Featured NBR Rich List: Smith family

Oldest brother Albert Smith’s Universal Cranes business in Queensland is the largest with about 600 employees and more than 150 mobile and crawler cranes.
Albert Smith.


$250 Million

See all profiles, rankings and feature articles on the NBR Rich List 2018 home page.

Just why National Party MP Nick Smith turned his back on the family engineering business for a life in politics remains unclear but his four brothers have certainly carved out successful and seemingly lucrative careers in the construction and engineering sectors.

The origins of the Smith dynasty can be traced back to 1964 when Australian farmer/contractor John C Smith established a drain laying and bridge building company in Rangiora and Christchurch. Nick initially worked alongside his brothers but went into Parliament when Smith senior retired in 1991 and brothers Albert (pictured), Daniel and Tim went their separate ways by creating three independent – and highly competitive – businesses on both sides of the Tasman. 

In terms of scale, oldest brother Albert Smith’s Universal Cranes business in Queensland is the largest with about 600 employees and more than 150 mobile and crawler cranes whose load capacity ranks him sixth in Australasia on the latest Cranes & Lifting Top 50 list.

A passionate engineer, entrepreneur and crane enthusiast, Albert moved to Australia in 2002 and transformed a small pick and carry hire business into a leading national company that engages local families to own and operating branches – including his sister Margot and her husband, John Hanna, in the Sunshine Coast business.

In addition to Universal Cranes, Albert also manages the Smithbridge Group, which provides construction services and equipment to contractors in the marine industry and has played a big part in the western Pacific territory of Guam where it has had numerous US government contracts.

In New Zealand, Albert’s interests include an 80% stake in the jointly owned and managed Auckland & Waikato Crane businesses and he also owns 30% of Christchurch-based Smith Crane & Construction – managed by his youngest brother Tim, who has a 37% stake.

With 110 cranes, 170 staff and branches in Auckland, Queenstown and Invercargill, Smith Cranes is the country’s largest crane hire company and also operates the biggest fleet of tower cranes – four of which are deployed on the troubled Auckland Convention Centre project.

Recognised for its innovation in developing jacking systems for building removal, Smith Cranes played a vital role in the rescue of trapped people after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake and has also been heavily involved in the city’s rebuild.

Last but not least there is Peter Smith, a fifth brother who has been a consulting engineer in Wellington for over 45 years. Recognised in 2018 as a Distinguished Fellow of the Institute of Professional Engineers for his outstanding contribution to structural engineering and engineering practice and an unselfish advocate for the profession, Peter was engaged by the Royal Commission into the Canterbury Earthquakes to provide independent specialist advice.

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