A Bob for a Job

A Bob for a Job

Neuchatel is proud of its 100-year history in shaping buildings and roads in NZ. Here’s a look at the 90’s –  a period of prosperity and change – as seen through the eyes of Bob Lygo, who Managed Neuchatel NZ at the time.

Mastic Asphalt polymers have evolved over the centuries, but the product and the application processes remain as relevant today as they did in 1857. That was the year when Ferdinand Magellan used this same product in Jamaica to cork his ships for the return to Spain. Given our climate and proximity to the sea, the demand in NZ for this malleable, robust, long-lasting waterproofing solution has always been strong and is likely to remain so for a long time to come.

Bob Lygo managed Neuchatel through the latter 20th century, overseeing several changes and innovations. He is now retired and living in the Manawatu.

In the 70’s and 80’s the pace and value of developments in NZ was skyrocketing.  There was a shortage of skilled manpower, which in turn led to an influx of construction professionals.  Bob Lygo was one of many UK construction professionals who emigrated to meet the demand for commercial and civil engineering projects.

At that time Neuchatel was a subsidiary of Mobil Oil, who owned the concessions for Trinidad Lake Asphalt which was (and still is) the unusually high quality product used to make Neuchatel Mastic Asphalt.

Road Works in the 70’s saw massive growth in civil engineering and a jockeying for ownership of companies like Neuchatel.

The massive growth spurt also triggered a number of mergers and acquisitions within the sector, as companies jockeyed for leadership of their respective industries. And given its specialist role and quality products, Neuchatel was viewed as a prime target.

Neuchatel was acquired by Bitumix shortly before Bob joined in 1994, and was sold twice shortly after – first to the government Works and Infrastructure, and then to Downers EDI who already owned a bitumen manufacturing plant in Tauranga, and for whom this product seemed like a natural extension.

During this time Bob worked from the Neuchatel office in Wellington where he set about building the operations in NZ. From the Neuchatel depot in Wellington, and another in Auckland, Bob worked closely with industry leaders like Fletcher Construction, where he quickly gained a reputation for fast and high quality work. Working mostly on Carparks and roofing at the time, Bob helped change the skyline of our major cities, with projects such as the Sun Alliance Building (now Vero Centre) and many others.

The sub layers are built up to provide a base for the ironworks to sit flush with the road surface.

Neuchatel, which had always prided itself on its hands-on accountability and responsiveness, was now being operated as a cog in a much bigger machine. Their product, now locally produced, was less robust than imported polymers, and although there was a wider installation base, these people were less specifically trained.

As the markets peaked and began to contract the rational for a specialist operation like Neuchatel to be constrained by the tethers of big business became more tenuous. Mastic Asphalt operations required skilled people on call – to cope with the narrow window for application. With construction delays and weather upsetting schedules often by weeks or months, managing staff resources could become a nightmare.

So as the range and extent of operations expanded, Neuchatel became less of a good fit for the Tauranga plant, which itself was becoming less competitive against foreign imports. And around the start of the new millennium Neuchatel was once again sold – this time to an Auckland based waterproofing firm who reestablished the supply of high-quality imported asphalt and a skilled responsive operation.

Applying torch on membraneWith the head office moving to Auckland, Bob had an important decision to make. He loved the lower North Island, and decided it was his time to step down from the reins of the company.

Bob steered Neuchatel through the minefield of conglomeration, and saw to it that the product and the reputation lived on in its new home. Along the way he’d strengthened the product base with the agency for Imper Italia – NZ’s first BRANZ-appraised range of roofing membranes – which became a key part of Neuchatel’s service and remains a stalwart of the Neuchatel range to this day. Even now he is occasionally called upon to provide a qualified opinion on existing or planned mastic asphalt installations.

Civil Engineering and Commercial Design projects generally have a life expectancy measured in decades, not years. And it’s important that companies have provision for maintenance and support decades down the track. Thanks to Bob, Neuchatel is still servicing installations it made almost a century ago!

For the last 100+ years Neuchatel has been protecting tens of thousands of surfaces from deterioration caused by heavy machinery and the elements. In this time they’ve refined their products and services to be more durable, environmentally friendly and affordable – especially for large scale projects. For more information, click the links above, or call us on 09 441 4595