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Foundation for a great career

  • Will Smith

If you’re thinking about what your career could look like after gaining a construction and property development qualification, then Unitec’s own Will Smith is a pretty compelling case study.  Will is Chief Executive of Wairaka Land Company, Unitec’s property subsidiary, and his CV boasts huge projects in Auckland, Vancouver and California.  

He is also a two-time Unitec graduate, obtaining his Diploma in Construction Management in 1991 and recently graduating with his Bachelor of Construction, with a double major in Construction Management and Property Development in 2017.   

“I studied for Unitec's Construction Management Diploma while working as a project management cadet for Fletcher Construction,” he says. “It was a pretty full-on existence but the mix of work and study was perfect for me.” 

After the first year full time at Unitec, Will continued working on Fletcher projects by day and studying one day a week as well as nights.  This paid off as he chalked up experience in pretty much every key area– project administration, programming, quantity surveying and project management.  This laid the groundwork for understanding the complexity of the big projects he worked on, such as the Aotea Centre and the ASB Bank Tower, before heading to North America to work in Canada and the USA. 

In the 22 years he spent overseas he was involved in the development of the Getty Center, one of the largest construction projects in the US in the 1990s and then as Director of Major Capital Projects for Yale University where he ran a US$500 million portfolio of projects, including the development of a new business school for the Yale School of Management. Will's foundation in construction at Unitec provided the opportunity to move towards representing the owner side of the business and into commercial property development as well. 

Now back home in New Zealand, he has been steering Unitec’s development of its highly accessible 52-hectare central campus that connects to Pt Chevalier, Mt Albert and Waterview.  Will initially led the creation of a holistic property strategy, which considered sustainability and exciting developments in teaching and learning alongside the opportunity for Unitec to create a great place for Auckland. This resulted in Will setting up a Project Management Office (PMO) that now oversees the delivery of new, transformed teaching and student spaces and is preparing the rest of the land for future mixed residential and commercial use that will make a significant contribution to those associated with Unitec and to Auckland’s housing needs. 

Will is also guest lecturing for one of Unitec’s advanced construction courses next month (Integrated Design and Construction Management), engaging students in a conversation about the importance and role of the owners in large construction and property projects.   Will remains impressed with how the Unitec construction and property courses are put together and the real-life problems students get the opportunity to grapple with.

“The applied nature of what you learn at Unitec is exactly what it should be. I had a wonderful opportunity to have a cadetship with Fletchers when I was studying here the first time and I enjoyed moving between my study and my work environment.  I ended up with both strong theory and experience and felt very confident pitting myself against university graduates on some really big projects.”

He adds: “I was really excited to come back and graduate again and upgrade my qualifications at this stage of my career, while in my day job supporting current and future students through a redevelopment of this amazing campus.  To connect with our diverse and superb students in the classroom is just great as well.”

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