Ghostwriter. I like the phrase. I love the movie and enjoy the strange looks I get when I tell people what I do.
Airwork Ltd is a leading New Zealand aviation company. They hold several significant contracts and employ over 350 people in New Zealand and abroad.
The majority shareholder, Hugh Jones, purchased the company in 1984, so 2014 marked 30 years under his stewardship. To celebrate such an achievement, I was commissioned to write a coffee table-style book that documented Airwork’s history.
Why a business anniversary book?
For Airwork, there were many reasons for commissioning a book to mark their anniversary:
- Celebrate their company’s values and culture
- Strengthen their brand and reputation
- Highlight their achievements and vision for the future
- Foster employee pride.
My brief was to document notable events (good and bad) over the past 30 years. The book was to be an easy read with plenty of pictures — the kind you can flick through at your leisure.
The Planning Stage
I kicked off the project by meeting Hugh Jones at his office in central Auckland. I needed to establish language style and what Hugh wanted included and, just as importantly, what he wanted to be left out. By the end of this first meeting, we'd drafted a timeline of important events, which became the chapters, and decided on a relaxed first-person narrative.
In total, I interviewed Hugh for about four hours over two sittings. I recorded all our conversations with a Dictaphone, which meant I didn't miss anything important and could study Hugh’s language style and turn of phrase. For me, it was important to capture his personality because I wanted readers to feel like Hugh was talking to them directly.
As you would expect, I prepared a list of questions for each interview. However, as so often is the case, some of the best material emerged when we veered off topic.
With the interviews complete, the next step was to transcribe the recordings. As a rule, it takes a professional transcriber about four hours to transcribe a one-hour interview, so transcription is a time-consuming part of the process.
With a book project, I work in chunks, so I’ll write a chapter and then send it to the client for feedback.
This was my routine with Airwork:
- Email a completed chapter to Hugh for feedback
- Make edits based on Hugh’s comments
With any book project, edits are inevitable. And, I learned early in my career that writing is a collaborative process between my client and me. After all, it's their story — they have a reputation to consider.
Airwork’s book was mainly about major contracts they had won over the years. Consequently, Hugh was mindful of his business relationships. As you would expect, he didn't want to include anything that could offend. So, during the review process, I was asked to either delete or rewrite several sections.
The Finished Result
The finished result was a 205 mm x 205 mm hard-cover book of about 5000 words with lots of photographs. By all accounts, it was a fantastic success, and Hugh received plenty of compliments.
The book is a fitting tribute to a company that has contributed so much to New Zealand aviation. For customers and investors, it serves as a reminder of Airwork's capabilities; for employees, it gives them a reason to feel proud.