Agile But Responsible

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-By John Boley

The two words that shine through repeatedly when talking to Baxter O’Hara Building are “˜service’ and “˜teamwork’. This small but ambitious construction company is New South Wales based and busy despite uncertain times across the state, as managing director Craig Baxter recently told Australian Construction Focus.

Craig founded the company in 1998 as a fledgling outfit with just two employees. Sean O’Hara has been joint director since 2005. However, Craig says, the customer focus was unwavering from the outset. “Right from the beginning our team has tried to maintain its total effectiveness and continue to deliver on our services.”

At the core of Baxter O’Hara’s services is Construction Management, and Design and Construct. Craig says they have to stay “agile”, making sure all the time to move with, or even if possible ahead of, the industry as a whole. As is the norm in the industry, with the company’s government and public clients the projects are usually lump sum, meaning construction management is the favoured format, but with the private sector, for the purposes of diversification and sustainability for the business, “we offer the design and construct service as well, so that way we can spread ourselves across a few sectors and a wider client base.”

As with most builders across Australia, most of the work recently has been in the public sector, due in no small measure to the stimulus package, the BER and housing incentives. But according to Craig the balance of Baxter O’Hara’s current work is around 70 per cent private and 30 per cent government.

He explains that the company has two offices – its original headquarters is in Erina on the Central Coast covering Sydney, the Central Coast region, Newcastle and the Hunter. Recently opened in 2010 is an office in Tamworth to serve the New England region. This spread of coverage is helping Baxter O’Hara prosper. It seems sometimes like most people in Australia want to live near the coast, says Craig; it’s not quite true because regional areas throughout NSW are growing. Competition in the building industry along the coast has become intense. He likens it to having a 200 litre drum of builders but only a 20 litre bucket of work to pour into it.

But there again, to mix the metaphor, the cream will rise to the top and Baxter O’Hara does seem to be attracting the attention of the more discerning client and the media. In July the company won the service excellence award at the Central Coast Business Excellence awards, a victory of which it is justly proud. “It is reflective of what we do and how we do it – and how we will continue to do things. And we can hedge our bets moving forward – just having the diversification of the two complementary regions helps our business plan model. If we maintain our direction in servicing regional areas of NSW (with much of that growth coming from the Tamworth office, of course) we believe that is going to be a core strategy for us to stay on course in the next 12 to 24 months.”

Baxter O’Hara has also additionally won the rights to present the Tamworth Chamber of Commerce awards in September – “we are a corporate sponsor of the Chamber and also presenter of this year’s awards, which gives us further credibility and strength with the name we have gradually built up.”

Craig agrees with most observers in believing that the NSW state government budget due to be announced in the next few weeks will show a tightening of the purse-strings and that as a result government clients will be thinking hard about pruning their projects. “So we need to start diversifying and finding the cycles of the market.”

Information technology is important. “We use the latest technology to help our tendering process via an online portal. This saves a lot of plan printing, recopying and printing of documentation, so saves a lot of paper. It also reflects on our core subcontractors and suppliers’ ability to use information technology these days as well. This is an area where we believe we have to stay in front. It’s a point of difference. It’s a continual measure of success, we believe.”

Currently the company has an interesting mix of public, commercial and industrial projects on the go. Craig says that the team began in housing. “That’s how we built up the business – our service and our reputation was built on the residential sector in the first place. It’s quite complex and detailed because the sites are so much smaller – your accuracy has to be as precise as humanly possible.” Baxter O’Hara is still happy to participate in medium and high-density residential projects. At one stage the company made a strategic decision not to do private residential projects but now, “to show the diversification of our company we have been able to step into larger architecturally designed residences.” Baxter O’Hara will build architecturally designed homes above a certain dollar value and have a core group of its own carpenters and skilled tradesmen who complement the company’s ability to move back into this sector.

With agility, says Craig, goes responsibility. The company is “responsible to our clients and our staff, and also to maintaining our integrity across the board. We as a construction company want to continue building with integrity. We reinforce the principle of creating an attitude and company behaviour to continually innovate and strive for the best overall project outcomes. We want to maintain an internal environment where people can become fully involved in achieving the organisation’s goals and objectives.” Craig is not one for smoke and mirrors: “We are responsible not only in business terms but also to the community at large – we are business leaders but also community executives, so we like to think we lead by example.”

Baxter O’Hara has good relations with its suppliers, says Craig, from national household names down to individual trades people. There is an unwritten rule that the company must source local suppliers (within a set radius of a project) wherever possible or feasible, and national suppliers guide the company to their preferred outlet for materials. In addition there is a core group of trade contractors “that we can always fall back on and that can help us out at any time – we have contractors we are still using since the early days of the business and a lot them have grown with us.” The company networks with its various suppliers; “we assist them with legislative changes like OH&S or environmental matters but also changes with IT as well. We find that most professional people who offer a professional service don’t mind coming along with us for the ride and sharing the knowledge flows.”

Summing up the direction Baxter O’Hara is looking to tread, Craig explains: “Our service excellence has been experienced by a number of government agency clients and we want to take that further into the private sector. We have had some exposure and experience in development so we are quite savvy and educated with property development.” The company is not primarily a property developer “but we talk their language, we understand the sensitivities, the parameters, and the challenges, especially faced in NSW. We have successfully done a couple of our own developments, in-house and also as joint ventures, and we would like to start marketing ourselves as a developer’s builder of choice.”

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 27, 2021, 1:00 AM AEDT