)
  • Keith Peterson, lawyer
  • McIntosh, wood exporter… Jade Wood!
  • New modular home company
  • Albert introduced two other venture capitalists who took an office each
  • Grey Power started here (they were in what is now the server room)
  • A computer training company (they became so successful they bought their own building)
  • The New Zealand Shareholders Association
  • Grant McMillan – who has been there for nearly twenty years and at the time of writing, still is
  • Sam Chan, accountant – but he pretended to be a partner of Gilligan Sheppard, so we had to kick him out

They convinced Smith & Caughey to pay for the next refurbishment in 1998, thus began a tradition. Every nine years, Bruce “stares down” S&C. At the time of writing, we are beginning our fourth nine-year lease.

Kevin painted the plaster mould of S&C logo above the lifts, into a GS logo with some clever artwork. Bruce entered the reception area to find Sir Harcourt Caughey and his cousin William (Bill) Caughey looking at what they considered ‘damage to property’. It was Kevin’s first attempt at branding. We all made light of it, and it remained intact until this year with the refurbishment of the reception area.

The lifts can be problematic at Smith & Caughey’s, there’s supposed to be a ghost in the Wellesley Street lift. Different team members have differing stories, but the lurkings were investigated by Mark Wallbank and his team for a TV show. After they spent the night there, he said it seemed as though something else was there with them in the bowels of the building.

Next time you visit us, make sure you say hello.

Author: Lisa Garrud interviewed Bruce Sheppard.