Chal­leng­ing the norm to achieve ex­cep­tional out­comes –

Pat Tal­lon serves as the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Civmec Limited, an in­te­grated, multi-dis­ci­plined con­struc­tion and en­gi­neer­ing ser­vices provider to the re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture sec­tors. It’s a long way from ‘be­ing on the tools’ for the Ir­ish tradie

Business First - - CONTENTS -

Pat Tal­lon serves as the Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Of­fi­cer of Civmec Limited, an in­te­grated, multi-dis­ci­plined con­struc­tion and en­gi­neer­ing ser­vices provider to the re­sources and in­fra­struc­ture sec­tors. It’s a long way from ‘be­ing on the tools’. Pat speaks with Bob Forshaw about his early in­flu­ences and what it takes to run a suc­cess­ful con­struc­tion busi­ness.

The early 1990s marked the rise of mul­ti­cul­tur­al­ism, ne­olib­er­al­ism, the In­ter­net, Nir­vana and a ma­jor cul­tural change. The cold war thawed and the Soviet Union dis­solved, while economies and po­lit­i­cal power re­aligned. Among the great changes, were a raft of en­trepreneurs and busi­ness minds about to em­bark on their own, very per­sonal life chang­ing ca­reers. We can roll out the usual sus­pects, but we won’t here. This ar­ti­cle fo­cuses on one man, in the con­struc­tion in­dus­try, who may be un­fa­mil­iar but has achieved a great deal.

Pat Tal­lon is one of the men be­hind con­struc­tion gi­ant Civmec Con­struc­tion and En­gi­neer­ing. He is re­spon­si­ble for the safety, bud­gets, man­age­ment and de­vel­op­ment of its op­er­a­tions, set­ting all Group poli­cies such as those re­lat­ing to safety, qual­ity and the en­vi­ron­ment and the im­prove­ment of pro­duc­tiv­ity.

It’s a big job, but Pat has the ground­ing: first as a trades­man in Ire­land and Aus­tralia, where he came to un­der­stand the machi­na­tions of the build­ing and con­struc­tion sec­tor and later when he re­turned to Ire­land in the mid 1990s to set up his ini­tial con­struc­tion busi­ness. In 1999 he docked Down Un­der per­ma­nently and set up Bal­ly­mount En­ter­prises with his brother, where he was re­spon­si­ble for pro­mot­ing, ex­pand­ing, de­vel­op­ing and steer­ing the com­pany as well as guid­ing its op­er­a­tions in struc­tural con­crete con­tract­ing.

Bally in Ir­ish means ‘place of ’. The con­struc­tion in­dus­try is cer­tainly a place in which Pat be­longs. Even­tu­ally when he joined up with ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Jim Fitzger­ald in 2009, he was right at home in the in­dus­try.

“My brother Nick had been in­volved in Civmec at the very start and Nick and Jim knew each other for a very long pe­riod of time,” Pat says of the part­ner­ship. “Bal­ly­mount was also do­ing some con­tract work for Jim’s pre­vi­ous com­pany, so I got to know Jim through that con­nec­tion as well.”

Things re­ally took off for Civmec in 2009 when they pur­chased land at the Aus­tralian Ma­rine Com­plex (AMC). The AMC pro­vided the per­fect lo­ca­tion for op­er­a­tions.

“We had un­der­taken a thor­ough re­view of op­por­tu­ni­ties in the mar­ket­place and were con­fi­dent that with the new fa­cil­i­ties and ca­pa­bil­i­ties we would bring to the in­dus­try we would se­cure work as soon as the fa­cil­ity was run­ning. The move paid off as to­day the com­pany op­er­ates within a new pur­pose built four-storey of­fice in the same lo­ca­tion.”

“The 6,500m2 head­quar­ters has been con­structed in-house to ac­com­mo­date over 450 per­son­nel,” Pat says. “The fa­cil­ity in­cor­po­rates an ex­ten­sive train­ing and in­duc­tion cen­tre and a well-equipped med­i­cal cen­tre with a full-time qual­i­fied nurse for pre-em­ploy­ment med­i­cals.

“Our be­lief at Civmec is that im­proved pro­duc­tiv­ity com­bined with a high level of sup­port ser­vices, ul­ti­mately means more cost ef­fec­tive project de­liv­ery. The more ef­fi­cient we can be in car­ry­ing out projects lo­cally, the more likely we are to see more projects be­ing ap­proved for Aus­tralia.

“It also pre­pares us for growth within the global mar­ket. The open­ing of this of­fice pro­vides in­creased ca­pac­ity to de­velop our strate­gic plans, and in the fu­ture will en­hance our po­si­tion na­tion­ally and po­ten­tially as a ma­jor global sup­plier.”

Pat is look­ing to ex­pand into in­ter­na­tional mar­kets as a nat­u­ral ex­ten­sion of the steady growth Civmec has en­joyed over the last few years. The is­sues sur­round­ing this con­cern the speed of the ex­pan­sion. Pat says you have to be able to con­trol growth to en­joy it.

“We main­tained a lot of con­trol and we’ve made sure ev­ery one of our dis­ci­plines, ev­ery one of our businesses here was fully op­er­a­tional. We can’t tell one hun­dred per cent if the bolts are all in place but we could cer­tainly have a large per­cent­age of those bolts fas­tened be­fore we em­bark on the next phase of ex­pan­sion.”

Those bolts to which Pat refers are Civmec’s ca­pa­bil­ity of­fer­ings which in­clude heavy en­gi­neer­ing, mod­u­lar­i­sa­tion, struc­tural, me­chan­i­cal, and pip­ing in­stal­la­tion (SMP), pre­cast con­crete, site civil works, in­dus­trial in­su­la­tion, off­shore lo­gis­tics, ac­cess so­lu­tions and main­te­nance. Once they felt they were in con­trol of those ar­eas, they could look more ge­o­graph­i­cally in­side Aus­tralia, with room in the fu­ture for global op­er­a­tions.

“We have a strong re­al­i­sa­tion that the com­pany needs to grow and we need to fol­low wher­ever the work is and give share­hold­ers value.”

The share­hold­ers wouldn’t be com-

“We were very strate­gic in mak­ing sure we set

cer­tain foun­da­tions be­fore mov­ing for­ward.”

plain­ing. Civmec recorded rev­enues of S$20 mil­lion in its first year. Their rev­enue is now in ex­cess of S$400m. The com­pany has in­creased re­source lev­els with di­rect la­bor some­where in the re­gion of 1500 to 1700 and Pat says they are di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for the wages of at least an­other two thou­sand people in the lo­cal area.

“It’s been in­ter­est­ing growth,” Pat says. “We were very strate­gic in mak­ing sure we set cer­tain foun­da­tions be­fore mov­ing for­ward. And we were res­o­lute about be­ing prof­itable and real­is­tic.”

Be­ing real­is­tic is a tenet Pat holds dear. Civmec is a com­pany that builds re­la­tion­ships on its forth­right and hon­est ap­proach to staff, sub-con­trac­tors and clients.

“If we won’t do the right thing, we won’t get work. There is a limited amount of work out there and we are con­stantly look­ing for new av­enues to ex­pand our busi­ness to en­sure that we are giv­ing ev­ery­body con­stant em­ploy­ment.

“Jim and I are from trade back­grounds and we un­der­stand what it’s like to be on the tools. We are to­tally hon­est with our staff. We gather all our work­ers at least twice a year and tell them ex­actly what’s go­ing on in the com­pany and what the fu­ture holds. We are real­is­tic. We let them see our projects are in line with where the com­pany is head­ing and the feed­back is al­ways very, very good be­cause they know where they stand.”

Clients also ap­pre­ci­ate the hon­est ap­proach. Some of those clients in­clude Rio Tinto, BHP Bil­li­ton and Chevron who re­quire a high stan­dard of work and as­so­ci­a­tion. It means Civmec is con­stantly up­dat­ing sys­tems, and fa­cil­i­ties and ex­pand­ing con­trols which is the foun­da­tion for se­cur­ing long term re­la­tion­ships.

While lo­cal, Civmec un­der­stands that it op­er­ates in a global mar­ket and has to ser­vice its clients as such.

“We have to look at what’s go­ing on around the world and not just what our com­peti­tors are do­ing lo­cally. So it’s very im­por­tant that we con­sider our clients, our sup­pli­ers (pre­dom­i­nantly in steel and con­crete) and all our em­ploy­ees as strate­gic part­ners and if we don’t all work to­gether, the work is just not go­ing to hap­pen here in Aus­tralia. If that is the case we won’t be ef­fec­tive. We all need to work to­gether to get the best re­sults for our clients and to keep work­ing here in Aus­tralia.”

Civmec cer­tainly takes a smart ap­proach to busi­ness. They hire well and value their people and they deal with their prob­lems quickly and ef­fi­ciently. One of the first ma­jor chal­lenges the com­pany had to over­come arose when they opened their fab­ri­ca­tion fa­cil­ity.

“When we opened the fab­ri­ca­tion fa­cil­ity, it was dif­fi­cult to con­stantly track our ma­te­rial and sys­tems. We’re talk­ing about thou­sands and thou­sands of pieces of ma­te­rial be­ing cut and put to­gether in large mod­ules. You need to know where ev­ery piece is be­cause the re­quire­ments in min­ing, oil and gas projects is ex­tremely high. The client wants to know the ma­te­rial data for ev­ery sin­gle piece that is sup­plied on their project and so that took some time to mas­ter, but we ended up build­ing an in house sys­tem which is very ef­fec­tive and we pro­vide full trace­abil­ity of our ma­te­ri­als.”

An­other chal­lenge was build­ing clients. Civmec is only five years old and work­ing in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment.

“Build­ing client con­fi­dence is a huge task. We’ve been hon­est with them up­front as to what we feel we are ca­pa­ble of do­ing and then hon­our­ing the com­mit­ment. The client is a tough taskmas­ter and a unique sup­plier. You have to un­der­stand the net ef­fect for them if you don’t sup­ply. If you have an iron ore prod­uct that needs to get to the trains and you don’t deliver, it costs them a lot. That’s why we treat our clients as strate­gic part­ners and work on so­lu­tions to­gether. We have to be hon­est and tell them ex­actly what’s go­ing on and come up with so­lu­tions to fix prob­lems rather than rea­sons why we can’t con­tinue.”

Civmec listed on the Sin­ga­pore Ex­change in 2012. It had a two-fold ad­van­tage. It en­abled the com­pany to raise the cap­i­tal re­quired to ex­pand the AMC fa­cil­ity and ex­pand ge­o­graph­i­cally around Aus­tralia and po­ten­tially glob­ally.

The list­ing has also en­abled em­ploy­ees to be­come share­hold­ers, which is an­other ad­van­tage for a fast grow­ing busi­ness. It means that most people within the com­pany want to see growth. It will come from ex­pan­sion and in­no­va­tion. It will come from de­liv­ery and re­la­tion­ships. It will come from hon­esty and open­ness, which Civmec and Pat are renowned for.

“The amount of people in this com­pany that want to see Civmec be­come big­ger and big­ger and be very suc­cess­ful is very pleas­ing. That’s one of the most re­ward­ing things; to see people are not here just to pick up a pay cheque. They want to see the com­pany im­prove and grow.”

It seems Civmec is a com­pany that chal­lenges the norm to achieve ex­cep­tional re­sults. And with ev­ery­one from staff to clients on board, Pat’s job of driv­ing the busi­ness for­ward is made that much eas­ier.

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