Business service manager retiring

Eastland Network business service manager Bruce Easton retires this month after 37 years with the company and its predecessor the Poverty Bay Electric Power Board. He talks to Andrew Ashton about some of the huge changes in this vital industry and his involvement in it since 1980.

Eastland Network business service manager Bruce Easton retires this month after 37 years with the company and its predecessor the Poverty Bay Electric Power Board. He talks to Andrew Ashton about some of the huge changes in this vital industry and his involvement in it since 1980.

BRIGHT LIGHT: Eastland Network business service manager Bruce Easton. Picture by Paul Rickard

FOR the past 37 years, Bruce Easton has played a vital role in keeping the lights on through his work at the region’s lines company — but Eastland Network’s long-serving business service manager is finally ready to retire.

During this time he has had several roles at Eastland Network, which is part of Eastland Group, most recently as business service manager.

Now he is hanging up his calculator and retiring, after a career that has seen him experience enormous changes in the electricity industry.

After a successful career in banking, Mr Easton joined what was then the Poverty Bay Electric Power Board in 1980.

Back then, the board offices were in Peel Street and the new 110kV transmission line from Gisborne to Tokomaru Bay was just going live.

At that time New Zealand’s electricity generation and transmission lines were still owned and operated by the government.

As the finance manager, one of Mr Easton’s first responsibilities was overseeing the meter reading team.

“I started off in the payroll area and payroll administration, and managing the metering division. It was a very interesting area, with a lot of stories to tell.

“It was an exciting area and there was always something happening — dangerous dogs, customers doing all sorts of strange and surprising things in their homes, one team member being swept downstream in his Suzuki. But during my 23 years looking after the meter readers, they travelled more than 9,000,000 kilometres with no serious incidents.”

The 68-year-old said back in “the early days” he was based in the company’s Peel Street appliance centre, where he enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow workers.

“We always entered the A&P Show, with incredible success with our showroom manager and staff. There was always something happening in our tent, so they were interesting times too.

“There has been times where it’s been really difficult, especially in credit control, which came under me as well. It wasn’t nice, but if people didn’t pay their bill they may have lost their right to have a power connection.”

When Mr Easton first started at the PBEPB, meter reading information was punched into tape on a specialised Burroughs adding machine, before being sent to Wellington for bills to be processed.

In 1989, he made the bold decision to move to the new Gentrack computer billing system.

“We were the first to adopt the technology, and it’s now used by the majority of lines companies across the country.”

Even bigger changes came in the 1990s, with the deregulation of the retail electricity sector, introduction of the wholesale electricity market, and separation of the lines and energy companies.

“Those were really trying times because it meant a network, as a monopoly company, was very heavily regulated, whereas the retailer is not to the same extent. Those were interesting times.

“At that point Gisborne was on its own, after the Max Bradford reforms. Wairoa came later in about 1999. The biggest change was the 22,000 customers we had were reduced to two retailers. Humongous change — it meant customers were no longer a customer of ours directly.”

Although the company still provided the power to retailers, the contact it had had with customers disappeared.

Poverty Bay Electric Power Board became Eastland Energy in 1993, and the Eastland Energy Community Trust was formed. In 1998, Contact Energy assumed control of Eastland Energy’s retail energy business.

Renamed Eastland Network in 1999, the company relocated to Carnarvon Street.

“I’ve ridden the tides of change in the industry,” Mr Easton said.

“Over the years there has been plenty of excitement and challenges, as Eastland Group has expanded into the major infrastructure company it is today.

“It’s been very interesting and rewarding to be part of a progressive, innovative company. And I’m proud to have worked for a company that puts so much back into the community.”

Eastland Network general manager Brent Stewart has worked alongside Mr Easton for the past 15 years, and says Bruce is a “genuine one-off”.

“He has assumed responsibility for many different areas of the business during the past four decades, always taking care of everything with meticulous attention to detail.

“This is the end of an era and he will be missed.”

Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd has also paid tribute to one of the company’s longest-serving employees.

“Bruce exemplifies everything that we believe in as a company. He’s dedicated, community-spirited and has always gone above and beyond to make it happen for colleagues and customers alike. I have a huge amount of respect for everything he has achieved, and on behalf of our staff wish him all the best for a long and enjoyable retirement.”

A well-known local character and bowls player of some repute, Mr Easton has appeared in The Gisborne Herald several times over the years, as well as the book Isolated Lines by Sheridan Grundy.

He retires at the end of June — and unlike a light bulb, it is not known how many men it will take to replace him.

FOR the past 37 years, Bruce Easton has played a vital role in keeping the lights on through his work at the region’s lines company — but Eastland Network’s long-serving business service manager is finally ready to retire.

During this time he has had several roles at Eastland Network, which is part of Eastland Group, most recently as business service manager.

Now he is hanging up his calculator and retiring, after a career that has seen him experience enormous changes in the electricity industry.

After a successful career in banking, Mr Easton joined what was then the Poverty Bay Electric Power Board in 1980.

Back then, the board offices were in Peel Street and the new 110kV transmission line from Gisborne to Tokomaru Bay was just going live.

At that time New Zealand’s electricity generation and transmission lines were still owned and operated by the government.

As the finance manager, one of Mr Easton’s first responsibilities was overseeing the meter reading team.

“I started off in the payroll area and payroll administration, and managing the metering division. It was a very interesting area, with a lot of stories to tell.

“It was an exciting area and there was always something happening — dangerous dogs, customers doing all sorts of strange and surprising things in their homes, one team member being swept downstream in his Suzuki. But during my 23 years looking after the meter readers, they travelled more than 9,000,000 kilometres with no serious incidents.”

The 68-year-old said back in “the early days” he was based in the company’s Peel Street appliance centre, where he enjoyed the camaraderie of fellow workers.

“We always entered the A&P Show, with incredible success with our showroom manager and staff. There was always something happening in our tent, so they were interesting times too.

“There has been times where it’s been really difficult, especially in credit control, which came under me as well. It wasn’t nice, but if people didn’t pay their bill they may have lost their right to have a power connection.”

When Mr Easton first started at the PBEPB, meter reading information was punched into tape on a specialised Burroughs adding machine, before being sent to Wellington for bills to be processed.

In 1989, he made the bold decision to move to the new Gentrack computer billing system.

“We were the first to adopt the technology, and it’s now used by the majority of lines companies across the country.”

Even bigger changes came in the 1990s, with the deregulation of the retail electricity sector, introduction of the wholesale electricity market, and separation of the lines and energy companies.

“Those were really trying times because it meant a network, as a monopoly company, was very heavily regulated, whereas the retailer is not to the same extent. Those were interesting times.

“At that point Gisborne was on its own, after the Max Bradford reforms. Wairoa came later in about 1999. The biggest change was the 22,000 customers we had were reduced to two retailers. Humongous change — it meant customers were no longer a customer of ours directly.”

Although the company still provided the power to retailers, the contact it had had with customers disappeared.

Poverty Bay Electric Power Board became Eastland Energy in 1993, and the Eastland Energy Community Trust was formed. In 1998, Contact Energy assumed control of Eastland Energy’s retail energy business.

Renamed Eastland Network in 1999, the company relocated to Carnarvon Street.

“I’ve ridden the tides of change in the industry,” Mr Easton said.

“Over the years there has been plenty of excitement and challenges, as Eastland Group has expanded into the major infrastructure company it is today.

“It’s been very interesting and rewarding to be part of a progressive, innovative company. And I’m proud to have worked for a company that puts so much back into the community.”

Eastland Network general manager Brent Stewart has worked alongside Mr Easton for the past 15 years, and says Bruce is a “genuine one-off”.

“He has assumed responsibility for many different areas of the business during the past four decades, always taking care of everything with meticulous attention to detail.

“This is the end of an era and he will be missed.”

Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd has also paid tribute to one of the company’s longest-serving employees.

“Bruce exemplifies everything that we believe in as a company. He’s dedicated, community-spirited and has always gone above and beyond to make it happen for colleagues and customers alike. I have a huge amount of respect for everything he has achieved, and on behalf of our staff wish him all the best for a long and enjoyable retirement.”

A well-known local character and bowls player of some repute, Mr Easton has appeared in The Gisborne Herald several times over the years, as well as the book Isolated Lines by Sheridan Grundy.

He retires at the end of June — and unlike a light bulb, it is not known how many men it will take to replace him.

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