Pulling together all the disparate elements of a huge, scattered and sometimes unruly economic powerhouse like the building and construction industry must sometimes feel like herding cats. But someone has to do it.
And in South Australia, that person is Will Frogley, the CEO of Master Builders SA. He took on the role late last year and was immediately thrown into a maelstrom of problems right as the unrelenting COVID-19 pandemic struck. “We’re certainly proud that we’ve taken a leadership role during the pandemic,” Will tells The CEO Magazine.
“Our number one priority was to communicate well with our members to ensure they were aware of various COVID-19 requirements and that they had appropriate hygiene facilities on their sites. This was important because we wanted to avoid the construction industry shutting down in a forced lockdown. So we worked very closely with our members to ensure they were doing the right thing to help guarantee that COVID-19 wouldn’t get a foothold in construction.”
Will came to the building and construction industry through a circuitous route. His career was on a very different track when he began. He studied journalism at university and did an internship with Nine Network in Adelaide before working as a reporter and film editor.
In that time, he interviewed a lot of politicians, and ended up working in politics as a policy adviser, and then manager for then Shadow Treasurer Rob Lucas. In that role, he regularly met with industry groups, including Master Builders SA, when he met Ian Markos, who was CEO at the time.
One fact backed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics is that if you are looking to grow the economy, you get more bang for your buck from building and construction than virtually any other industry.
In late 2016, Markos was looking to fill a role that had become available and thought to contact Will. “I started with Master Builders SA as its Policy and Communications Director in 2017. At the end of last year, our previous CEO Ian Markos retired, and I have been CEO since Christmas,” he explains.
“I am responsible for developing the public profile and policy platform of one of SA’s leading industry associations. As the peak body representing construction in SA, we have the second-highest number of members of any industry association in the state. We’ve been around since 1884, believe it or not, and we actually have more members now than we’ve ever had. We’ve jumped quite significantly in membership recently, and I think it’s because of the swift and confident leadership we took during the pandemic.”
A stand-out performer
Building and construction has been a stand-out performer in the economy in SA, adding about 5,000 jobs over the past year. Economic recovery in the state is far ahead of schedule because it has a strong building and construction industry – there are about 70,000 South Australians directly employed in the industry.
“We have record building approvals. Hardly anyone could have believed it, but that’s exactly what we’ve been able to achieve. And because of that, we’ve been able to come back a lot quicker than most people expected. When you have a strong building and construction industry, it flows right through the whole economy,” Will says.
“One fact backed by the Australian Bureau of Statistics is that if you are looking to grow the economy, you get more bang for your buck from building and construction than virtually any other industry in terms of an economic multiplier. So for every dollar that’s spent on an industry, residential building has the second-highest economic multiplier effect and commercial construction has the third-highest multiplier effect of all industries.
“BlueScope is a proud partner of Will and Master Builders SA. Will is a fantastic advocate for MBA members, and a strong construction industry and supply chain in South Australia. We look forward to continuing to work with him into the future.”
Kia Floreani, State Manager Kia Floreani, State Manager Building Markets SA/NT, BlueScope
“If you combine those multiplier effects with how many people are directly employed in building and construction, it becomes easy to see why economic recovery is proceeding far ahead of schedule and the unemployment rate is a lot lower than people were predicting a year ago. It just shows how absolutely crucial we are to having a strong economy.”
It’s not all beer and skittles, though. The pandemic has derailed numerous projects and undermined the effectiveness of many other industries, which reflect back on construction through delays, lockdowns and more. “There’s quite a lot of uncertainty generally in the economy at the moment,” Will points out.
“Although the industry is very busy, there are serious challenges around materials and trade shortages, and because of that, we’re seeing delays and prices go up quite considerably, which is putting pressure on a number of businesses. We need to get more supply onto the market to take some heat out of those price increases, and also to make sure businesses can keep cash flowing because in the building and construction industry, cash flow is absolutely king.”
It’s the organisation’s role to act as the hub of the industry wheel to assist in minimising disruption, and one that spurs Will on. He takes it personally, seeing the Master Builders SA membership not so much as customers but as friends.
“It drives me and motivates me to get the best for our members because our industry is filled with practical, hardworking, resilient, down-to-earth men and women. It makes me very proud to represent them,” he shares.
“We’re proud to partner with Master Builders SA on the delivery of its Apprentice Safety Program. As a mutual, we’re delighted to support the safety and mental health of apprentices who play a critical role as the foundation of growth in this state.”
Jessica Lyons, General Manager SA, EML
“You have to be able to relate to all of them in this job. You have to understand what they need and how you can improve their livelihoods. I really enjoy that challenge.”
While the association has enjoyed increased membership in the past few years, Will is hoping to grow its numbers even more. Strength in numbers delivers greater power to the association in its lobbying efforts, but it also provides greater rewards for members as it works on their behalf to improve their profile and standing in the wider community.
“My plan is to grow the association and make sure that it continues to be strong for the long haul,” he says. “We have to make sure that we are looking after our members, and that we are providing maximum value for their membership, which we do through advocacy and lobbying, as well as through our services and partnerships.”
Partnerships bring value
The association is particularly savvy at creating partnerships with other industries to further its perceived value to members. With partnerships come trust, greater reach and rewards.
“Good relationships are everything, especially in a place like SA that is quite small,” Will confirms. “We are keen to establish mutually beneficial relationships for the long-term, like we have with Northpoint Toyota, which is one of our main corporate partners. These are the kinds of relationships that we are prioritising. If you want someone to be there for you, then you need to make sure that you’re also looking after them. So that’s really the attitude we take towards these partnerships.”
The South Australian building and construction industry undertakes about A$16 billion of work every year, contributing more than A$1 for every A$7 of economic activity within the state. Indirectly, more than one-quarter of South Australia’s wealth is produced by the building and construction industry, according to Master Builders SA.
“Bianco is an example of one of our partners who sponsors and supplies equipment to our apprentices, so when they first start work, they have all the appropriate tools. We want them to be looked after and get off to the best possible start when they’re taking their first steps to a long and successful career in the building and construction industry.
“We also have a relationship with Fenwick Elliott Grace, which is a specialist in construction law. They have been around for a very long time, and they’ve also been members of Master Builders SA for many, many years now. They help us with a number of things like reviewing our contracts, giving legal advice to members, and so on.
“It all boils down to good relationships with suppliers, because without reliable, credible and professional suppliers, it makes it very difficult to run your business, or in our case, the association. We have good suppliers, and we’ve worked very hard to keep them happy because we know that having them in place is so important for our growth and stability.”
“Italian appliance manufacturer SMEG has inspired the world for over 70 years. It collaborates with world-leading architects and designers to innovate its product portfolio with technology, style and functionality, embodying individuality and self-expression in the kitchen to make SMEG the most desired appliance brand.”
Steve Ebbs, Managing Director – Sales and Marketing, Debney Distributors Pty Ltd
Will is the first to admit that he is backed by a team of specialists in their fields, and happily empowers them. He is convinced that, together, they present a united front to members and the wider community.
“We have a very strong team in place,” he attests. “I don’t believe in micromanaging. I think the best way forward is to get good-quality people who know their stuff and give them the freedom to do what they do best. That is definitely something my predecessor, Ian Markos, put in place here at Master Builders SA.
“Our approach is being enthusiastic and positive because they are the things that rub off on the people around you. Our members and other stakeholders want to see us being positive, enthusiastic, up and about, knowledgeable; not low energy or negative.
“I believe that what you put into the world is most likely what you’re going to get back. As a CEO, the key is creating the right environment, getting the right people and having passion for what you do.”
After nearly a year in the role, Will is pursuing a path out of the strictures of the pandemic for the association and the industry at large, with a longer-term view that is pinned to a brighter picture of the future generally. At the base of it is a simple truth that nothing takes the place of hard work.
“Having a plan and working hard sounds basic, but there’s no real substitute for those two things,” he insists. “You must have a plan, you have to work hard towards achieving it, and if you stick to it relentlessly, the outcome will generally take care of itself.”
Training for the future
Ensuring that there are enough employees and tradespeople to maintain the industry’s progress is a constant project for the association. Building apprenticeships requires time and resources from companies and the association itself to ensure that there is a recognised and well-rewarded path for people to join the industry and find employment.
“One of the most rewarding aspects of my role at Master Builders SA is the work we do with apprentices. We directly employ about 130 apprentices through a group training system, and we have a very high completion rate, which we’re proud of,” he enthuses.
“You see these kids start on day one of their apprenticeship, and they could be a bit nervous, a bit awkward, but seeing them grow in confidence as they find a real sense of purpose and watching them eventually go on to run their own business is extremely rewarding. I’m very proud of the work we do with apprentices here at Master Builders SA.”
Building and construction is so important for the whole economy, for employment and our economic growth.
And he is proud too of the primary role the building and construction industry plays in securing SA’s economic future, along with the future of its various communities scattered across the state.
“Building and construction is so important for the whole economy, for employment and for our economic growth. The role that Master Builders SA can play to create a strong building and construction industry has been demonstrated well over the past year,” Will reflects.
“Our members built Adelaide Oval, the new Royal Adelaide Hospital, new houses, new offices, new petrol stations, supermarkets, shopping centres – it’s a visual reminder of just how important our industry is. And I feel very privileged to be at the wheel of such a great association – and one that is so steeped in both tradition and history – representing an industry that is very important for our broader economy. Not many people get that opportunity, so I’m truly grateful. We’ve been around for 137 years, and I want us to continue to be strong in the future.” That’s a history Will is intent on building upon.
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