Turning the Construction Industry on its Head

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-By Melissa Thompson

As the construction industry has evolved using technological advancements, so have its principles and ethics as now, especially after the economic ups and down of the last few years, it is not merely enough to work hard. To ensure success, companies must work smart and make sure they stay one step ahead of their competitors. As Kell & Rigby celebrates its centennial in 2010, the company can look back on the last century proud of its remarkable portfolio of work specialising in the project management and construction of medium to large-scale projects for the industrial, commercial, government and residential sectors. With its combination of family values and real interest in challenging and revolutionising the industry, Kell & Rigby has created a model for success to last well beyond the next century.

Founded in 1910 by carpenters, William Kell and Leslie Rigby, the company had somewhat humble beginnings. The small company found success by partnering with high profile companies and completing jobs with the highest professional standards, the latest technology, family values, and a personal touch – a model that continues to this day. Over the next several decades, as outlined on its impressive website www.kell-rigby.com, small jobs grew into big ones, and the small joinery grew to a large firm, navigating through depression, war, and times of great success, all the while staying true to itself, its employees, and its principles.
Those principles have evolved and are now modeled after the golden rule – treat others how you would like to be treated, or rather, treat them better; exceed their expectations. James Kell, chairman, CEO, and great-grandson of founder William Kell says, “Our clients like to look across the table and see that the person sitting across from them cares more about the building than they do.” This attitude has resulted in repeat business, expansion into other sectors and a thirst for progression. After such a long career, it would be easy for the company to rely on its reputation alone; for Mr Kell and the rest of the Kell & Rigby team, this is simply not good enough. The firm instead strives to maintain a balance of the radical and the conservative – being fiscally responsible while elevating the industry’s standards.

Old Sydney Town Hall

One of its most challenging and recognised projects was the 2008 refurbishment of the Old Sydney Town Hall. Built in the 1880s on the site of a cemetery, this project was particularly complex and posed some incredible challenges for its engineers, including the removal of some 6000 cubic meters of sandstone from underneath the building’s foundation.


Kell & Rigby’s body of work really does go full circle from work and construction on the very old to the very new. It is the exclusive builder of Apple computer stores in Australia and is now working towards completion of its ninth such store. Mr Kell finds parallels between Apple’s focus on the intricacies of its electronic products and Kell & Rigby’s attitude towards building. The contents are just as, if not more important than the shell. If one were to peel back the layers of Kell & Rigby’s buildings, one would find buildings made with great care and attention to even the minutest of details. Like Apple revolutionised the computer industry, Kell & Rigby looks at the construction of buildings from the inside out. It wants the world to know that it is dedicated to constructing buildings with the highest standards. Team members not only love what they do as builders, they love any opportunity to prove they excel at it.

Quality and Safety

In order to better understand the company’s customers and guarantee repeat business, a system of quality control has been devised. To prevent divisiveness, the system remains simple: a number between 1 and 10. No frills, no room for passive-aggressive interpretation. A score of 9 or 10 indicates the highest net promoter score while anything less that 6 is indicative of detraction. These high standards are indicative, once again, of Kell & Rigby’s follow-through and obligation to deliver buildings to the highest of standards.

Kell & Rigby encourages its employees – all 200+ direct and subcontractors, to love their work and value completion of a job well done as intrinsic reward. The message the company sends to its expansive, multi-disciplinary team is that they are not just employed for Kell & Rigby; they are Kell & Rigby. Care for employees and their safety goes far beyond making them feel included. Kell & Rigby has modeled a system from Canadian mining firms that encourages safety and ethical building. Mr Kell says, “We never liked the punitive nature of the industry…it’s always about punishment.” In this case, preventative measures have instead been put into practice: instead of punishing mistakes, safe work habits are rewarded. There is real incentive for extra care and trust amongst employees as they are eligible for entry into monthly draws using scratch cards they receive on site for cash prizes – but only after demonstrating safe work habits. It remains to be seen if this is going to have a long-term impact or influence other companies as the project is still in its infancy. It speaks, however, to Kell & Rigby’s interest in fresh ideas and perfection from start to finish.

In the end, Kell & Rigby succeeds because it does everything and it does it very, very well. Its success over the last 100 years over such a wide array of projects from aged care facilities, to embassies, to large-scale private residences, is the sign of a company built to last. There is acknowledgement of struggle and lean years, as they provided room for growth and lessons to be learned. However, this firm will continue to grow and is poised for success as it progresses into other sectors and takes on more complex and challenging projects.

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’?

August 18, 2022, 9:36 PM AEST