Looking down the line
– When you run a 24-hour business, it’s important to have all your checks, balances and systems in place. When you run a 24hour business servicing the mining community this is an even greater imperative.
If there’s one thing John Kennedy knows it’s construction services. Since 1999, he has been offering a range of services including steel fabrication and erection, demolition, scaffolding, plumbing, electrical, carpentry, civil and mechanical. That list of services has grown over the years as Goodline’s reputation as the go-to guys for service and maintenance has grown throughout the mining communities of Western Australia, Darwin and Queensland.
John began the business in Weipa, the site of the world’s largest bauxite mine. His intention was to create a holistic service primarily for Rio Tinto supplying anything from mechanical and structural work to electrical and plumbing services. The key areas of specialisation today include steel fabrication, steel erections, demolitions, scaffolding, plumbing, plastic welding, civil carpentry and electrical data com- munications. With a diverse range of services on offer from project conception through to project management and ongoing maintenance.
“I bought a business in Weipa that was already supplying services, but on a very small scale,” John says. “They had about eight people and I wanted to expand it from there.”
The business as it stood at the time of the buyout was less ambitious than John envisioned.
“We had to make a business that was reactive, seven days a week, 24 hours a day,” says John of his vision to not only expand the business, but also change the industry. “I wanted to be available for any requirements to the two mines operating in Weipa.
“One bloke had a plumbing business, one had an electrical business and there were metal fabricators and a range of little businesses, so my idea was to combine them. Because of the remoteness and the shutdown aspect, I felt we could combine all that labour and do the shutdown. When Rio Tinto wants 40 men for a shut, mainly they want boilermakers, riggers and TAs, but electricians can work as TAs. We just get it all done.”
Dwayne Finch is the general manager of Goodline. He says John has taken that concept right across every division that operates today and the strength of the business is due to having the right business concept.
“John set up the business primarily to serve the bauxite for Rio Tinto, Comalco at the time,” Dwayne says. “John’s plan was to be the main contractor in town and supply a service to the mining operations and a service to the community.”
By 2004 Goodline had grown to more than 200 employees. The apprenticeship had been done, the reputation forged. And that’s when the big break came.
“In 2004 I went over to Port Hedland and had a look around. I heard that they were looking for a good contractor. I met with BHP Procurement and they wouldn’t promise me any work, but they said if you come over here we’d certainly look at you for any piecemeal work. We didn’t have too much success with BHP in the early days, but we picked up some work with Rio Tinto and Fortescue Metals was just starting off. We did all their steel erection work and things took off from there.”
Goodline now service Rio, BHP and FMG in Port Hedland.
Initially, in April 2005 John sent a team of five people to the Pilbara. Today there are over 500 people working there (he had 80 in the region by Christmas of 2005). It was a risky move but like any good leader, John is not averse to risk. The move to West Australia is case in point.
“I had some good people. Mick Farrell was the key to that move. I could see West Australia had enormous potential and I said to Mick, I wouldn’t go there without him taking leadership in that region. He accepted it, and he’s still over there to today.”
The move to Darwin in 2009 was another big risk.
“A simple move to Darwin costs you about $2 million to start off,” John says. “We don’t have the same infrastructure there as we do in Port Hedland, but we went up there with five people and it grew to 80. It’s now settled at about 35 but it fluctuates and you have to be ready to expand or contract as circumstance dictates.
The labour force across Goodline is dropping at the moment as the mining industry undergoes some necessary change, but it is unlikely to dip below 600 people. Still, 600 people is a far cry from the eight people Goodline started with.
There are three elements both John and Dwayne put Goodline’s success down to: 1. Industry demand. 2. Having the right business concept. 3. Having the right people.
Dwayne says to build the clientele the three elements above are critical.
“You need to position yourself in the right place, and be reactive to the clients’ needs. You need to take a multi-disciplined approach. Then you need to give them the right culture and you do that by building the right culture of people. We’ve put a lot of emphasis around safety. We’ve built our systems up to be at a high level. We take that to every job regardless of what the status is for the site to operate at.
“The keys to maintaining the ongoing relationships with these companies is to take a good, honest approach. We run a relatively lean, but strong, skilled team. They can manage the works well, and make sure they all have the same culture. They can deliver on time and do it safely.”
Despite much of the work being done in West Australia, Goodline maintains its base of operations in Queensland.
“Labour is affordable. The office space is affordable and with technology connecting us, we have a stable workforce.”
Another thing that separates Goodline from its competitors is its pre-assembly approach. This came about because the logistics for a job forced John to think outside the box to be able to deliver.
“That approach was driven by lack of accommodation. We had to get the steel work done, while FMG were doing the civil foundations in parallel. To meet the schedule we had to take the accommodation constraint away. From there we’ve tried to deliver that concept across the country, and we’ll continue to do that where the opportunity becomes available. Surprisingly enough, on the back end, we’ve seen from a commercial aspect it was viable. It also brought money back into the local economies.”
John is dedicated to the community as well as the businesses he contracts to. He believes that all companies should have strong relationships with the communities in which they work, particularly in remote areas.
“We need to maintain that relationship with the community and understand that we don’t just work for the miners, we work for everybody in town. If someone needs something fixed up at their house, or industrial complex, then we’ll go and do that work as well.”
As for the future, Goodline is pushing further into Queensland and opening that market up in gas and coal. They are taking a slow approach and waiting for the market to open up so they can direct themselves into maintenance and shutdown services for that industry.
“We do it quite well in all our other divisions, and half our revenue is built off that. That’s where we see the future. We become a multi-service company based in strategic positions so that we can offer that service, and then still do the projects as they come along,” John says.