Confidence and Competence

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-By John Boley

When you listen to Brenden Borg talk about his company JCM Builders, a few things register quite quickly. First, Brenden displays a confidence about the abilities of his team and the company to get things done. In addition, it is soon evident that the company’s foundation is its ability to do things quickly, well, and right first time, all of which gives the confidence a solid foundation.

As a building company in the Melbourne area specialising in high-end architectural construction, JCM has established a reputation which now enables Brenden to move into more congested waters with the company’s own project developments, three of which are now at the planning stage. This, he says, is where the company wants to focus for the future.

“We pride ourselves on building a better product, a product of greater quality.” Brenden started out as a carpenter and spent a lot of time working with projects in mid- to high-end architecturally designed homes where the quality of finish was high and there was a commensurate requirement for high-quality craftsmanship. The same holds true today, he says.

For example, the renovations that JCM carries out are generally in the range starting at about S1.5 million, while new-home projects tend to be in the $3.5 – 4 million bracket. “In this region there is obviously a higher quality of finish, higher level of fixtures and fittings, better brands, and your detailing needs to be very specific. You need to take a lot more care with your approach and ensure you can really understand the architect’s detailing and make sure things meet up properly, rather than having to adjust things afterwards.” That was where JCM gained its reputation. “We were very good at that detail work and we also took on and were good at the more difficult logistical work. Through our project management, we have been able to deal with the logistical side rather better than many others just because of the experience we have.” Brenden says he has always tried to find staff who can demonstrate that kind of experience. “Our people are not just tertiary educated project managers. They have all been very heavily involved in construction before they have moved into project management.”

It is also important to understand the construction side thoroughly and not just the programming side. “In the end, if you have the construction side sorted, your programming should just follow on.” Brenden agrees that building is not rocket science; it’s all about doing it right. “Really, there is the same amount of concrete, the same amount of timber, the same amount of nails. We just feel that if we have a competitor that is cheaper than us they can’t be doing what we are doing in the building. We do strive to give a high quality building, even with developments, because we build for investors and they are looking for longevity. That is probably our speciality; we want to provide you with longevity of the building. We have never had warranty issues; I have never had a claim against any of my construction warranties.”

JCM prides itself on being in the vanguard of carbon-neutral construction techniques. One of its most significant projects to date was the Templestowe sporting facility for the Manningham city council in Victoria. That was a carbon neutral construction and a “very technical building, very hard to construct.” The design called for a front canopy constructed in structural steel, which Brenden described as “no mean feat. You have to understand geometry and understand construction to be able to do things like that. We are quite happy with the way that building came out and I think in terms of basic construction it really did come out well.”

The Templestowe building has numerous big solar panels as well as hot tanks in the ground that store up to 40,000 litres of hot water from the solar tubes up on the roof. “We have hot tanks in the ground storing up to 40 000 litres of water and that was running the hot water in the building’s hydraulic and mechanical services. That was quite technical. We are using ventilation from beneath the building to cool it down.” The draft drawing from under the building was covered with building debris which contained a fabricated steel shaft which aided the carbon reduction in terms of not needing to remove the debris from site. We are drawing cold air in summer and warm air in winter from the ground which is ventilating the building and helping circulate air through it to keep its running costs as low as possible.”

Brenden says JCM is comfortable with these new building techniques that reduce pollution and also with relatively complicated technology. The Templestowe project was very technical in its mechanical and hydraulic approach, with many closed circuits operating from the in-ground water storage; there were three different circuits just to the heating component. Everything came from the solar tubes which ran down into the hot water tank and then rotated back up, “so it was constantly warming itself from the solar panels. There are a lot of separate copper coils involved that actually service the hot water, so we are running cold water from the mains back in through pipework then back out to run the hot water, and doing the same with the mechanical.” Just understanding the electrical programming is quite complicated, Brenden says, and it was important that JCM was able to “problem solve the issues” that arise simply from the newness of the technology.

There’s the matter of cost reduction, too, which Brenden rates as important. “We are very good at designing and working with architects to keep their costs down before construction actually commences. Wherever possible, they come to us with a concept and we get involved straight away, concentrating on the actual building technique, how to keep it to budget. Probably one of the main difficulties in the industry is keeping jobs to budget so we like to get to work early,” so the documentation can be written in an optimal way.

Obviously this is connected to being involved at the earliest stage possible. “We feel that we can best benefit the client if we can get involved from the start. We can actually save the client money in the long run, of which the majority comes through architectural tendering.” Getting a competitive quotation via several tenders is completely reliant on whether the tender documentation is written so the project is to be constructed or developed as economically as possible. “We pulled 1.6 million dollars out of a 15 apartment building complex – something like 20 per cent of the total construction cost – by changing the technique, the way that the building was constructed and that was solely taking it back to a more basic building.” It meant there was no risk of fluctuation of the building materials prices. “It had been documented with a high level of risk of fluctuation depending on how the market was travelling. That is probably where our main focus is and that is where we can be of benefit.”

It is important to manage the relationship with the architects, says Brenden, so that they put forward to their client the idea of the builder getting involved earlier. “That is probably the biggest challenge that we have as a company and that is the way we focus ourselves, but we have at least two architects that we work with a lot in this manner. They get us involved very early on and we sit down and work with them. They also work on our developments, so we have a very good rapport with them. We work with them at the start on their concept drawings and we give them construction budgets before they have even submitted them to the planning departments. So they can feel confident that they have a project that actually stacks up financially, because a lot of projects don’t.”

The company now want to specialise more in creating its own work, “creating our own stability. The biggest problem in the industry, which has been there forever, is its instability. So with what we have on board at the moment, we are gearing up for a longer history.” The three projects currently at the planning stage amount to some three years’ work – which is not to say JCM could not handle a lot more business.

There is a quiet self-confidence about Brenden that suggests he would back his team members to come up trumps with just about any project you could throw at them. Certainly he likes a challenge. “I have never turned a job down because we can’t build it. I have confidence within us that there are not many things we could not build. I haven’t come across one yet anyway. We are pretty confident in our capabilities here.”

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’?

July 16, 2020, 9:55 AM AEST