Special feature: Brian Hoffman retires

By: Lyndsay Whittle, Photography by: Lyndsay Whittle

A legend of the excavation world for the past 50-odd years is about to hang up his boots. Brian Hoffmann has finally announced his retirement.

Brian Hoffmann

We can say, however, it’s the Brian Hoffmann version of the R-word that we’re talking about in this instance, for as we know, contractors never really retire.

Well-known and respected West Auckland identity, Hoffy — as he’s known to many — started out in excavations in February 1973, working for well-known contractor Trevor Boag.

The early years

Brian at home in the office

It wasn’t until February 1976 that he set out on his own with the purchase of a second-hand 10-tonne Hitachi UH03-3 chain drive digger and an old 1953 K Bedford as his daily runner.

A 12-gallon drum of diesel, cans of oil and grease, and the equipment to administer it all were all stacked on the back of the old truck — none of it tied down, of course.

Brian laughs as he recalls those early chain-drive excavators and the fact that when a chain link became detached, as was often the case, he had to climb under the machine most times waste deep in mud, to carry out a repair.

He says it was only a couple of years before he bit the bullet and purchased a brand-new hydraulically operated version of the machine. This was back in the days when the ubiquitous traxcavator was in common use on excavation sites — a time when the digger of today hadn’t quite gained acceptance.

Brian recalls the time he turned up to a job with his excavator and was told in no uncertain terms by the site foreman that if he didn’t have a "trax" (traxcavator), he wouldn’t be welcome on the site.

This only left him with one option and that was to load the machine back on the transporter and ‘bugger off’ — or words to the effect. Nevertheless, business boomed, and one digger became two and so on until it reached a point where there were nine staff on the books, along with a plethora of trucks, trailers, diggers, and associated equipment.

Early starts and late finishes became part of the daily regime, but Brian took it all in his stride, putting in seven-day weeks on the trot to continue building his business.

Life was looking pretty rosy for Brian right through the 1980s and into the 1990s until tragedy struck when he lost his first wife Sandra in 1992, after a relatively short battle with cancer.

Brian says that he dealt with the upheaval of his life by immersing himself in his work until several years later, he met Jill, who he eventually married. However, tragedy was to strike several years later when his second wife Jill eventually succumbed to the same deadly disease in 2009.

Never being one to shy away from adversity, Brian somehow managed to summon the strength to get up and carry on, something he knew he had to do, as at the time his business had grown to the point where he had a large team of workers, all of whom were reliant upon him to put food on the table.

The Aqua-Technics era

How’s this for a piece of garden art?

During a time when Brian was putting serious effort into building the business, his mother spotted an advert for a digger operating competition (now known as the CCNZ Excavator Operator Competition) at Kumeu and suggested he put his name forward.

The day of the competition arrived, and much to Brian’s own surprise, he won, which led to a string of wins at various events during the early parts of this century. Brian says to date, he’s the only Aucklander to have won the national championships.

Gradually, over the years, Brian Hoffmann Ltd transitioned from being an earthmoving contracting business to being a swimming pool installation company, so in 2001, Brian formed an associate company Aqua-Technics Pools Ltd.

By now, the firm was not just installing swimming pools but was also importing fibreglass pools. Not only that but by a strange set of events, he’d found himself involved in the firewood business as a kind of side venture.

In typical Brian Hoffmann style, the man behind the empire was working as hard as ever, installing 130 pools per year at the height of production in 2020. Pressure and stress were slowly building though, and something had to give this time, however, it was Brian’s own health that was in jeopardy.

He says he was feeling extraordinarily tired, something he initially put down to an excessive amount of work and the relentless barrage of phone calls to deal with.

It was about the time of the COVID-19 pandemic when getting a doctor’s appointment wasn’t all that easy to secure, but he managed to get an appointment to see his GP, which resulted in the doctor sending him for a PSA blood test, the results of which were concerning, to say the least.

Brian says he has prostate cancer, which is being treated with medication, along with a course of radiation. The diagnosis of the disease prompted a rapid response from the man who had dedicated his life to working hard for his family, to divest himself of a large degree of stress, which resulted in the sale of the Aqua-Technics Pools business.

A new chapter

A great place to enjoy the upcoming summer days

The man whose name is synonymous with a strong work ethic is about to sell most of his trucks and machines and finally start winding down by working around his 14-acre property in West Auckland’s Oratia with his partner of 12 years, Sue.

Cheers to retirement: Brian and Sue

Brian has even brought Sue over to the ‘dark side’ by getting her onto her personal Cormidi rubber-tracked dumper for transporting garden paraphernalia around the property.

It would seem that even workaholic Brian Hoffmann is enjoying a little bit time winding down, as he made mention of the fact that he would’ve never had the chance to sit down over a cuppa in the middle of the day and answer a lot of inane questions asked of him by a nosey magazine writer.

The Scania P440 is definitely a ‘keeper’

Although Brian says he’s now able to take the day off to go fishing if he pleases, he’s still going to keep hold of a digger (or two) and the P440 Scania complete with three-axle trailer just in case the odd job comes up.

This near-new Zaxis135 will make a nice retirement toy

We all hope you enjoy your version of retirement Hoffy. You sure have earned it mate. Before signing off, Brian shared one pearl of wisdom to all the blokes out there: "Make sure you get an appointment with the doc to go and have a PSA test – it could save your life."

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