In the beginning....
Fullers’ inception can be traced back to a family sailing trip in the summer of 1981 when George Hudson and his son, Douglas, saw a tired and worn out procession of wooden ferries slowly ebb past their own boat. Over time Auckland’s ferry service had become neglected, stale and tired, and was figuratively and literally running out of steam. The Hudsons realised the potential for a successful ferry service, and strove to do something about it.
Establishing the Gulf Ferries company
By the end of that year, the Hudsons were the proud owners of North Shore Ferries, the former maritime empire of Leo Dromgoole. It wasn’t easy, and the difficulties and hardships of rejuvenating a failing fleet became apparent almost immediately. Within six weeks of the takeover, George was faced with every vessel out of service, except the tiny launch Glen Rosa.
Building up the fleet
The transition from the slow, wooden fleet into a sleek, modern operation began in 1987 with the arrival of Gulf Ferries first catamaran, the Quickcat. The introduction of this faster and more efficient ferry set the course for the future and for Waiheke Island. With a more comfortable and faster mode of transport, travel to and from the island was revolutionised. The fleet’s replacement continued in 1988 with the arrival of Kea for the Devonport services. Coinciding with the rejuvenation of the fleet, Auckland’s historic Ferry Building was also re-opened on the harbour’s edge.
Becoming Fullers Group Ltd
Meanwhile, the Gulf Ferries’ boardroom was undergoing a facelift of its own. In 1988, South Pacific Travel Holdings Ltd, with Keith Johnston, became shareholders. Shortly after, the publicly listed Fullers Corporation Ltd went into receivership and their Auckland operation was bought by George and Keith. Expansion continued uninterrupted, and recognising the value of the “Fullers” brand, the company amalgamated its operations and changed its name to Fullers Group Limited.
Stagecoach, Infratil, Souter Holdings Ltd
In 1998, Stagecoach New Zealand Limited became the major shareholder in the business, but retaining a seat on the board, George remained as Chairman. In 2005, Infratil NZ bought all of Stagecoach’s operations in Auckland, including Fullers. In 2007, after many successful years, George stepped down as Chairman and at the same time his son Douglas became the CEO, a position he holds to this day.
The genesis of the company was complete in 2009 when Fullers was sold to the Souter Holdings group of companies, headed by Scots tycoon Brian Souter, which owns a number of other transport operations in New Zealand including urban bus operators Howick and Eastern Buses Limited in Auckland and 74% of Mana Coachlines in Wellington.
In 2009, Souter Holdings Ltd purchased ferry operator 360 Discovery Ltd in Auckland.
While many aspects of the business have evolved since its humble beginnings, what remains unchanged is the enthusiasm of the people of Auckland for the transport mode which has done much to shape their city. Fullers is now a name synonymous with providing reliable and innovative ferry services in Auckland for commuters and visitors alike. It only looks likely to strengthen in the future.