Throughout his career, Brett Tredinnick had never thought about joining the drilling business. But when a friend of his was setting one up, Brett was interested in something “out of the ordinary” that would challenge him.
“I had 10 years of corporate training and operational level experience, but I wanted to be in an organisation where I could influence my view of culture and leadership,” he reflects. “My friend set up the business and asked me to come on board. From there, Lucas Drilling Company started.”
They put a team together and bought drill rigs. For about 12 months, there weren’t many work opportunities, and the future looked uncertain. “We were lucky enough to get a short project in Newcastle where we gained a week of work,” Brett recalls.
“The parent company, Lucas Group, has been innovative from the start and had great ideas about how to get gas out of the ground by using directional drilling techniques. We ended up winning another project, and they just kept coming.”
Brett admits the company experienced some growing pains. It made substantial acquisitions in the late 2000s. At the downturn of the coal sector, the company decided to separate the pipeline business and the drilling business.
“We went from nearly 1,000 staff in the drilling business down to about 300 during this time,” Brett explains. “Our revenue was cut by more than half. I had to lead the charge and focus on regaining revenue.”
Lucas Drilling eventually gained some beneficial contracts and focused on what it knew well in order to move forward. Brett’s most significant challenge was ensuring that, as the organisation gained more people, the communication and vision reached all levels of the business.
“When you’re running a couple of rigs with 30 guys, you know everyone,” he says. “You lead the charge, and they follow you. It’s a vastly different job when you have close to 1,000 people. You’re relying on all levels of your management to pass the message down.
“As we become a larger organisation, we are trying to apply the important messages, effective communication and strategies to the people of the business. It can be difficult to get that down to all levels.”
Despite the challenges it has faced, Brett says Lucas Drilling has the best working culture he’s ever experienced. “I think that it’s a very personal culture,” he explains. “We foster people to believe in themselves. We have an open-door policy where people at all levels of the business are involved. It doesn’t have a hierarchy structure feel about it.
"We foster people to believe in themselves.”
“It’s also a safe culture,” he adds. “It’s a high-risk environment with people on different sites working for different customers with different crews. The rigs move daily, and yet we are able to create an exceptional culture. We communicate well with our people. We give them our full attention and every opportunity to be involved in the development of our systems and processes. It’s open and engaging for them.”
Safety is an ongoing challenge due to the nature of the industry, so it must also be the priority. Brett believes the number one driver of a good safety outcome is leadership. “You must have simple, robust systems and processes that the workforce can apply,” he explains.
“The leadership must be experts. We’ve resisted putting additional layers on our safety systems over many years because we’re more focused on getting our safety leaders to be experts.”
To foster safety experts the company runs a safety leadership forum every four months, when the field supervision team meets for consultation and workshops. “We work with them on safety and other continuous improvement initiatives,” Brett says.
“Because people, unfortunately, make mistakes. We do whatever we can to support them and take it as a learning curve when a mistake occurs, so that we can move forward. And of course, we’re always doing regular audits in the field. We set basic KPIs around cultural initiatives and proactive observations to see what’s working or not working.”
The company also has a comprehensive leadership development and mentoring program that gives its young people the best chance of success. “I personally spend one-on-one time with a group of carefully selected future leaders every six weeks to discuss what their role means to them,” Brett explains.
“We help them understand profitability and business skills and to think differently about approaching the job. Sometimes we give them tasks to think at a higher level in the business. It’s crucial to the company because we’re developing our future leaders.”
Brett is proud of the team at Lucas Drilling and believes that the tenure, loyalty and ongoing commitment of vital staff has helped the business achieve what it has. “We’ve kept a core group of people now for a long time,” he boasts.
“We have a group of intelligent, long-term and loyal people. That, coupled with simple but effective systems allowing them to cost up projects appropriately, manage risk and opportunity while focusing continuous improvement efforts in the right area, has allowed us to achieve success. And when we make decisions, we’re making sure that no stone has been left unturned and we make a considered decision.”
“We have a group of intelligent, long-term and loyal people.”
One of the essential cogs in the wheel of a business is its suppliers. Brett is lucky to have a personal relationship with the principals of many of the company’s key suppliers.
“I know them well,” he states. “They’ve been supplying to us for many years. We have strong relationships through all levels of our organisation. In many cases, we have a structured supplier performance review process every quarter, when we work with them, learn from our mistakes and move forward in that area.
“Our long-term suppliers understand what our business drivers are and know that we’re always trying to do things better and smarter and to be more innovative,” he continues. “More importantly, we have an open, honest relationship with our suppliers. It allows us to move forward and co-create better outcomes.”
The proof is in the pudding; come next year, Lucas Drilling will celebrate its 20th anniversary. It has been 20 years of ongoing, consistent service offered to the mining industry, something in which the Lucas team can take comfort – that the business they work for maintains longevity.
“We’ve achieved a lot. We have a well filled order book in front of us, which is great for our employees,” Brett says. “It allows our employees to go on holidays and invest in that house. They can move forward in their personal lives and enjoy life, which is ultimately why they come to work.
“Its a strong, stable business.” he adds. “It has been 20 years of hard work through the highs and lows of a full mining cycle, yet the Lucas team has persevered and ultimately delivered.”
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