UC News - University of Canterbury - New Zealand

Famous family engineers the future at UC


Engineering student Jake McConnell (left) and his father David McConnell, an Engineering alumni, in the University of Canterbury's new Structural Engineering Laboratory.

11 January 2017

Three generations of the McConnell family share more than just a last name – they all studied at the University of Canterbury (UC), with a strong passion for engineering also running through the family.

David McConnell attended UC from 1984 until 1987, graduating with a Bachelor of Engineering (Honours) in Electrical and Electronic Engineering.

“My father started McConnell Dowell and his core business was construction with a strong engineering bias, so it’s been a strong family gene.

“I have lots of fond memories of my time at UC. I was at College House for two years where there was great camaraderie. I also got involved in Ensoc, which went through a transformation in 1987 to become quite successful. We were part of the first engineering rugby team in 1986 and also started the first $300 car race, which became the Undie 500. We had to increase the price of the cars to $500 when none of the cars in the first year made it.”

After leaving UC, David McConnell went on to earn an MBA from the Kellogg Business School in Chicago, eventually returning to New Zealand to establish McConnell Group with his father, Malcolm, and brother, John, where he has been managing director for more than 20 years.

“My time spent at UC was a really special period of personal growth – developing your own self-discipline and motivation, while enjoying the freedom of it all.”

David McConnell’s son, Jake, is currently studying engineering at UC – a move away from their Auckland home that he strongly supported.

“I’m a big proponent of sending your children to UC. It’s not just the degree and learning – it’s much broader in terms of developing those attributes that will stay with you.  That’s the uniqueness of the UC undergrad experience.”

David’s father, the late Malcolm McConnell OBE, was also a UC alumnus, graduating with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering in 1954.

In 1960, he co-founded McConnell Dowell and led the company’s expansion throughout Australasia, Asia and the Middle East. He was awarded an OBE for services to business, engineering and export, and was posthumously inducted to the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame.  It was at UC – then Canterbury College – that Malcolm McConnell met his soon to be wife, Beverley, who was studying Fine Arts.

“I loved university – we did have fun,” says Beverley McConnell.

“I first met my husband at the ‘Fresher’s Hop’ dance, but it was the slowest romance. I said hello to him every morning for a year when I got my coffee, long before I said anything else.”

The couple were married in 1954.

Beverley McConnell studied for three years, then put her experience and artistic training into creating one of New Zealand’s best known gardens, ‘Ayrlies’, now a Garden of International Significance. In 2015 she was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit (MNZM) for her services to horticulture.

She says she is very proud of her family’s connection to UC.

“I’m thrilled that Jake is there following his first cousin Fraser McConnell who recently graduated with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering (Hons). Malcolm would be so proud that the family is carrying on the UC tradition.”

For further information please contact:
Margaret Agnew, Senior External Relations Advisor, University of Canterbury
Phone: +64 3 369 3631 | Mobile: +64 275 030 168 | margaret.agnew@canterbury.ac.nz
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