Grocon is the largest privately-owned development and construction company in Australia. Their specialty is creating landmarks – which they have done around the country. The company’s iconic projects include the Rialto Towers, the Eureka Tower, and AAMI Park in Melbourne, as well as No 1 Martin Place and 1 Bligh Street in Sydney. They also completed Pixel in Melbourne, which is currently considered the greenest building in Australia.
“We specialise in providing one-stop-shop solutions for large tenants,” says Michael Zorbas, Head of Strategy and Corporate Communications. “We’ve done commercial office spaces for premium clients, such as Fairfax, Westpac, ANZ and Freehills and we’ve worked in public-private partnerships with the Federal and Victorian governments. We are a partner of choice because we listen closely to our clients’ needs.”
Founded over half-a-century ago by Italian migrant Luigi Grollo, Grocon is a company with a family tradition stretching back several generations. Luigi’s son Bruno led the business to growth throughout the 1980s and 90s, until his own son Daniel – the present day CEO – took over the running of the company in 1999.
According to Zorbas, Grocon owes its ongoing success to the calibre of the people behind it. That includes the visionary drive of Daniel and also their high performing teams of employees. At Grocon, people are considered the most important asset, Zorbas says, and the company goes above and beyond to create and maintain a rewarding workplace. They commit fully to their employees, who in turn commit fully to their clients.
“Everybody here has a core mandate to deliver excellence and consistently get the basics right,” Zorbas says. “Our values underpin our performance – safety, sustainability, community and innovation. They are the simple and effective ingredients in all of our projects.”
All about values
With the third generation of Grollo’s in charge, Zorbas says the company has put a particular emphasis on building for a sustainable future. “We’re thinking about the footprint we are leaving behind,” he explains. “Not just in a physical sense, but also a social one.”
Grocon aims to make every project they build the best it can be, he says, “and that involves the community in which it’s situated.”
“In many cases, our projects will have a people engagement aspect, where we are seeking to assist people who may suffer some disadvantage in entering the workforce.”
In some cases, “people engagement” means providing a construction job opportunity. In other cases, such as with their Common Ground projects, located in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, it means providing housing opportunities.
The Common Ground projects – which Grocon built at cost, and negotiated with many of their suppliers to build at cost – house 400 formerly homeless or low income people between them. “The dividend is obvious in terms of the sense of satisfaction it gives our workforce,” Zorbas says. “It’s an act of giving that you don’t always get the opportunity to do in a commercial environment.”
Grocon has also done a lot of demolition and construction work at cost for the Victorian government, which they did to aid some of the people affected by the bushfires.
“Those projects are an expression of our core value of community,” Zorbas says. “We’re always on the lookout for those opportunities.”
From a more conventional sustainability perspective, Grocon also goes above and beyond. That commitment begins at the top, as Daniel Grollo is a founding member of the Green Building Council of Australia, and currently serves as its Chairman. Under his leadership, Grocon has implemented a plethora of sustainable initiatives – they are committed to recycling more than 90 per cent of waste from their building sites, they aim to introduce wind and solar technology on their sites, and have even developed their own green concrete with than 50 per cent less embodied carbon than normal concrete.
“There’s a natural interest among our people to meet the challenges of the future,” Zorbas says. “There’s particular interest in creating long term value for our clients with buildings that are adaptable to future needs. With a population heading towards 10 billion around the middle of the century, we know it’s imperative to minimise our impact on the planet and better use resources.”
The most prominent example of Grocon’s sustainability value in action is their carbon neutral Pixel Building, located on the old Carlton Brewery site in Melbourne. That project – which received a perfect score of 100 from the Green Building Council, and the highest ever Green Star rating in Australia – will offset all of the carbon used in its construction and generate energy back into the grid. It includes photovoltaic panels on the roof, wind turbines, and rainwater capturing systems.
In New South Wales, Grocon aims to go one step further with the construction of Legion House, which will be disconnected from the main electricity grid altogether.
Grocon’s projects – and the values behind those projects – have been validated many times in the form of local, national and international award recognition. In the past few years in particular, the company has won a plethora of awards from groups ranging from Melbourne City Council to the National Master Builders’ Association.
In 2012, the UDIA honoured Grocon with an Award for Affordable Development for their Common Ground project in Sydney, and an Award for Design and Innovation for their 1 Bligh Street, Sydney project. Grocon also received a Special Commendation from MBA Victoria, and won more accolades at the Property Council of Australia and Excellence Awards, as well as the Safe Work Australia Awards.
According to Zorbas, the company values that kind of industry recognition very highly. “The awards serve to highlight the excellence of our teams and their ability to give our clients a top shelf development experience and a great final product,” he says.
“In special cases they also demonstrate how leadership and a strong investment in cultural change can yield huge improvements in employee conditions and safety.”
According to Zorbas, Grocon’s win at the Safe Work Australia 2012 annual awards night for the Best Workplace Health & Safety Management System – which covers all private industry – was their most satisfying of the year, as safety is one of the company’s core values.
“Striving to be world class in terms of safety is something that every company who takes itself seriously in the sector must do,” Zorbas says. “There is always more to do and winning this award recognises an important milestone on our people’s continuous journey of safety improvement.”
Grocon’s safety record, Zorbas says, can be credited to their “investment and partnership” with DuPont, a science-based solution provider they commissioned in 2008. At that time, DuPont assessed Grocon’s practices and performance in a number of critical areas, and compared their findings against world-class safety standards. Afterwards, DuPont worked with Grocon’s leaders to develop a detailed custom improvement plan, which aimed to fill that gap.
An intensive partnership followed, resulting in Grocon’s award-winning safety management system. As Safe Work Australia’s award says, “Grocon is a leader in safety for the construction industry and demonstrates how a safety culture can be effectively implemented.”
Safe Work’s award was also not the only award of “special significance” that Grocon won in 2012, Zorbas adds. The second was the one they received for Development of the Year at the Property Council of Australia and Excellence Awards – their fifth top award from that ceremony. Grocon won that accolade for their Media House project, which was described by PCA Chief Operating Office Ken Morrison as an “outstanding showcase of what Australia’s property industry can produce.”
Media House – which also won the award for Best Office Development – was built over rail, and Zorbas says it showcases their team’s ability “to complete a complex construction and design job that few others could have matched.”
Moving forward, Grocon will continue to grow and continue to put their stamp on large scale projects throughout Australia. They are well-equipped to do that, Zorbas says, due to their superior client-focus, their commitment to their values and their strong leadership. Since Daniel Grollo became the sole shareholder in April 2012, the company has picked up roughly a billion dollars’ worth of new work.
“The emphasis has been on high quality partnerships in government and the private sector that deliver premium grade developments in Australia’s capital cities,” Zorbas explains.
In the short-to-medium term, he says that they will continue to build that pipeline by selecting projects where they can bring their “edge in design, sustainability and delivery to bear for the benefit of the client and surrounding communities.”
In the longer term, Zorbas concludes that Grocon will explore potential offshore opportunities – they have already been involved in projects in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and India – but the emphasis will remain on winning and delivering high quality work domestically.