Projecting an Image

Johnstaff Projects

Phil had “had enough of corporate life” after working for major national companies; David Wagstaff had his own practice; the pair jumped into their own business together. That may suggest they had a readymade portfolio of clients to work for, but Phil says this was not the case. Instead, the business had to be built up slowly and painstakingly.

At an early stage they got involved in the healthcare industry, then other projects, and “very slowly” built the company up to around five people, with “controlled and deliberate growth” and focussing on, Phil says, “a very hands-on approach to the client so as to ensure the company was adding value to project outcomes, rather than just acting as a post-office box.” What was effectively a joint venture with another organisation gave Johnstaff the opportunity to experience handling a number of projects as part of a larger whole on a number of different sites concurrently.

At around this time, the company recruited two young staff who have since become Directors and are “a major driving force of the company,” says Phil. “We were lucky and got the right people, and we continued to grow in steps.”

Having grown to around 30 staff members, it was decided that the company needed to change its systems and adopt a greater consistency of approach to policies and procedures, a process that was completed around 2006. “We have continued to grow since then by expanding from our historical base of health into other sectors. Today we work in the health, university education and research, infrastructural works and the commercial and retail sectors,” although Phil admits the latter sector has been rather slow nationally in the last few years.

Johnstaff also performs a lot of institutional work in both the private and public sectors. “We continue to grow more by reputation and performance than by marketing and branding,” he explains. Basically, it is all about getting the right people and setting them to work for the clients. Today that is some 90 staff in Melbourne (head office), Sydney, Brisbane, Townsville and Canberra, plus an office just being set up in Perth and another small operation springing up, interestingly, in southern Africa – of which more later.

Primarily, Johnstaff can be categorised as ‘project managers’, although Phil says this is but one of four main pillars the team offers, the other three being commercial advisory services (business planning, strategy, business performance improvement, procurement, financial advice for clients considering a capital project and a number of related functions); cost management; and construction services. The four disciplines overlap, of course, and Phil emphasises that, “we are fundamentally opposed to the silo approach because it can be counterproductive and limits the opportunity to share resources and knowledge.” Certainly in recent times project management has been the mainstay of the business and Phil agrees the definition of this discipline is fluid, to say the least.

In the not too distant past, project management was largely carried out by the architectural firms, “but in the last 20 years it has changed significantly,” offers Phil. “Clients understood there was an area for specialised project management as distinct from design services, particularly in terms of risk management, programming skills and such issues. Change is taking place now, too.”

Certainly, there are plenty of one-man bands who have experience with construction contractors or with clients and think they can do the job of managing a whole project. Some, Phil says, are very good, no question. But when it comes to representing a range of clients – across different projects and geographically widespread – “you really need to have a corporate bank of expertise and systems.”

Major projects do still exist, although there are not so many coming through the system as there were three or four years ago. Government funding programmes for health and education are diminishing. “We are impacted [by this], but because we are not so large and we work in other sectors too, we hope to not lose any staff despite the [national] economic conditions being extremely weak.” A federal election year is not one in which conditions are likely to improve either, he admits.

As to Africa, it is on the Johnstaff radar because “particularly southern African countries such as Botswana and Mozambique are emerging in terms of mining – especially coal mining – and there is significant demand for support services and upfront management advice in relation to the infrastructure around those mines, particularly getting the product from the mine to the port. We see this as a growth opportunity so we are having a go.” There is currently a lot of interest from the large mining houses, Phil reports, and the southern African countries “are very keen to develop their assets.” At present, Johnstaff has established a fledgling office in Rosebank, Johannesburg staffed by people with expertise in rail and logistics, building developments and project financing. The company will support those staff with Directors and resources from Australia as and when opportunities arise.

Meanwhile, on the domestic front Johnstaff has been involved in some recent projects of high architectural merit, none more than the iconic Monash University New Horizons project, managing the construction of a new, world-class research and training facility at the Clayton campus. The New Horizons project is a vital component of Monash University’s vision to develop a Clayton Innovation Precinct as the most significant technology innovation hub in the southern hemisphere.

New Horizons is intended to provide excellence in future manufacturing research and teaching and to transform manufacturing in areas such as biomedicine, transport, aerospace and mineral processing. The facility will bring together scientists and engineers from Monash University and CSIRO. Supported by platforms for global research and teaching collaboration through innovative ICT, the facility will generate greater linkages with industry and the community. This project “has had some challenges but has also been rewarding,” says Phil. The showcase element of this project has been the appearance of the building, “one of very few buildings I have ever seen with a façade which is effectively at a 45 degree splay angle.”

Johnstaff, Phil explains, prides itself on satisfying the needs of the client; if the client wants the most economical building possible, he may not get a 45 degree angled façade but “if a client wants to produce a truly iconic building, then that is the direction we can take. Some clients have predetermined ideas and others are open to suggestion. In the latter context, architects are very good at finding innovative ways to present buildings and interiors and we are happy to support that providing it suits the dual needs of the appearance and the funding available.”

Johnstaff is also proud of its role in the development of Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre, a five-year $189 million project for Austin Health, Department of Health and the Department of Business & Innovation now coming close to completion. This will be a dedicated precinct providing a range of specialist cancer services, including cancer treatment, education, training and research.

The Centre will bring together the cancer services currently dispersed across the Austin Hospital and Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital sites as well as a range of new and expanded services, including inpatient accommodation for acute and palliative care patients, a radiotherapy facility, ambulatory care services, clinical trials, a clinical research centre, a wellness centre, and an education and resource centre.

Johnstaff was engaged as project manager to undertake a review of the master plan and progress documentation and construction. At commencement the project funding was only confirmed for the first stage of the works, but Johnstaff and the consultant team reconfigured the proposed facility design to allow delivery and operation of stage 1 prior to confirmation of funding for the balance of the facility. The company assisted in the development of three further business case submissions and further funding was confirmed in the 2010-11 State Budget (stage 2a) and 2011-12 State Budget (stage 2b). The team played a key role in developing and delivering procurement and buildability solutions that allowed earliest possible completion of all three stages in order to meet operational demand. An innovative procurement solution comprised a lump sum tender for stage 1 with a tender option for stage 2a preliminaries and profit. The stage 2a trade works were then delivered as a variation negotiated using BOQ rates. This facilitated accelerated delivery with competitive pricing and also satisfied probity requirements.

Following the establishment of the NSW operations in early 2010 under the direction of Tim McCue, the company is particularly proud of its portfolio of major projects awarded since that time. These projects include Northern Beaches Health Service, where the company provides commercial and business case advisory, project management supporting the development of a new Northern Beaches Health Service in Frenchs Forest in northern Sydney. At Wahroonga, Johnstaff is managing the redevelopment of the Seventh Day Adventist Hospital and is also managing major hospital projects at Wollongong, Bega and Kempsey.

In Queensland, the company is involved in a range of projects, including a major residential subdivision at Bribie Island and more recently was appointed by the Queensland Reconstruction Authority to assist them with the development, implementation and management of quality control, value for money and programming aspects of the reconstruction progress across Queensland following extensive flood damage from recent cyclone events.

Phil’s impression is that much progress has been made in what might be termed ‘educating’ clients. Twenty years ago, the only maxim for a government client was price, “but now there are many kinds of criteria in the valuation process, of which price is only one.” The more a project management team can add value, the more the client will see the benefit of using seasoned expertise. And that in turn should assure further – controlled and deliberate – growth for Johnstaff.

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July 14, 2020, 1:29 AM AEST