Business History Project

The Business History project profiles Auckland's colourful commercial history. It captures the story of the region and its economic development; it's a story of enterprising migrants, gutsy pioneers and visionary leaders.

About the Business History Project

What are the characteristics of our longest-lasting firms? How did New Zealand's greatest entrepreneurs bring their products and services to market? Is New Zealand's economic development different from other countries and cultures? These are important questions that careful study of business history can illuminate.

Since the 1920s, business historians have looked to company records and accounts of company success and failure to educate successive generations of business students. Achieving notoriety through the Harvard Case Study method, the study of business history is today in the throes of a revival, as scholars and practitioners alike look to the past to distil lessons that might assist present and future business practice.

For New Zealand in particular, business history offers an opportunity to increase our commercial knowledge, while at the same time deepening our sense of nationhood.

While many aspects of national history have received attention, the activities, accomplishments and contributions of the commercial sector have largely gone unnoticed. This is a gap that the University of Auckland Business History Project has addressed. By researching and writing the stories of the entrepreneurs and firms that contributed to our rich commercial heritage, the project has inspired and educated another generation.

Through case histories, books, website material, the Business Wall, heritage walks and  conferences, we hope these activities will enrich our business community and students with a greater understanding of the past, so they might be even better equipped to build a brilliant future.

The Business Wall - Sir Owen G Glenn building

The Business Wall, located on Level 0 of the University of Auckland Business School's Sir Owen G Glenn Building, was completed in December 2008. The 50m-long installation presents students with a visual celebration of New Zealand's enterprise culture, from the first Māori-European contact and colonisation to the sophisticated South Pacific nation of today.

In a series of illuminated panels, the Wall documents the transformations resulting from technological innovation, advances in knowledge and the globalisation of business.

Featuring companies active in a range of industries - from DB Breweries, Farmers Trading Company and Zespri to Tait Electronics, Fletcher Construction and AJ Hackett - it charts New Zealand's evolution into a land of confident, creative enterprises making their mark on the world stage.

City of Enterprise: Perspectives on Auckland Business History

Key scholars from New Zealand and overseas gathered and produced the book “City of Enterprise: Perspectives on Auckland Business History” by Auckland University Press in March 2006.

The book, richly illustrated and written in a lively and accessible fashion, aims to attract a wide and diverse readership, from students and academics to the general public. It explores, among other themes, how and why Auckland has emerged as a dynamic and multicultural "commercial capital".

The book comprises of fourteen chapters about various aspects of Auckland's business past written by leading national and international authorities in New Zealand/Australasian economic history, including Auckland's pre-eminent business historian, Emeritus Professor Russell Stone. The book details Māori enterprise, maritime history, leading companies such as the Auckland Gas Co, the Farmers Trading Co and Ross & Glendining, the Timber Trade, the stock and station industry, newspapers and accounting.

For more information or to order the book, visit the Auckland University Press website.

The University of Auckland Heritage Trail

Old Government House

The University of Auckland Heritage Trail was created as part of the Business History Project and as a gift to the City of Auckland in 2005, in its centenary year.

The Heritage Trail profiles a number of buildings and sites that are registered by the New Zealand Historic Places Trust or scheduled in the Auckland City Council's District Plan as being of heritage value. The Heritage Trail incorporates over 25 locations, such as the Old Synagogue, the Old Barracks wall, the Princes Street merchant houses, the Laidlaw Clock in Albert Park, Old Government House and the Sir Owen G Glenn Building (the site of the Phoenix Foundry, at one point the largest employer in Auckland).

The University of Auckland believes it is important to comprehensively present the remarkable journey that has seen our city grow from a collection of small villages to the country's commercial powerhouse. Capturing the history of the people and buildings of our own university through the Heritage Trail will enable us to begin to understand the rich history at the doorstep of the University of Auckland.

Learn more about the University of Auckland Heritage Trail.