Since the early 1950s, Crema Group has erected bold, geometric, clean-looking buildings throughout Melbourne, with hundreds of projects having gone up across Victoria. Through it all, the company has been united by the same vision, the same culture – and the same family. The Crema family has run the company since its founding in 1951, when Beppi Crema joined forces with the Camillo brothers, working with concrete and terrazzo. Though the Camillos returned to Italy, Beppi stayed on and, today, his children and grandchildren tend the business he helped found.
Luciano Crema is one such member of the Crema clan. As Beppi’s son, he is Crema Group’s Managing Director, working alongside his two brothers and co-directors Louis and Romeo. Luciano believes the company’s family history is one of the reasons for its enduring success.
”A family business is unique”
“A family business is unique,” he says. “Unlike a public company where management would report to a board, decisions in the Crema business are made collaboratively between higher management. The family controls everything. Everyone in the family business has got skin in the game, and when the company does well, they all benefit. Family business is a long-term approach. A lot of public companies have directors who are on the board or who run the business for four or five years and then they’re gone. I’ve been in the business for 40 years and now we’ve got another generation who will probably do the same thing. It’s a successful formula.”
“A family business is unique… everyone has got skin in the game, and when the company does well, they all benefit.”
The success of the family business formula is obvious; last year, the company’s turnover hit A$200 million with projects in Australia.
One important figure in Luciano’s life – a mentor of sorts – was an old family friend and collaborator of his father Beppi, David Barro. “The Barro and Crema families have been working together for a long time,” says Luciano. “The head of the Barro family, David, was a very inspiring leader and he was my father’s best friend. He ran an amazing business and inspired a lot of people all through his life, including me. He was a passionate person who never gave up, a visionary in his field, and he inspired a lot of people and brought a lot of people with him. He was able to show that vision to everyone, and they followed him. I guess that’s what leadership is, having the ability to get people on board.”
To an extent, David’s influence has helped shape the way Luciano views leadership. His idea of a good leader is one who “cares about his people, cares about the product, and has a passion for working with good clients”.
Crema Group, with its employee longevity and emphasis on skilled, innovative architectural projects, is clearly influenced by Luciano’s principles, which were in turn influenced by Beppi and David. Indeed, Crema Group’s team is as much a family as the Crema family themselves. Where it differs from a family is that the company gets to choose who becomes a member and the team is careful to bring onboard only those who fit the Group’s philosophy of passion and quality.
Care for people
“It really comes from the top down,” Luciano explains. “We want people who have the skill level and passion to do great work. Really, it’s a matter of selecting the right people. If there are people with that sort of passion, they’re attracted to companies like ours. Now we have second- and third-generation employees. Their parents worked with my father and their children and grandkids are working with us. It’s really a mindset that fits in with our philosophy.”
This focus extends to connections outside Crema Group too. “Let’s just say you’ve got to have a certain amount of energy to be in this game. It’s not easy. It can be demanding and it can be tough, but it can also be a lot of fun and very satisfying. You have to bring along with you subcontractors that share the same vision and intent. We value our relationship with subcontractors and suppliers, many of whom have worked with us across a number of projects.”
It’s not surprising that Crema Group takes such care in selecting the employees and contractors with whom they work. The assignments they take on, after all, require only the best. “We’ve never really been interested or intensely competitive in the straight-out, low-end projects,” says Luciano. “We’re best at doing the skilled high-end work. We’re known for that. It’s what we really like, and our whole team of project managers and site managers are geared towards doing that sort of high-end, quality work.”
This focus on quality necessitates a detailed process when Crema Group considers taking on a new project. Luciano says the company usually undertakes a long-term, design development process, called ECI (Early Contractor Involvement). “It’s not like a four-week tender period where you must pitch the project in a short period of time,” he says. “We prefer to sit down with clients early, begin developing a close working relationship, and review the entire design with them. Even if this takes more time than expected, we believe the end result is of a much higher quality.”
After four decades in the family business, Luciano has seen countless changes in the industry and in Crema Group itself. Thanks to people like his father and David Barro, the greatest lessons Luciano has learned are perseverance and integrity. “You’ll work your way through difficulties,” he says, “because they’re always there in any business or project. You have to confront them and work your way through. Just don’t give up.”
To ensure the Crema name lives on well after Luciano and his co-director brothers retire, the trio are readying the third generation – their sons Nicolas, Christian, Steven and Michael – to take over when the time comes. “They have been involved for the past six years and it’s important that they’re coming through,” Luciano notes. “They’re already inspiring long-term growth within the business.”