Pioneer (派安): 60 years of Supplying Construction Materials in Hong Kong
York Lo: Pioneer: 60 years of Supplying Construction Materials in Hong Kong
Left: Ad for Pioneer Concrete in 1962 with picture of its production site in Hunghom (top) and construction site on Caernavon Road in Kowloon (bottom). (Wah Kiu Yat Po 1962-2-1); Right: Pioneer Concrete co-founder and longtime chief Sir Tristan Antico
Hong Kong residents often refer to the city as a “concrete jungle” and for the past six decades, one could often spot a Pioneer concrete mixer truck on the streets of Hong Kong. Since 1961, Pioneer Concrete and its affiliates has been a major supplier to the HK construction industry and remains the leading manufacturer of readymix concrete in Hong Kong which it introduced to the market in addition to its quarry and asphalt operations and the group has also evolved from being the subsidiary of an Australian building materials giant to a joint venture between the Cheung Kong group and a German cement giant.
Pioneer Concrete Services was founded in 1949 by Tristan Antico (1923-2004) and Kelvin Conley in New South Wales, Australia to capitalize on the post-war construction boom in Australia. In 1954, Pioneer acquired a concrete plant in Canberra and went public on the Sydney Stock Exchange in 1959. In the early 1960s, Australia suffered a recession and Pioneer embarked on overseas expansion to help diversify its business risk with Hong Kong being its first overseas market in 1961. Antico was drawn to the construction boom and lack of competition in the British colony at the time, putting it ahead of his firm’s entry into the United Kingdom, Israel and Italy in the next three consecutive years. In September 1961, Pioneer Concrete (HK) Ltd (派安混凝土) was incorporated and introduced readymix concrete to the HK market, a product which was first introduced in the US in 1913, the UK in 1930 and Australia in 1939.
The general manager of Pioneer Concrete HK in the 1960s was an Adelaide native by the name of Geoffrey Sutherland who was born in 1931 and he was supported by a team of Australian plant managers and Chinese quality control engineers and technicians. The original premix concrete plant for Pioneer was in Hunghom but by mid-1962 as shown in the ad below, the firm have added another plant in Shau Kei Wan. In 1964, Pioneer expanded into the Malaysian market and in an article in Singapore, it mentioned plans to build another concrete plant in Kennedy Town and a quarry in Changi Island (presume to be Tsing Yi) in HK. In 1965, Pioneer incorporated Pioneer Quarries (派安石礦) in HK to expand into the business of aggregate quarry and eventually established a quarry in Cha Kwo Ling. The same year, the parent company entered the business of asphalt production through a joint venture with Shell Australia.
By the late 1960s, there were three ready mix concrete suppliers in HK (other two being Wai Hing covered earlier and British-controlled Ready Mixed Concrete), but Pioneer remained the leader with three readymix concrete plants – Shau Kei Wan in HK island and Cheung Sha Wan and Cha Kwo Ling in Kowloon.
1962 ad for Pioneer Concrete with picture of one of its concrete truck (WKYP, 1962-5-4);
In 1967, Pioneer was involved in the massive Mei Foo Sun Tsuen project and in that year alone they supplied over 38500 tons of readymix concrete to the project which were delivered from its Cheung Sha Wan production site to the Mei Foo construction site in 7900 trips by 30 trucks.
By 1968, building projects which Pioneer Concrete have participated in HK included Prince’s Building in Central, the Princess Margaret Road Flyover in Kowloon, Plover Cove Reservoir in the New Territories, HK Telephone stations in Wong Tai Sin, Kwai Chung, North Point, Shau Kei Wan and HK West, HK Food Products’ Kellogg Flour Mill (see article) in Kwun Tong, the Beacon Hill School in Kowloon Tong and the Jockey Club building in Happy Valley. (KSDN, 1968-11-28) At that time, Pioneer Concrete HK operated out of the 8th floor of Kung Sheung Building at 18 Fenwick Street in Wanchai and J.E. Felton and B.F. Murray were plant managers.
The manager of Pioneer Concrete HK in the 1970s was Australian native Dick (“R.T.”) Morris who lived in HK from 1970 until 1980 when he left for Houston to serve as vice president of Pioneer Concrete of America. In 1974, the board of Pioneer HK was comprised of Sir Tristan Antico, Sir Sidney Gordon (former Lowe Bingham partner and later chairman of many Kadoorie companies such as CLP and HK Hotels), J. de C. Grey, T.J. Gregory and R.T. Morris. (HK $ Directory, 1974) In 1976-77, Pioneer earned more than A$4 million from its HK operations and Antico was enthused about the prospects about its HK operations (The Bulletin, 1978) By then however, Pioneer had moved aggressively into minerals such as coal, uranium and petroleum through various joint ventures and acquisitions and profits from the building materials divisions were used to fund expansion into natural resources.
In 1976, Pioneer acquired 50 percent of Shek O Quarry (incorporated in 1966) from Hutchison International, a joint venture it has been managing and turned it into a wholly owned subsidiary. By the early 1980s, Shek O Quarry was producing 1 million tons of aggregates annually, which was second largest in town to the Cha Kwo Ling quarry and covered a decent portion of the city’s annual demand of 7-8 million tons (Minerals Yearbook, 1981)
In the early 1980s, Pioneer Concrete HK which had its offices at East Town Building in Wanchai was managed by Australian native Norman Nolan (born in 1942) and it was involved in many major projects such as the Tuen Mun Light Rail development. As China began to open in the late 1970s, Pioneer was once again a pioneer among foreign players to enter the market. In 1980, Pioneer established Tai On Quarries (泰安石礦) in Centre Island in Zhuhai with HK$40 million in capital. Production began in mid-1982 and by the late 1980s it was producing 800000 tons of stones to the HK construction industry. In May 1988, Tai On celebrated its 8th anniversary with a ceremony attended by the deputy mayor of Zhuhai and received a management award from the city government. (WKYP, 1988-6-3)
In 1988, Antico retired as chief executive and the group was also renamed Pioneer International to reflect its more diversified business. Under its new chief Rodney Price, the mining and oil assets were disposed as the group re-focused on building materials. In 1993, Pioneer Asphalts HK was incorporated as the firm rolled out its asphalt business in HK.
In the early 1990s, Pioneer established Guangzhou Tianhe Pioneer Quarries in March 1992 with HK$98 million and Guangzhou Baiyun Pioneer Quarries in December 1993 with HK$120 million in partnership with Tianhe Land (天河置業) in Guangzhou. The two quarries combined had annual production of over 2 million square meters, making it one of the largest in Asia.
In 1996, Pioneer Quarries formed KWP Quarry (嘉安石礦) with K.Wah Quarry to operate the Andrerson Road quarry.
In 1999, Pioneer International was acquired by the British building materials giant Hanson.
In 2004, Pioneer Concrete HK merged with its longtime key local competitor Ready Mixed Concrete HK Ltd (現成混凝土). Originally formed in 1962 as the local subsidiary of the UK industry pioneer of the same name founded in 1930, RMC HK later became a 49/51 joint venture between Hutchison and RMC in 1976 and Hutchison acquired RMC’s stake for HK$63.7 million and turned it into a wholly-owned subsidiary in 1985. (TKP, 1976-6-2, 1985-7-24). The merger resulted in the formation of Alliance Construction Materials Ltd (友盟建築材料), which has remained as the leading concrete and aggregates total solution provider in HK with 6 concrete plants and 12 production lines throughout HK, 239 employees and 180 trucks and contract drivers plus 2 quarries in Guangdong and 3 aggregates depot in HK as of 2018. The combined entity also has worked closely with other CK Hutchison’s affiliates such as Green Island Cement and Anderson Quarries.
In 2007, Hanson was acquired by German cement giant HeidelbergCement and as a result Alliance became a joint venture of Cheung Kong Infrastructure and HeidelbergCement.
Sources (in addition to those cited above):
This article was first posted on 28th June 2020.
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