Going the Distance

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-By John Boley

Dan Burley, Manager, Business Development at Brisbane-based Sommer & Staff Constructions Pty Ltd., is looking forward to the challenge of helping to repair ravaged Queensland.

“We have undertaken numerous restoration and refurbishments and conservation projects over the last 37 years, and given the recent devastation and loss caused by the floods and cyclones throughout Queensland, we’d like to think we could provide a service through this experience and knowledge to help rebuild our home state of Queensland. We have currently been doing everything possible or available to us, including fund-raising, charity events and registering with all the major insurance companies, local councils and local authorities such as the Queensland Master Builders Association.”

Walter H Sommer is the founder and Executive Chairman of Sommer & Staff. In the 2004 Australia Day honours he was awarded the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in recognition of his service to the building and construction industry through the development of industry-based training programs.

Sommer & Staff was the first middle-tier construction company to obtain internationally recognised third party accreditation. “We believe the environment, and how construction affects the environment, will play an even larger role in our industry in the near future,” says Dan. “We are currently in the process of obtaining environmental accreditation and integrating our current QA and safety accredited systems into one.”

Sommer & Staff has diversified, expanding its interests by undertaking carefully researched speculative development projects in addition to the more commonly accepted procurement forms such as construction management, design and construct, and joint ventures. Sommer & Staff prides itself in the maintenance of the high standard of its product through this range of investments and services. In particular, the Macquarie Place high-rise apartments built in 1980 set a new market standard of excellence with a product that was attractive, well-finished, and produced a high return.

Successfully developed industrial estates at Hemmant and Darra are more recent evidence of the company’s ability to determine, understand, and then meet market needs.

A great advantage of S&S is that is has been so diverse in construction methods, project location, and various types of construction over the years that the company now has a huge database of consultancy firms, sub-contractors and suppliers, which is a major plus in providing solutions for any current or potential issues clients may have. In fact, the company is quite often asked to consult and provide comment early in the design phase with regards to long term maintenance and end user issues, buildability or construction issues, and potential opportunities for cost savings.

As well as working in many of Australia’s outposts, Sommer & Staff has worked both as contractor and as investor developer in a number of overseas countries including the People’s Republic of China, Vietnam, Kiribati and Papua New Guinea. Some of these works have been AusAID projects; others have been private joint ventures with local companies and investors. All, however, have contained a skills transfer component to assist local people to gain trade skills and basic construction management proficiency.

S&S has, in the past, had regional offices; however, the company found over the years that many of their project locations grew more and more remote, spread out over the eastern half of the country (even into the Torres Strait and Papua New Guinea). To adapt to this development, the firm found it beneficial to coordinate all projects from its Sumner, Brisbane headquarters and use project sites as remote branch offices.

Sommer & Staff has managed successful completion of a number of outstanding commercial projects in Brisbane’s CBD and its vibrant inner suburban business centres. The works form significant contributions to the city’s urban centres rejuvenation program.

The creative application of construction expertise enabled Sommer & Staff to design and construct the highly acclaimed Construction Training Centre, Salisbury, through refurbishing a rundown industrial complex at a significant saving over the cost of an equivalent new facility.

The award winning Logan Entertainment Centre has proved to be a welcome addition to the region. This project won the Queensland Master Builders’ Association Regional and State Awards in its category.

Defence, law and order, residential, conversion and conservation projects are also part of Sommer & Staff’s impressive repertoire.

In the industrial sector, types of projects undertaken by the company are many and varied, including a commissioning shed and under-floor wheel lathe at Jilalan for Queensland Rail, which won its category at the 2008 Master Builders’ Housing and Construction Awards and went on to win project of the year for the Mackay-Whitsunday region.

Over the years, Sommer & Staff has pushed the philosophy that its team is “in everything together”, enjoying a family company culture which is evident to this day. “We want to be an employer of choice, and in this day and age we believe it is the way of the future. You only need to look at our current directors to see that we would prefer to train and bring people up through the ranks, people that feel they are a part of something, rather than just a number.

“Currently in our business we have people that have been with us for over 32 years. If you took an average, we would be around the 10-11 year period, which in this climate is basically unheard of.

“Sommer & Staff is constantly looking to move forward and evolve,” says Walter Sommer, CEO and Executive Chairman. Current directors Brian Ryan (32 years with S&S), Michael Conway (14 years), and Dan Burley, who although a relative newcomer, has been known and been associated with S&S for 12 years, together are leading a proactive approach, staying in touch with current practices and construction techniques and ensuring through their hands-on philosophy that they continue to maintain responsiveness to client needs. Every project we undertake has at least one of the four directors personally involved from the initial concept right through to delivery/handover. This basic concept is another reason the company has stood the test of time over the last 37 years.”

Understandably, Dan is confident in the future of the company. “We are a well-established company (37 years) that has seen hard times before. We are currently standing in a great position, well prepared for when things turn around, through initiatives such as undertaking our own development. Sommer & Staff has always been used to working in remote areas.” Distance is never a problem, says Dan, “whether it’s in Wooloowin, Weipa or Wuhan” (central China). The company is happy working in specialised industries such as mining “and we have also diversified into importing products, sales and supply and consumables for industries. These include self-lubricating /oscillating truck, vehicle and train washes; mining consumables; wear plate drilling equipment, tools and accessories; and safety products.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

January 21, 2021, 9:55 PM AEDT