Wealth of Experience

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-By John Boley

Lahey Constructions has extensive experience within the commercial construction sector, regionally based on the New South Wales mid north coast (Kempsey) and with offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Darwin and Alice Springs. The company’s vast portfolio of projects stands as testament to its prolific history of constructing high quality buildings in both the public and private sector.

Boasting a reliable and mobile workforce, Lahey is responsible for a diverse range of buildings across multiple sectors including health, education, multi storey residential, correctional and justice facilities.

Business development manager Phil Cook, who joined the company in 2010 explains: “We also have in our building portfolio resorts and clubs, commercial warehouses and water infrastructure, so it is fair to say we are very versatile and adaptable with the ability to work in remote locations.

“Currently we are going through a business growth period, expanding into the Queensland and Northern Territory markets. This has been a strategic move while the market is quiet in NSW and will allow us to control the expansion and target areas of construction markets we know we are competitive in and where we have a full understanding of what the client is after.”

Kempsey is the home town of the Lahey family, and Phil and Andrew Lahey run the company as second generation builders. The family business was founded more than 60 years ago by their father and remains the head office, where tender and document control is managed, as well as business development and marketing across the three states.

From the Sydney office Lahey is currently working on housing redevelopment in Camperdown, and the Wollongong Bathers Pavilion upgrade. This involves sea wall establishment and features sea floor matting, which is understood to be in use for only the second time in Australia. The Sydney team is also starting a project for the justice department on a correctional facility at Cobham Juvenile Justice Centre.

Phil Cook says: “Our Kempsey office is managing a number of regional projects, including educational projects for Southern Cross University at Coffs Harbour and a Marine Science Centre. We are also carrying out a hospital refurbishment and upgrade in Grafton.” There is also construction of a new police station at Moree which will run for the next 40 weeks with a budget of $15 million.

The company’s newest office, in Darwin, is in the middle of managing a $24 million project at Alice Springs for the Northern Territory Department of Construction and Infrastructure. Phil says the project, headed up by Bill Maley, “is a glowing example of Lahey’s ability to work in remote locations, with the project currently running ahead of schedule. We are looking to finish in August 2012, three months ahead of programme.”

Working in both public and private construction substantiates the level of quality behind Lahey’s projects. Government contracts are scarcely granted on a whim and the company has a long-standing relationship with the NSW state government stemming from excellence in delivering quality constructions. Phil explains, “As a public contractor you have a whole new level of compliance and paperwork to deal with. I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing; the paperwork that you are obliged to do under your contracts for the government makes you a better builder. After all, they give us accreditations – we have the New South Wales, Northern Territory and Queensland Government accreditations to build at the level that we do. They also facilitate quality management, safety and environmental management and all those philosophies which are basically what you get certified for. So there is definitely a stark difference between, say, a private residential contract, which would not oblige you do a lot of that paperwork, and working for government.”

Besides the company’s membership in both the Housing Industry Association and the Master Builders Association, Lahey is a long-standing Department of Commerce Best Practice Contractor. This accreditation means the company has demonstrated a sound business structure, proven financial capability, appropriate resource levels, robust management systems and a good performance history. Alongside this recognition by NSW state government, the company has also been accredited with a variety of nationally recognised certifications in occupational health and safety, environment and quality systems – all of which attest to Lahey’s commitment toward exemplary practice in all endeavours undertaken, says Phil.

“We are now looking to implement the same quality systems and processes for the Northern Territory and Queensland government accreditations as proven with the Alice Springs project.” They say if you can build in Alice Springs you can build anywhere in Australia due to its remote location, adds Phil.

“We differentiate ourselves from other construction companies in that, from the directors all the way down, we all focus on continuous improvement. We look at our projects and drill down the leanest way we can do it without compromising on quality, environmental and safety aspects. Then we introduce the philosophy across the business and standardise all our practices. So things like project procedures are the same on a $2 million job as they are on a $35 million job because we have that scalable system, making it quite easy to manage whatever project we are working on.”

The philosophy is built on five main elements: teamwork, personal discipline, improved morale, quality circles and suggestions for improvement. Beyond improving productivity and reducing waste, the process also humanises the workplace and eliminates overly hard work. The business philosophy carries through Lahey’s entire corporate structure and helps the company drive toward maximum efficiency across the board.

Implementing such an accomplished methodology is only half the work. Every facet of the business is monitored and reviewed to ensure Lahey’s principles and standards are maintained throughout the organisation, particularly at site level. “First and foremost,” Phil states, “we have our best practice department, all of whose staff are accredited in occupational health and safety, and they do rolling audits around all of our sites. They travel around from site to site and do a full internal audit that generally takes two days to get through.

“Obviously we have construction and project managers and they all have their own monitoring tools that they need to use on a day-to-day basis. So our site managers are providing updates as to where they’ve got to on any given day into our system. We go into our system and make corrections if things fall behind.”

When sourcing suppliers and subcontractors there are certain criteria to be considered as part of the selection process. As Phil explains, “what we primarily look for, especially at this point in time, is a good financial background and record of quality delivery. I suppose everybody looks for quality of delivery from their suppliers and contractors; however, in this current climate, five or six suppliers or subcontractors are going broke each year, which has had an impact on the time and cost of our projects. It used to be one or two contractors every one or two years and that’s now multiplied by 500 per cent.”

With looming notions of failed suppliers and subcontractors, supply chains must be resilient to the weaknesses of other links and companies must choose suppliers that will help rather than hinder the growth of a company.

Business relationships do not necessitate complete formality. Personalised working relationships build rapport and ensure long-standing success, particularly due to the diversity of Lahey’s construction sites. “I know you get some companies who tend to work by the contract and through very formal communications; but we find that, if there’s an issue, just picking up the phone and talking about it really sensibly and commercially gets a far better result from contractors.” Often working in quite remote areas, Lahey finds that this approach to relationships allows for an environment where mutual trust and understanding can be fostered.

As Phil highlights, “We just made our first big push into the Northern Territory market with the Alice Springs $24 million dollar hospital project. We can see all the hard work from the past ten years come together here with our quality control, procurement of long lead-in items, not to mention collaboration, flexibility and building strong relationships. All of these have certainly helped the project get ahead of schedule.”

The Darwin office has been a significant investment for the company but one that will provide long term dividends over the next 15 years with the local market about to go through a significant increase in construction activity with the INPEX and FLNG projects, increased armed forces base expansion and a number of large mining projects all set to kick off over the next couple of years. This increase in capital infrastructure projects will then have a dramatic impact on Darwin property and social requirements as well as health, education and commercial activity.

Lahey does not simply build constructions across NSW, says Phil, but builds invaluable supply chain links and a shining reputation for exemplary business practices across NSW, NT and Queensland. Between the company’s countless accreditations and the wide variety of buildings within Lahey’s decentralised portfolio, continued success seems imminent. Recognition from government and industry experts further highlights Lahey Constructions’ comprehensive achievements and sets the benchmark for the company’s prosperity in the years to come.

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, 2:52 AM AEDT