Building Industry loses Mr Pink Batts

Building and construction industry leaders mourned the death this week of Bill Smith, an industry leader once popularly known within the sector as “Mr Pink Batts” for his development of the insulation product into an iconic brand in the New Zealand market place.

Mr Smith, who as General Manager of Tasman Insulation was involved with the company over 30 years through three changes of ownership, and in retirement became an advocate on industry matters to the government, died at Auckland Hospital following affliction with a rare blood condition, aged 65.

He is regarded in the industry and within the government as an early advocate of environmental sustainability and energy efficiency policies following a visit to the U.S in the early 80’s -  years before it became a credible and fashionable mantra.

Following his retirement from Tasman Insulation in 2008, Mr Smith forged a closer collaborative relationship between the building industry and the public sector.

He was a director of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority and a director of the Building Research Association of New Zealand.

Mr Smithwas chairman of the Building Industry Federation, representing the materials and product supply side of the sector, which followed earlier terms spent as a councillor of the Auckland Manufacturers’ Association and membership of the Industrial Edge Project Team of Auckland City Council. He was also a director of the Insulation Council of Australia and New Zealand.

He forged a close relationship with BRANZ Ltd and the then Department of Building and Housing which focused on better outcomes for industry and clients.

As chairman of a productivity partnership with the government he recruited industry membership from across various sectors and championed research as the tool for evidence-based decision making.

Builder licensing, more co-ordinated and better managed government procurement for purchase of buildings and ways of improving housing affordability were causes he took up with considerable zeal. He became a member of the Builder Licensing Board following establishment of the licensing system.

He was chairman of the Building Advisory Group, an advisory body required by legislation to advise the departmental head on industry views and developments.

Three years ago Mr Smith perceived a need for leaders of New Zealand’s major building sector companies to become involved in a leadership role in the industry.

This followed recommendations from industry task forces organized by DBH.  With support from DBH he brought scores of industry figures together for two meetings in Auckland to consider how issues confronting the industry could best be dealt with. 

From those who volunteered, the Construction Strategy Group (CSG), with support from BRANZ Ltd, was formed with an objective of advocating industry views to the Government of the day.

The CSG continues, with its current activities focused on how best to tackle housing affordability and advice to government on issues involved in progressing the Christchurch rebuild. It is his final “contribution” to the industry he served with unique dedication.

His passion for the building industry was matched in later years by equal commitment to the Asthma and Respiratory Foundation. He was on the Board of the Foundation in 2008 and was a serving member at the time of his death. Professor Ian Town, chairman of the Foundation, said he brought rigor and commitment to the Foundation’s governance with a strong objective to have it “lift its game”.

Bill was a Rotarian for more than 20 years and was awarded the Paul Harris Fellowship for charitable work with blind children in South Africa.

Bill Smith is survived by his wife, Susan, and three sons.

Bruce Kohn is chief executive of the Building Industry Federation