Hawkins turns 75 this year, a proud New Zealand business with strongly embedded local connections, now backed for the past four years by the might of Downer New Zealand. When Murray Robertson joined Hawkins through Downer, he was quick to see that it wasn’t broken, so he didn’t try to fix it – very apt for a construction company.
“One of the things I’ve been very strong on is preserving the Hawkins spirit while making sure its culture aligns with Downer’s,” he shares. After a recent reorganisation within the Downer New Zealand business, Murray has been appointed Executive General Manager, Facilities with his portfolio encompassing Downer, Hawkins and Spotless brands.
The executive leadership team reshaped the business under three key sectors: transport, providing building, operations and maintenance for roads, rail, airports and ports; utilities, covering power, telecommunications and water; and facilities, which includes Hawkins, Spotless and AE Smith.
“Through our whole of life offerings we’re now the biggest builder, maintainer and operator in New Zealand,” Murray says. “Whether we’re building a hotel, hospital, school or university, we’re also maintaining these assets.”
Offering a holistic solution for clients has been crucial to the company’s recent success, and is something it can only build on going forward. “Rather than treating construction projects as one-offs, it’s more about looking at the right clients and the right opportunities, and creating enduring relationships,” Murray explains.
One of the key things is we have a fairness charter with our subcontractors. We know that when the next job comes around, that loyalty will pay off.
“That’s what spurred us on to bring in the maintenance, to form long-term relationships with our clients so that we can add better value. “Traditionally, construction was just about chasing the big projects, doing the ribbon-cutting and then looking for the next big job. Along with greater priority given to sustainability, I think the key change that we’re seeing in the industry is that people are taking a more pragmatic and sensible view over a longer period of time.”
As Murray points out, unlike many industries, construction is still largely a bespoke activity onsite with limited use of technology. Added regulations have made it harder to speed up productivity, but technology is now leading the charge.
“We’re starting to see greater use of building information modeling, the movement of digital twins and the application of AI across construction,” he confirms. Thought leadership has also become an important part of Hawkins’ approach.
“That includes trade training – we actually train and develop people in our supply chain who don’t work for us, but we know will support us.” Despite challenges, growth is very much on the company’s agenda. “Hawkins will have over NZ$700 million in projects this year while our combined Facilities business will deliver more than NZ$1 billion,” Murray reveals.
“There are opportunities, particularly in the central lower North Island and the South Island to strengthen our position there. We’re all about selecting the right projects with the right clients, creating consistency and opportunities where we can potentially bring in other parts of our business within the supply chain.
“And then within the facilities management, we’ve definitely got a defined growth target there. We’re focused on delivering growth and sustainable returns to both the communities and our investors.” Lately Hawkins has been focused on standardising contracting and processes using what Murray calls “The Downer Standard” for ease of growth and integration going forward.
The company is built on four pillars: safety, delivery, relationships and thought leadership. The implication is that clients return because they are delivered great jobs in a safe way, and relationships are built and maintained. However, underpinning those pillars is a very simple ethic.
“You’ve got to have a good time while you’re working, and that’s something I’ve found right through Downer and Hawkins,” he explains. “We’ve maintained a culture where we want people to thrive and where we empower them, and that’s reflected not just in the high performance of our team, but that they enjoy what they do.”
Murray believes that Kiwi can-do attitude pervades not only his team of 4,000 employees, but the wider community they’re a part of. “A lot of the facilities we build and maintain we end up using ourselves,” he says.
“So offices or hotels, or schools we send our kids to.” Of those 4,000 employees, Murray points out that as many again are subcontractors who have become a part of the extended Kiwi family. “The only way that we are able to be successful is if our subcontractors are successful,” he asserts.
“One of the key things is we have a fairness charter with our subcontractors. We know that when the next job comes around, that loyalty will pay off.” Indeed, in a recent get-together with key subcontractors and partners for an upcoming tender, many said that Hawkins was the company they feel most loyal to because of this approach. As someone who loves his work, it’s what Murray loves to hear.
“I like that if it all gets a bit stressful and busy, I can go out and I can actually see something that’s being produced as a result of all our hard work. It’s always real and tangible.” It’s a reality he wishes for many others.
“I don’t want to see any other construction companies go under. I want to see things flourish for everyone, because the more people we can get into the industry, the better,” Murray says.
“For kids going through school right now, they’re probably a bit more excited about getting into IT than construction and maintenance, but we actually need as much positive news from the industry as possible to encourage our rangatahi that a career in construction is a viable option for a bright future.” It’s clear there will be plenty of good news coming out of Hawkins and Downer in the next few years.
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