The People Behind the Projects

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-By Jaime McKee

“We are guided by one simple rule,” says Montlaur’s Executive Director and Founder, Leon Lachal, “we deliver for our clients.” In a recent interview, Mr Lachal spoke with pride and sincere passion when discussing the principles which guide his company, Montlaur Project Services – principles which have led the company to nearly twenty industry awards, and the successful delivery of over 1.5 million square metres of projects completed throughout Australia.

Since August of 1988, Montlaur Project Services has been a “fiercely independent” project management company servicing all of Australia in the fields of Project Management, Development Management, Accommodation Consulting, Ecological Sustainable Design, Facility Management, Independent Assessment, and Compliance Auditing.

The company’s website greets visitors with a tagline: “Client focus, fresh thinking, successful results,” and these three elements have clearly come together into a winning recipe for Montlaur. Clients include a diverse mix of top players in private industry, government and public sector departments, and philanthropic organisations. The broad skills base at Montlaur enables it to “offer services over a deliberately wide variety of disciplines,” says Mr Lachal, giving the company the opportunity to bring something unique to each and every client, no matter what their particular need. Specialising in a variety of sectors including corporate accommodations, health science facilities, and residential, industrial and commercial projects, it is no wonder Montlaur has built up such a rich portfolio in its 23 years in business.

Working so extensively on public sector works, of course, means that the team at Montlaur is highly accredited, with comprehensive quality, safety, and environmental policies in place to guide the work. But the really interesting story here is Montlaur’s staff. Women comprise more than 50 per cent of the company’s professional staff, says Mr Lachal, a unique point of difference in the construction industry to be sure. Junior members, too, make up a significant portion of the staff, and enjoy the opportunity to work alongside experienced workers in a two-way mentoring relationship, developing their trade and leadership skills while carving out a strong career path at the company. The three Directors, Mr Lachal included, also make it a point to be very active in the business, consistently accessible to both clients and staff members.

This emphasis on a positive workplace culture is particularly important in light of a unique challenge that Mr Lachal identifies in his industry: “Project management firms,” he says, “that are based initially on the commencement of one individual or a couple of individuals tend to be known as those individuals – and that’s true of our competitors. So I took a decision three years ago that the two gentlemen who are my Co-Directors are in charge of the business and running the company.” It was important that, for the company to grow, the next generation of people needed to be brought on board in a significant and empowered way. “Unless you bring the next level in,” he says, “you tend to die.” So looking at ways to offer leadership and ownership roles to diverse members of staff has led, for example, to a senior management team under the directors and a graduate program to both tap into the “wealth of talent” in the marketplace and also nurture that talent. Mr Lachal expresses a desire to “create paths for all different members of the company,” and seeks to support and reward the staff in a meaningful way. “It’s a nicer problem to have,” he remarks, “than a high staff turnover,” and it’s true that as a result of this unique workplace culture Montlaur enjoys an extraordinary level of staff retention.

Within the industry, Montlaur has built a reputation for being a strong advocate for its clients. The company is well respected by its competitors, says Mr Lachal, and is known for being “scrupulously fair and honest – something we pride ourselves on.” Montlaur’s reputation with clients, too, is stellar, maintained by taking on even the toughest of projects and delivering on time and on budget. As Mr Lachal puts it, “we don’t shy away from the tough jobs.” The company also engages mindfully in the broader community, partnering with philanthropic groups such as the YWCA and Yarra Community Housing to deliver valuable services to those in need, and with public sector clients such as Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and the Alexandra District Hospital.

Montlaur has certainly seen a great deal of success, even through the lean times of the GFC, but Mr Lachal nonetheless describes the current economic climate as a “nervous” one, and identifies some challenges that go along with such a marketplace. “It’s often easier,” he says, “in uncertain times for clients not to do things… and that is a challenge.” Public works, too, can prove tight-fisted – the incoming Victoria state government, for instance, is short on funds, impeding the development of new projects, so Montlaur is “having to find different ways to work with government, to be more inventive as to how to get involved with government.

“The market,” Mr Lachal says, “is still very competitive, and the challenge there is you still have to deliver more for a competitive fee. We don’t walk away from it, but it is sometimes hard.

“There has been a significant rationalisation in our industry over the last three to five years,” he adds, “so much so that a number of our competitors are being bought by engineering companies, real estate agents, and other infrastructure companies. There’s a challenge to that, to make sure that we can still provide a level and depth of service to our clients and market on our points of difference, as [these competitors have become] much larger organisations but they’re not fully focused on pure project management.” Competition from these streamlined firms “limits our ability in some instances to source work, but hopefully it provides us, when we get there, with a point of difference to the client – that we’re fully independent. So we do hold our independence as being very strong against our consolidating competitors.”

Montlaur’s impeccable portfolio certainly speaks to the company’s success in bringing a unique offering to its clients. The company has been involved in 19 award winning projects in the past 23 years, and has had a hand in completing some of the country’s most prestigious – and interesting – buildings. From taking a 9000 square metre facility in just five months from blank sheet of paper to client handover, to completing over 500 dwellings under the Rudd Nation Building initiative , Montlaur has brought its inimitable points of difference to the table countless times – consistently coming in on time, on budget, and to the highest standards of quality. As Mr Lachal puts it, “project management is about people,” and with the kind of investment Montlaur makes in its people, it is no wonder they are able to deliver so strongly.

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’?

May 26, 2020, 7:58 AM AEST