Successful leadership is about people, building relationships and creating an environment of trust and collaboration. That’s the basis of what Russell Telford, Managing Director of A.G. Coombs, regards as authentic leadership. “There are some basic things you learn as a young person,” Russell says. “It sounds simple, but someone taught me the three questions to ask: ‘How are you?’, ‘What are you working on?’ and ‘How can I help?’”
In his 31 years at A.G. Coombs, Russell has learned the necessity of genuine interest, engagement and commitment. “I know that appears to be fundamental, but building success is linked to how you approach people, bring value to your clients and your work ethic. I think being a good leader is about being engaged,” he says.
“The other important component is self-awareness. It’s about being conscious that you could be the limiting factor to success if you’re not continuing to get the right people around you to continually progress the business.”
After growing up in the building services industry, Russell ventured off to do a mechanical plumbing apprenticeship. This was followed by progressing to site management on several large-scale projects, before joining A.G. Coombs in 1988 as a site foreman. Since 1945, the company has been a provider of building services, delivering an integrated range of technical services for all systems in buildings.
“I think being a good leader is being engaged.”
A.G. Coombs has always been progressive and innovative, particularly when it comes to its people, according to Russell. “We are progressive in the way we train, upskill and develop people. We’re an attractive company to work for. We’re a privately owned company. We know all our people and we have active engagement with our people.”
A few other benefits include a social club, kids’ club, events, an employee assistance program, as well as charitable and community engagement opportunities. “We’re a caring company.”
In the past five years, with a need to be a more prominent, diverse and geographically spread business, A.G. Coombs has broadened its services and has invested heavily in advancing its technology applications.
“Over the past 10 years, geographic growth on the eastern seaboard has been very successful, from a strong base in Victoria to New South Wales and Queensland,” says Russell. “The focus has been on organic growth. We’re now at approximately 800 employees and about A$360 million of revenue. We’re enjoying success.”
He says he is most proud of A.G. Coombs becoming Australia’s leading building service specialist. “We’re leaders in Advisory, Projects, Service and Technical Management,” he comments. “We’re clear about our vision, strategy and the ability to execute and build a powerful business platform.”
When asked what the next five years will entail, Russell states that continued organic growth, having a stronger presence in Northern Queensland, as well as pursuing opportunities internationally, will be a focus.
“We have several global clients that want to take our advisory and technical facilities management services internationally. We can see some international expansion into our current customer base. We’re confident we’re going to meet an organic growth target in five years of being a A$500 million business. If you look at Australia’s top 10 companies, you see banks and mining companies. If you go to other parts of the world, you can see the influence of technology companies. That’s a change in customer base for us.”
The business works closely with supply chains including partners Reece and Celmec International. “With a shared vision, aligned values and a strong connection through innovation, the Reece Group has been an integral part of A.G. Coombs’ integrated supply chain for many years,” Russell explains, adding that Celmec International has been a longstanding and trusted partner of A.G. Coombs for over 30 years, “providing high-quality HVAC equipment with exceptional technical support and customer service to us”.
Technology has been the main driver of change for A.G. Coombs. The team spends time on research and development to ensure the company doesn’t fall behind its industry counterparts. The company’s 10-year plan is simple – to continue growing organically nationally and to take up selective international opportunities with major clients.
“You need to have a broader purpose of why you are here.”
“We also have two key relationships that we’ve created to form an international peer group. We have a US company similar to A.G. Coombs and one in the UK. We collaborate as a peer group around benchmarking, reviewing, innovation, performance and methodologies to problem-solving. There’s no financial tie-in. It’s just the best of Australia, the UK and the US collaborating and helping each other in a non-competitive environment,” he says.
“You need to have a broader purpose of why you are here. This helps your business to be part of the industry and, ultimately, the community.”
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