For many, Harcourts is a name filled with history and yet for others it is a name synonymous with the future. This is the story of a great New Zealand company - where it came from and where it is headed. This is the story of Harcourts.
From way back in 1888 when JB Harcourt first realised there was a gap in the real estate market serving a fast growing population, to the success Harcourts enjoys today, it has been an extraordinary journey. A journey characterised by innovation, commitment, foresight and ingenuity. A journey that results in one of New Zealand's many success stories. And so our story begins ...
John Bateman Harcourt was a visionary; a man who redefined the real estate industry and created a part of New Zealand history. Born in England and having lived in Melbourne since 1856, JB Harcourt arrived in, what had recently become New Zealand's capital city, Wellington, at the ripe old age of 21. He worked for AP Stuart and Co before purchasing the soft goods business in 1879 and renaming it 'Harcourt & Co.' In 1888, JB transferred all his attention and energy (of which he had plenty) to an exciting new business in property services and so began the Harcourts that we all know and appreciate today.
JB clearly had a sharp entrepreneurial instinct and driven by a boldness that enabled him to overcome obstacles and conventions alike, he quickly established Harcourt & Co as one of the best known businesses in the region. From day one of Harcourt & Co opening their doors as a land and estate agency, the company flourished. It quickly established itself as an expert in the sale of not only city property, but also country, seaside, mining, farms and station properties and was recognised as having a strong auction presence. With the introduction of "The Register and Property Investors Guide", the equivalent of today's BlueBook, Harcourt & Co published and circulated an impressive 4000 copies throughout Wellington, on the last Saturday of each and every month. Its success and progress, as a company, grew in line with Wellington's development.
Life doesn't always go according to plan though and just one year after Harcourt & Co opened their doors they were caught up in a scandal that has been described as 'the most dramatic auction' in its history. Headlines of 'A Sensational Shooting Case' and 'Attempted Murder in Harcourt & Co's Auction Mart' tell the story of a woman, described as 'particularly excitable and passionate', entering the auctions rooms and proceeding to shoot a builder, Mr Norbury, her husband had a dispute with at the time. Thankfully Mr Norbury recovered and the woman and her husband were arrested. And they think that auctions in this day and age are exciting!
JB Harcourt was a man well ahead of his time, who was generous with both his business acumen and money, but also a committed family man. Having married Harriet Wallace shortly after his arrival in Wellington, they set up home in a property on Hawkestone Crescent. This home quickly became the site of many special occasions, as he became one of Wellington's most prominent and respected citizens. Sadly the house is no longer standing, but JB's legacy continued within his children including his sons, Stanton and Gordon, who went on to join their father in the company. In 1905 Stanton joined the family business and Gordon, upon his return from war, also joined them as Harcourt & Co went from strength to strength.
It is testament to JB's work ethic and commitment to excellence that very little was done in Wellington's business circle or community without his involvement. Having been a member of the Chamber of Commerce since 1884 (a position he held for over 25 years), he was also a City Councillor for three terms, a director of several companies and the President of the Wellington Racing Club for a record 26 years. JB was a man who never owned a racehorse and wasn't even a punter - instead he was a man who loved the administration and the business side of the club and he is widely recognised as being instrumental in the club's success.
In 1928 JB Harcourt passed away but right to the very end he was recognised as one of Wellington's best-known citizens and acknowledged for his part in the evolution of Wellington. His obituary refers to him as 'one of the city's pioneers' and just one month before his passing, he was made a life member of the Chamber of Commerce, a prestigious honour recognising his influence in shaping the region's infrastructure. Sadly, without JB around, Stanton and Gordon did not always see eye to eye and in 1929 Gordon ended up heading out on his own establishing Gordon Harcourt Ltd.
Harcourt & Co still continued as a family run business, with Stanton at the helm ably assisted by his two sons. Neither remained with the company for long, leaving Stanton as the last of the Harcourt family to run the company. There is no doubt that Stanton had a stern disposition, not dissimilar to his father, but also, like his father, he was a prominent member of Wellington society. Stanton was the first of three Harcourts to serve as the President of the Real Estate Institute of New Zealand (REINZ), followed by his brother Gordon and then his nephew Ted.
Shortly after going into partnership with Hec Fisher in the 1950's, Stanton chose to retire. Hec had already been with the company for 30 or so years and had learnt to deal with Stanton's somewhat rigid and uncompromising approach to business. Hec, who took sole charge of Harcourt & Co following Stanton's retirement, was a large contributor to the establishment of the Real Estate Agents Act and was in charge until his son Robert took over as Managing Director in 1968. Roger Whyte, who had previously worked for Gordon Harcourt Ltd, then joined Robert and together they built upon both the residential and commercial sides of the real estate business.
Harcourt & Co continued to be a proud Wellington company right up until 1980 when it expanded into Auckland amidst plans to list on the Stock Exchange. In 1985 Collins Real Estate, a company founded in 1972 with an emphasis on marketing, training and technology previously unseen in New Zealand real estate merged with Harcourt & Co to create Harcourts Real Estate Ltd. The new company quickly became the major force in Christchurch real estate and made the number one spot it's own as 'the house-sold name'. The merger effectively formed one of the largest real estate companies in the country and, according to Stephen Collins, then Managing Director, illustrated an increase in client expectations for a wider range of services at the time.