Business Profiles

GEMCO – Celebrating 20 years in business

In 20 short years, Hawke’s Bay’s leading construction firm has etched out an enviable list of prominent construction projects across Napier, Hastings and beyond.

In typical Gemco fashion, the company celebrated the 20 year milestone with 500 people including staff, family, clients and friends with Gemfest, headlined by top New Zealand band The Blackseeds at Church Road Winery.

Gemco Managing Director Darren Diack said Gemco sets a high standard when it comes to hospitality and having The Black Seeds on stage at a private party will be hard to top.

“We’ve had big party’s before but this has been the party of all parties. We had a long association with Art Deco and took guests on train trips and other fun excursions, but having a band like The Black Seeds whose songs have millions of listens on Spotify, is pretty special.”

“It was a special day, a chance to thank everyone for the support they have given us and for the role they’ve played in our success.”

Gemco has come a long way since late 2003 when founders Darren Diack, Terry Pratley, John Sarten and John Carter set about disrupting the old school approach to construction, focussing on building longlasting relationships with clients by delivering high quality outcomes while having lots of fun along the way!

Today as Darren reflects on the origins of a business that has now completed more than $1billion in projects, it’s the repeat business from the likes of Pratley/McPhail, Arvida, Woodford House College, EIT Hawke’s Bay, Hastings District Council, Napier City Council and many other quality clients that he’s particularly proud of.

“Customers only come back if you are looking after them” he says. Terry owned the Mary Doyle Retirement Village in Havelock North and in regular catch ups with Darren, who was the boss at Carters Hastings Branch, he would download his frustrations of missed build deadlines.

Over a 12-month period they hatched a plan to transition Terry’s project management firm that oversaw his developments, into a fully-fledged construction company, that in time would offer the full suite of trades – building, painting, plumbing, electrical, masonry, joinery, tiling and plastering.

One of Gemco’s earliest clients was prestigious girls’ secondary school Woodford House, an enduring partnership that has seen multiple new build projects and complex refurbishments over the last 20 years. Woodford House Business and Operations Manager Ted Jones says Gemco has been a committed build partner that has gone the extra mile.

“Gemco have been closely involved with all the major building projects at Woodford House over the last 20 years, as well as being our go to for any urgent maintenance tasks. Gemco always
go out of their way to assist with any request asked of them and have a great knowledge of how the school operates,” Ted says.

In 2004 Darren set about recruiting the very best people from the building industry, many who are still at Gemco today. One of the best recruitment decisions early on was luring well respected building leader Ashley Hartley back to Hawke’s Bay from Hamilton.

Ashley gave Gemco instant street cred, having led some huge build projects such as a multi-million dollar freezing works and as President of Master Builders New Zealand. The company blossomed and went from 8 staff in year one to well over 100 staff within three years. Sadly Ashley passed away suddenly in 2016 but not before passing on his knowledge and commitment to building to the highest standards to the next generation of Gemco employees.

Ashley would be particularly proud of the five year rebuild of the Hawke’s Bay Opera House Precinct in Hastings, which Hastings District Council entrusted Gemco and Ashley’s protégé, Site Manager Eddie Holmes to bring back to life, following an eight year closure due to a low seismic rating.

Darren says the project was one of the most exciting challenges Gemco has ever faced, with a team of over 100 tradesmen taking up the call of duty to transform a derelict end of Hastings into an entertainment precinct now known as Toitoi Hawke’s Bay Arts & Events Centre.

Upon completion of the $65million project, Hastings Mayor Sandra Hazlehurst singled out Gemco and in particular Eddie’s project leadership recognising him with council’s highest civic honour award. Eddie is one of over 140 tradies, admin staff and management that has made Gemco a household name across Hawke’s Bay and today, Gemco continues to be at the forefront of partnering iconic new build or refurbishment projects.

Darren says the success of Gemco is its foundations as a Hawke’s Bay family-owned business.

“We are not a corporate, we do have a board of directors including 3 independents, but we are nimble and decisions are made on the spot with no red tape to work through.

“We don’t have KPI’s or written down visions and values to preach to staff, instead we have a culture of working hard and having fun. Staff come first at Gemco. It’s that simple! “I am extremely proud of the business we have created and of the people who have been part of this success.

The reward for me personally is that my conscience has finally allowed me to step back slightly by not working on Mondays and when I do work my dog Trevor comes with me. Long standing Construction Manager Graeme Johnson is overseeing Stage 2 of Kaweka Hospital, a $150million new private hospital and health campus in Hastings which is set for completion in mid 2025.

Kaweka Hospital Managing Director Dr Colin Hutchison says Gemco has been a fantastic build partner of Kaweka Hospital.

“A private hospital is a complex facility with lots of specialist technology and equipment, but at the same time, it also has to be an environment that provides comfort and care to patients and a centre of excellence for staff.

“Our journey with Gemco will be about five years in total and we have been incredibly impressed by their commitment to the project, their workmanship as well as their dedication to supporting a new standard in surgical care in the region,” he says.

Another large scale project that Gemco started in late 2023 is the $22million Museum Archive Facility in Hastings on behalf of Hastings District Council and Napier City Council. Projects continue for Terry Pratley (now no longer a shareholder) and his Lifecare Villages in Dunedin and Cambridge and we’re also back at EIT Hawke’s Bay repairing the damage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.