Civmec’s CEO Pat Tallon has worked in construction his entire life. He began an apprenticeship when he was 17, and four short years later, he opened his own business in Ireland focused on renovations and cabinet-making.
In 1999, he left Ireland for Australia, and it wasn’t long before he opened yet another construction company, this time specialising in delivery site civil and concrete projects for the public infrastructure, commercial and resources sector.
During this period, Pat became more and more familiar with the management of larger projects and bigger teams. As his knowledge grew, so did his dreams. In 2009, he joined forces with James Fitzgerald, who is now Civmec’s Executive Chairman and, together, they acquired Civmec’s name and assets and started to develop the business.
“James had extensive experience in all aspects of construction, particularly heavy engineering,” Pat shares. “One of our key strengths is that, combined, we have a wealth of knowledge across most aspects of a construction project. Our vision from the start was to be able to offer clients a full, turnkey solution for their projects going forward, regardless of the size.”
Now, from its waterfront base at the Australian Marine Complex just south of Perth in Henderson, Western Australia, and with extensive waterfront facilities in Newcastle, and a presence in Gladstone and Singapore, that’s exactly what Civmec prides itself in doing.
This vertically integrated, multi-disciplinary construction and engineering services provider delivers full solutions to the oil, gas, metals and minerals, infrastructure, marine and defence sectors.
More than diversifying the company’s portfolio, specialising in these strategic sectors gives the company stability in challenging economic times.
“The trends show us that when the private sector is spending money, the public sector is generally not, and vice versa,” he explains. “This is a way we protect ourselves as much as possible from the various ups and downs in the economy.”
Dynamic economic conditions are only one of the many challenges Civmec must face on a regular basis. Having a presence in multiple segments means there are a lot of moving parts to keep up with.
“Operating a heavy engineering and construction business across so many sectors with so many in-house capabilities and over a large geographical footprint means challenges of all types and magnitudes have to be dealt with on a daily basis,” Pat says.
“There are the challenges of winning tenders at the right price with the right commercial teams, challenges with the funding of such projects and financing facility developments. Then, there’s the challenge of simply ensuring you are at least in the game and ahead of it as often as you can be.”
To say it keeps things interesting would be an understatement. But Pat lives for this kind of challenge. “It’s not an easy industry, and I often say you have to love it to be in it, but it’s never dull and never stagnant – now, that’s exciting,” he beams.
And he gets immense satisfaction knowing that no challenge is insurmountable with the passionate team he gets to work with every day. “I get excited that each day will uncover something unexpected that needs to be dealt with, knowing we have the ability to deal with most things that come our way,” he shares.
Without the efforts of the people on the ground, we could never have got to where we are today, and could not continue to grow.
“There is such a good atmosphere at Civmec, and there is a strong sense of teamwork. We have the ability to navigate through the different cycles, the positives and the ones that need to be addressed, because we know we are going to be doing it together.”
This teamwork is a result of Pat’s leadership and hunger for growing people within the organisation. “We have some great people here at Civmec. But, it’s harder to identify the depth of a person when things are going well. It’s when things are tough that you really get to see what people are made of,” he says.
“So I challenge myself every day to find the gems, the next leaders who need a bit of support to help them be all they can be – to be great assets to our business.”
A true standout
This people-focused culture is one of the things that makes Civmec a standout in the industry. Unlike many of its competitors, this company has a direct-hire policy. “Our people are our point of difference,” Pat shares.
“And, I believe this is the case because of our direct-hire policy. Most of the people who work at Civmec are direct Civmec employees. They belong to the Civmec team and they are part of the Civmec DNA. It’s a great basis on which to build a strong culture that cares about the wellbeing of the entire workforce and the company overall.”
Having the right culture is imperative to this organisation. “We feel that we all succeed together,” he says. “We allow people to grow organically and many of those on our management team are people who have risen through the ranks because of their attitude. We have a philosophy here at Civmec that we hire for attitude, not necessarily skill. We can always teach the skill if the attitude is right.”
Pat truly believes in the power of apprenticeships because they remind him of his own journey. “I’ve come from the floor and went through the apprenticeship process myself,” he remembers.
“I have a strong passion for apprenticeships. They play an important part in the longevity of our industry. So I spend much of my time on the floor, chatting with our people to understand the task, trying to lend a hand and making sure they know we care. Anything reasonable that can make their work life better is important for me, and I ensure we do what we can to make that happen.”
Beyond the people and its varied portfolio, Civmec has a very strong presence in the industry. Not just for looks, this company can be felt and experienced too.
“We have focused heavily on facilities such as our extensive heavy engineering manufacturing facilities in Western Australia and New South Wales. We have real assets that can be seen and touched. This demonstrates a real presence in the market,” Pat asserts.
“Many of our competitors, for their own various reasons, prefer not to own these types of assets or subcontract out many of the tasks that we deliver internally,” he continues.
Our people are our point of difference.
“We feel this is a strength, as it really gives us increased control over the supply line for our projects and ensures we can cope better with the ever evolving changes that occur in our industry.”
“We never sit on our hands and suggest that we now have it ‘as good as it gets’,” Pat says. This is a phrase that’s frowned upon at Civmec. The company is constantly looking to improve, whether by processes, innovation, customer service or the growth of its people. For Civmec, there’s always more work to be done.
“There is no substitute for hard work,” he says. “We continuously look at better ways of doing the tasks we currently do. Our theory is that your good, more efficient method today is the baseline norm in the industry tomorrow, so you have to keep looking at ways to improve.”
However, the company doesn’t innovate for the sheer sake of innovation. Civmec uses a calculated approach before introducing a new technology or idea. It needs to be more than shiny and new – it needs to work.
“We are seen as a company that is innovative in our approach, and we constantly challenge the norms,” he says. “We acknowledge and engage in the technological advances that are changing the landscape of how companies operate, but we are not implementing technology for the sake of technology – it has to add a real benefit. Otherwise, it’s just a distraction from the really important stuff.”
Instead, Civmec focuses on having modern equipment and better methodology. These investments ensure everything will run more smoothly. “We want to make it easier for the people on the ground actually doing the work, as well as the project management teams that have to track and report the progress,” he says.
Having these systems in place will also pave the way for future growth. Currently, Civmec is hyper-focused on getting its shipbuilding capability up and running at a high level of efficiency.
This will ensure it delivers successful outcomes for its clients and the Commonwealth. “After two years of building a world-class shipbuilding assembly and sustainment hall, we are really focused on putting the asset to work and demonstrating our delivery capability,” Pat says.
“We are very mindful of the importance of the work we are doing for national security, and we want to do the best we can and be proud of what we deliver to the defence sector.” The company has also set its sights on the continued growth of its maintenance division.
“Over the last few years, we have seen good growth in the division, mainly in the metal and minerals area, which we want to continue to grow,” he says.
“And we want to continue making inroads into securing opportunities in the oil and gas sector. Since this team operates nationally, we see ample opportunity for continued growth.”
From the customer to key business relationships, open lines of communication are highly regarded at Civmec. To Pat, this is essential to ensure a positive result. “Nobody likes surprises,” he says.
“Early detection and communication are important. You have to be transparent, open and honest in your communication. It’s a two-way street and collaboration, acknowledgement and proactive management from both parties is important to ensure a good outcome.”
It’s also crucial for these relationships to be built upon trust. “Your client needs to know they can rely on you to get the job done, and you need to be there when the need arises and react appropriately,” he says.
“Likewise, in our business relationships, it’s important we know whom to call and who will react to get the problem fixed or just accommodate the client’s request. We are in this together, and good outcomes mean everyone gets the reward they deserve.”
These ethics have helped make Civmec the high-growth success it is. “Civmec is a company that continues to develop and establish itself as a company that people want to work for and clients want to work with,” Pat says.
“I’m proud of the growth of the company and our ability to manage our way through the various cycles that occur in the construction and engineering industry. Without the efforts of the people on the ground, we could never have got to where we are today and could not continue to grow. We want to be the best we can be and believe this will place us high on the scale of successful businesses.”
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