Pat Tallon may have more than three decades of experience in the resources, energy, infrastructure, marine and defense sectors, as well as 14 years at the helm of Civmec, but that doesn’t mean he believes he’s in a position to sit back and rest on his laurels.
Rather, he sees running a company as a continually evolving process.
“The whole culture of a business is something you need to consistently work on,” he tells The CEO Magazine. “It’s a bit like cycling a tricycle up a hill. The minute you stop peddling, you’re going to go cycling backward. So you’ve got to stay engaged. It’s something we are not complacent about.”
Through sessions called Now You Know, which are regular updates to the workforce so that all employees can stay involved and see exactly what’s happening with the company, Tallon maintains that engagement.
The more people we get from different areas of the globe, or from different aspects of life, the better the company’s going to be.
“We also have a policy here of using a behavior-based program known as Never Assume, which is around not making assumptions about safety, quality, the strength of the business or how the business is doing,” Tallon explains.
“We try to be very clear, in as open a fashion as we possibly can, about how the business is doing, and that’s what builds the culture. Culture is all about what you do when nobody’s looking, and how you feel when nobody’s talking to you. That’s the way I look at it.”
That culture plays into every element of the company and applies right from the get-go, even in talent acquisition.
“When we hire, the first thing I look at in people is attitude and not necessarily skill,” he explains. “The whole idea is we can teach you the skills if you’re slightly lacking, but we can’t fix your attitude. My philosophy on what we do is very open door, very engaging. I spend a lot of time with the people on the ground.
“Blue-collar workers are very close to my heart. At the end of the day, these are the people that’ll make or break you. I spend a lot of time on-site and try to engage, one-on-one, with the team. I always say we’re a blue-collar business with white-collar support. I’m there to support them, not the other way around.”
A diverse perspective
As a vertically integrated, multi-disciplinary construction and engineering services provider, Civmec has offered turnkey solutions in the oil, gas, metals and minerals, infrastructure, marine and defense sectors since 2009. It prides itself on the diversity of its employees, but maintains that it’s always striving to do even better.
“We’re a welcoming company regardless of where you come from or what gender you are – we’re inclusive and we want more people in,” Tallon says. “The more people we get from different areas of the globe, or from different aspects of life, the better the company’s going to be. And that’s genuinely the way we feel.
As I say, if the people are not behind you, your business will go backward very rapidly.
“At the moment in the office, we probably have almost a 50–50 gender ratio, and we’re always working hard on trying to improve our gender and cultural diversity across the business.”
In the same way that diversity of employees results in a wider range of perspectives and ideas, when it comes to Civmec’s offerings, having a range of options available in different spheres means there’s never a shortage of projects or areas to innovate within.
“There’s comfort in having that diversification across portfolios, whether it be energy, whether it be resources or whether it be in infrastructure and defense,” Tallon says. “We can always keep ourselves busy, because hopefully at least one or two of those sectors will be busy at any one time.
“I do think that’s a comfort to our people as well. We’re not risk-averse, but we’re not too big and we put a lot into de-risking the business. We try to make sure that we have a good idea of what we’re getting into, and that we have the ability to be able to get better at it once we’re in there.”
As a leader, Tallon employs a transparent approach with all stakeholders, clients and employees.
“I don’t believe in an ‘us and them’ mentality that you see in a lot of construction businesses, where you have people in a corporate office who don’t even necessarily always know what’s going on at the project level,” he says.
“We try to stay very much engaged. [Executive Chairman] James Fitzgerald and I are both tradespeople by background ourselves, so we understand the difficulties.
“I think that engagement has contributed to where we are today and is what is allowing us to continue to grow. You can walk around our workshops and you don’t have employees sticking their head down, afraid to look at you when you are walking by. They are actually engaging with us, saying hello and we are having a chat.”
Every day, no matter what the task is, we try to make sure that everyone in this business is challenged and asking themselves ‘how can I do it better tomorrow?’
Tallon also welcomes an open dialogue and is always keen to have employees weigh in on how things are going within the company.
“I want people to tell me if I’ve missed something, if I should have done something a little bit different or how we could improve on it the next time,” he says. “We’re all on a program of continuous improvement.
“The day you think you’ve cracked it is probably your worst day. So we try and keep continually working on that culture. We always have new people coming in as well, and they need to feel very welcome quickly. As I say, if the people are not behind you, your business will go backward very rapidly.”
Tallon also sees it as his responsibility to help his employees grow and progress in their careers, so he is always keen to help nurture employees and ensure they know they can climb the ranks throughout the company.
Indeed, it’s the knowledge that the families of his 3,000 employees are relying on the incomes from working at Civmec that drives his motivation to keep improving the business each day, Tallon says.
“They are giving a lot back to the business, and we want to make sure that from our end we are doing the right thing by them and giving them the chance to develop. We want to give them reasons to stay with the business,” he says.
An essential component of the company structure is a symbiotic relationship with like-minded suppliers who appreciate the values that underpin Civmec.
“Nearly 99 percent of our procurement is local. We wave the Australian flag to say that we’re an Australian company. As a result, we try to make sure that our supply line is here in Australia as much as we canTallon explains.
“Some of our supply lines from Australia will have to go overseas for certain products, but we make sure that it’s run through. We don’t go direct to overseas for procurement ourselves, we do it here in Australia. When there’s overflow, we bring in subcontractors to support us. We have a very open relationship with them, and so a lot of them have been with us for a long time.
“I would say there’s at least another 2,000 people working for subcontractors and suppliers that rely on what we do in Civmec, and you can’t keep that supply line and that dedication from them unless you’re treating them properly.
“You know their strengths, so you don’t have to work too much on that, but you can also recognize where they might need some support. So when we go to promote somebody, we take that into account. As leaders, we support them in the areas where they need growth or some assistance.”
At the absolute forefront of Tallon’s mind at all times is innovation – and looking at how Civmec can continue to beat industry standards when it comes to how things are done, and how technological advancements can improve systems within the company.
“Every day, no matter what the task is, we try to make sure that everyone in this business is challenged and asking themselves ‘how can I do it better tomorrow?’,” Tallon says.
“And the day you stop doing that, you’re in trouble. There’s always a better way to do it. It’s a small industry, so in lots of ways, everyone knows what everyone else is doing. So if you have a good method of doing something, it quickly filters out to your competitors, and they’ll use that method if it’s viable for them.
“You have to be always thinking of the next piece of innovation, the next piece of equipment that’s going to make it go quicker, the next methodology that’s going to be that little bit better. A huge amount of ideas come off people on the floor, because they’re the ones doing the job.”
We don’t give lip service. I think that’s what the clients like about us and sets us apart.
Once again, in a sense, Civmec’s immense success boils down to that prioritization of culture and ensuring that all employees and clients are happy, feel supported and know that the business has their best interests at heart.
“At the end of the day, even though the business continues to grow, I think our clients still understand that if there’s a problem, whether it’s construction or manufacturing, that they can talk directly to myself or Jim Fitzgerald, or whoever they might need, and that we are available to them and will react,” he says.
“We don’t give lip service. I think that’s what the clients like about us and sets us apart.”
Tallon enthuses that underneath it all, Civmec couldn’t do what they do without an excellent team of employees. “It’s people that make a business,” he explains. “We can all sit here and think we’re great leaders or we’re doing great things. But, as someone once said, ‘If you’re leading the way and you look around and there’s not many people behind you, well, you’re really only out for a walk.’”
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