27 Jun 2023

Thirty-five years ago, CKL opened its doors for business in the world of surveying. It was a single office in the small (but bustling!) town of Te Awamutu, and its staff roster totalled four. Since then, that tally has steadily grown to approximately 120 people, across four offices as the company has expanded to Hamilton, Auckland and Tauranga, leading innovative land developments across New Zealand. The original service, surveying, has also broadened as planning, engineering, environmental and transportation offerings have been added to create CKL’s holistic client approach.

Two of those original founders in 1988 were Gill Latham and Kay Carter, and 35 years on, they’re still inside CKL, helping the company stay on the cutting edge of land development.

Small beginnings

In 1976, Kay and John Carter moved to Te Awamutu and bought into an existing small surveying practice belonging to town stalwart Geoff Gibbs. David Latham joined the company in 1978, and by the early 1980s Gill and David had formed a partnership with the Carters – Carter Latham. It was a small, effective operation and Gill and Kay played their part in laying the groundwork for the coming growth.

With her experience as an accountant, Gill took on the financial responsibilities, while Kay worked as a draughtsperson. Within ten years, the quartet had joined forces with Rod and Barbara Keucke to form the company known as Carter, Keucke and Latham.

Becoming CKL

Internally, Carter, Keucke and Latham was referred to as CKL, but as Gill points out, there was another reason for officially changing the company name.

“People had trouble pronouncing Keucke and we were forever explaining it. In the end, we decided it was easier just to rename our business as CKL. We’ve been CKL ever since!”

Growing up

With ten staff across the Te Awamutu and Hamilton offices, the company expanded, as did the workload for Gill and Kay. For Gill, CKL went from being just one of her accounting clients to consuming all her working hours. Kay also shifted gears as CKL expanded. She explains.

“In 1987, I was a part-time draughtsperson. Over the following years, the business grew at such a rate, eventually I needed to move into a different role. To help CKL stay on top of things, by 2007 I had become branch manager of the Te Awamutu office. I ran this branch though the recession, which was very challenging. At one point we went from 13 staff down to seven, and some of us went to part-time to make it work. Those were tough times, but we all pitched in.”

The big move

Both Gill and Kay were involved in the decision to enlarge CKL’s footprint by opening a branch in Auckland. Though business was going well in the Waikato, Auckland was an opportunity to expand the range of work. Gill recalls the decision.

“There’s no doubt that opening a third branch in New Zealand’s biggest city contained an element of risk. Auckland is the most competitive environment in the country. To compete there, we would need to employ specialists in a wider range of disciplines, which also meant investing in cutting edge technologies. Since the day we opened, CKL has always been willing to push the boundaries, and this was no different. Expansion into Auckland proved to be very successful.”

Changing with the times

With over three decades inside the hub of CKL, Kay and Gill have seen many changes. Economies have risen and dropped, shareholders have come and gone, banking systems and equipment have undergone technological revolutions. Over the years, the roles of both women evolved to accommodate these shifts.

For Kay, this involved an expansion of her own, taking up new responsibilities as needed.

“By the time I turned 60, I’d gone from draughtsperson to branch manager, then associate. When I turned 64, CKL needed an operations manager and asked me to step into that role, which I did. Two years later, growth in our business required me take on project coordination, and I’m still in that space today. Thirty-five years is a long spell, but there has been such variation over that time, I’ve always felt engaged.”

Gill can say likewise. As times have changed and new people have come into CKL, different financial information has been requested. For Gill, providing it hasn’t always been straightforward.

“In many ways, I’ve had to grow with the new demands. There have been occasions when someone has asked me for something new, and I’ve had to ask myself, ‘How can I make that work?’ Inventing systems and finding creative solutions has kept me energised.”

Where to now?

As Gill and Kay enter the latter stages of their lengthy careers, both have an eye on life beyond CKL. Sort of. For Kay, there are too many reasons to stay involved.

“I’m turning 72 this year, but I still want to be in the mix at CKL. We’re in the business of creating places for people to live, of helping them fulfil their dreams. That’s very hard to walk away from, especially when I get to do that within the CKL family. The culture here is wonderful.”

Gill feels the same, despite handing over much of the reins to CKL’s capable finance manager Claire Donnelly.

“Realistically, my next step is full retirement, but I’m not ready for that just yet. I’ll know when it’s time to go, but right now I’m enjoying myself too much. Thirty-five years at CKL isn’t quite enough.”

From humble beginnings to leading land development: Kay & Gill mark 35 years at CKL