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
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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