Holland Beckett

In 1937 King George V1 was crowned after the abdication of Edward, Amelia Earhart disappeared over the Pacific during her attempt to fly round the world, San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge was opened, the Royal NZ Air force originated and Holland Beckett Lawyers were established.

A year earlier in 1936 William Sydney (Bill) Holland, recently qualified in law at Auckland University, arrived in Tauranga to take over the legal practice of Mr. Bruce Beale. When 21 year old Mr. Bill Holland stepped off the train at Tauranga after an eight and a half hour journey from Auckland, his immediate reaction was to get right back on. It was a cold mid winter afternoon and Tauranga looked pretty bleak after the ‘big city’.  However the train was continuing to Taneatua so he had little option but to stay! He had left a fiancée behind in Auckland which no doubt made it even harder.

He soon realised he had made the right decision, appreciating that Tauranga’s natural advantages augured well for its future growth.  The practice he joined had offices in the old National bank Building in Spring Street and was named Bruce Beale and Holland during the transition period, then, in 1937, simply W.S Holland. These were hard recessionary years  (‘the slump’) and Beale went on to became a mortgage commissioner, one of his roles being to simply write off second mortgages of those unable to support them. (Hence the unease still felt by some older people about putting their money into second mortgages.)

On May 4, 1937 Bill Holland was officially enrolled as a solicitor by the registry of the Court of Auckland. According to the enrollment document, “the said William Sydney Holland is over the age of 21 (he would have been just 22 by then), and has passed the examination in general knowledge and law (as required by The Law Practitioners Act 1931), and I being satisfied as to the character and fitness of the said William Sydney Holland to act as a solicitor in this Honourable Court and the said William Sydney Holland being a British subject and having taken the prescribed oaths do order that he hereby be admitted as a solicitor of this Honourable Court…

He married Peggy, a North Shore girl, whose wealthy parents were not sure this working man’s son could keep their daughter in the manner in which she was accustomed. The couple moved into a home in a ‘new subdivision’ in Morris Street, then described as “out in the country”.  The modest weatherboard home still stands, the street now named 13th Avenue.  They had four children, William junior (Bill) and his three sisters.

As well as running a business single handed in hard times and in competition with several old established firms, W.S Holland became involved in community affairs, and served as deputy mayor – by virtue of being the second highest poling candidate.  He adored horse racing and was President of the local racing club.  Bill Holland, now senior partner in the firm, says his father was highly regarded in the community and was definitely a ‘man of his time’,  “very black and white in his opinions and not afraid of a bit of straight talking, incredibly focused at work and definitely head of the household at home”.

In 1949 Holland was joined by Mr. J.O’B. Beckett (Barney) from Palmerston North, Beckett returning to law after a long period of rehabilitation from serious injuries suffered at the battle of Monte Cassino during the second World War.  The agreement of partnership dated 23 May 1949 stated the date of commencement as 1 June 1949,that the firm be named Holland Beckett with profits shared two thirds Holland, one third Beckett for the first four years of operation (no doubt recognizing Holland’s previous input)and that Beckett should purchase one third of the law library and the stationery.

That agreement, a single sheet of paper – now with ink faded and yellow with age – is mounted in a gilt frame, preserved as an archival treasure.

(Future partnership agreements would have filled several gilt frames.  A 1990 one involving six partners was nine pages long; the 1986 merger document 23 pages.)

As the town grew so did Holland Beckett. They moved to new premises in the Churchill Building in Grey Street and were joined by Avon Carpenter. The name expanded to Holland Beckett and Carpenter.  Avon Carpenter left in 1965 to pursue business interests for which he became well known, first as managing Director of Beazley Homes then as director of public companies including The Housing Corporation.

Beazley Homes was one of Holland Beckett’s original clients. Another notable early association was with the Tauranga Harbour Board, now Port of Tauranga, which became a client in 1967 and remains one today. Hobec has provided the legal framework for its exceptional growth to the country’s leading export port, via its involvement in the construction of the first harbour bridge, listing as a public company, opening of Sulphur Point wharves, establishing the Auckland Metroport, and current application to dredge the shipping channel.  The many families for whom Hobec has acted over the generations keep a lower profile.

Meanwhile new lawyers had joined and the name evolved to Holland Beckett and Co.   In 1968 they opened a branch office in Mount Maunganui, and a little later one in Katikati with increasing Tauranga staff numbers necessitating taking extra space in the Government Life Building across the street.

It was clear Holland Beckett and Co needed bigger premises. In 1972 they moved to brand new offices at 96 Cameron Road, purpose built by and for them and designed to meet their needs. These offices were eventually sold on, the firm remaining as tenants.

 In 1975 Beckett retired, his name retained in recognition of his contribution to the company. The following year William Sydney’s son William Beau Holland (Bill) joined the firm. Bill says there was never any pressure to follow in his father’s footsteps but he never thought of doing anything else. 

Two years late William Sydney Holland died suddenly aged 63 from a heart attack exacerbated by the respiratory problems he had had since childhood, and which had prevented his serving in World War 11 as he failed his medical for the Air Force.  It was at the end of the year, during the Christmas holiday break and he was perusing Best Bets in preparation for an enjoyable day at the races. Bill says that it was a tribute to the way his father worked that, despite he did not expect to die, there were no loose ends, his work completely up to date and clearly documented.

In April 1979 Bill Holland and Ian Thomas (who went on to become a District Court Judge) became joint partners of Holland Beckett and Co. 

The 1986 merger with Maltby Hare and Willoughby created one of the largest law firms in the Bay of Plenty with a combined law library that was the most extensive in the region.  The merger was driven by the desire of both firms to improve their service to clients and rationalize operations ensuring systems were right up to date. The need to invest in new technology like computers, word processors and facsimile machines led to multiple mergers of Auckland law firms, and was a factor in this one major one in Tauranga. Their first word processor cost an incredible $28,000. “It was the size of a small fridge,” says longest serving staff member, John Patterson, a former partner now a consultant, and in his 44th year with the firm.

Holland Beckett Maltby – quickly nicknamed HOBEC – now offered an extensive range of services and the amalgamation made them one of the largest solicitors’ mortgage nominee companies in New Zealand.  The Cameron Road offices expanded to accommodate eleven partners and staff. They were proud to retain all staff members in the merger.

Until the mid 1980s lawyers had not been allowed to advertise, making do with the small sign on the door and subtle promotion e.g. announcing new staff members or making donations which would get publicity. Bill Holland remembers being a little taken aback when, after the rules were relaxed, their first big sign went up outside their offices. “The letters were so big you could see them across Cameron Road!”

The establishment of a Maori legal Unit – Te Tari Ture Maori – in 1999 was another important milestone in for Holland Beckett Maltby in catering to community needs. Before this local Maori  were forced to go outside the region for specific Maori related  legal advice.  Since that time the firm has been able to represent a number of local Maori groups in both stages of the Tauranga Moana Waitangi Tribunal hearings and continues to provide advice and representation in a wide range of matters relating  to Maori land, trusts and incorporations.

 By the new millennium Holland Beckett’s Cameron Road premises were nearing the end of their use by date. They were too small and no longer relevant to a company committed to providing optimum service to their clients by highly skilled staff in a contemporary environment.  Their move to The Hub at 525 Cameron Road was five years in the planning, more in the construction, as HOBEC were involved in everything from initial design to project management.  In 2008 the ‘open plan, open door ‘ offices opened with egalitarian free flowing work areas which made partners more accessible and staff more  engaged. While lawyers and staff occupy busy work stations on the lower floor, client confidentiality is enhanced by meeting rooms off the stylish reception and conference level.  “No longer do clients meet in a lawyer’s office amidst a sea of files,” comments senior partner Bill Holland.  The new premises had an immediate impact of productivity and attraction to high caliber staff. “We moved here in the middle of one of the country’s most serious recessions,” points out partner, Michael Sharp, “and then grew significantly.”  Lawyers on staff increased from 16 to the current 24.

Their building won national architectural awards, and was a catalyst for lifting client service to an even higher plane.  In 2009 Bill Holland was recognized as Business Leader of the Year.  In 2010 Holland Beckett Lawyers won the award for Retail and Service Excellence category of the Westpac Tauranga Business Awards, affirmation that they are, “unashamedly a people business both from a staffing and client perspective”.

Proving that striving to be the best continues outside the office five teams of HOBEC staff members competed in the 2011 Tin Man Triathlon. This level of involvement in sports events is not unusual. The partners are proud that their company culture, and the work environment that reflects it, attract the high achieving professional. In employing staff they look at the whole person, not just the academic aspect. Sport is not the only culture represented. “One of our lawyers, Gary Valentine, used to be the trumpeter in Netherworld Dancing Toys,” laughs Bill.

While one of Bill’s daughters is a lawyer with Bell Gully in Auckland he does not see immediate family as necessary to the firm’s continuation. “At 60 I am the oldest partner, senior by virtue of age” he quips. But we have a strong contingent of young talent coming through, several of them already partners.”
It bodes well for the future that many of HOBEC’s 50 odd staff members have only had one employer.  Fifteen of them have worked there for more than 15 years, five having clocked up more than 30 years.