Making the relationship the point of difference
Hall Contracting Pty Ltd was established in 1946 by Les Hall. “We are a third generation family business,” says Cameron Hall, now the Managing Director of the firm. “When it was started by Les Hall, my grandfather, it was really a one man band. He bought an army surplus truck from World War II after returning from the war. He moved to what was then a sort of sleepy costal area about an hour north of Brisbane.” Here he worked at supplying sand and gravel to the local building industry. Cameron explains that he did all the work himself, loading and unloading his one truck by the shovel full. “It was hard work and he worked very hard, and in the 1960s he was joined by two of his sons, Brian, the eldest, and Peter Hall, the next oldest boy. And they took it on from there.” He says that as part of the sand and gravel supply business they began to build and run their own dredging operation from sand pits and quarries. They also moved on to create two ready mix concrete facilities, with all these new aspects to the business carrying Hall Contracting for another two decades.
During the 1980s Hall Contracting saw an opportunity to expanding into the civil contracting arena. “Instead of just supplying sand, gravel, and concrete they started a civil contracting firm that was doing subdivisions and civil infrastructure,” says Cameron. By the end of the 1980s Hall Contracting sold the ready mix concrete business and reinvested the money gained from it to expand their dredging capabilities into contract dredging for harbours and similar marine projects. “At that point the business became two separate divisions, the civil contracting division – which concentrated on civil infrastructure works in South East Queensland, and a dredging division that has carried out works right throughout Australia and South East Asia,” says Cameron. Cameron himself got involved in the business after completing an engineering degree in 1996. He spent a few years away from the business, but returned in his current capacity in 2005. “In the last five years I have seen us triple in size, and our profitability has increased as well. It has been a real growth phase of the business,” he says. “Brian and Peter are still the directors of their respective divisions, and we have built a very capable management team that runs the business on a day to day basis.”
From their origins as a single man with a single truck, Hall Contracting has approximately 120 pieces of earth moving equipment. “We were one of the first contractors in Australia GPS controls for our survey equipment,” says Cameron. He says this shows how Hall Contracting has always been an early adopter of technology, they also applied this one to their dredges as soon as they were available on the market. This has made their operations cost effective and very efficient.
“Right now our civil division works with some of Australia’s largest property developers including Stockland, Australand, PASK, and Henzell, to name a few. On the dredging side of the business we have worked for local, state and federal government, and most of the major general contractors in the Australasian region,” says Cameron. They have also opened a branch in Fiji, where they operate for the Fijian Government, and they have completed dredging works in Thailand, Brunei, Malaysia, and Papua New Guinea.
The difference is the personal touch
“We have also worked for large mining companies like BHP, Rio Tinto, Xtrata, and many of the coal mines in central Queensland,” says Cameron. “What I think makes us attractive to clients is that we may not be the biggest operator in this space, but we have their professional systems and capabilities. This also means we have the safety, quality and management systems in place – but what we are able to bring which larger companies can’t is that personal attention that a family business can bring,” he says. He says that because the company is third generation, they have also fostered other families into their ranks. Cameron says that this leads to a sense of co-operation within and without. This is best reflected by their non-confrontational style of contracting. “It means we can provide that personal touch with the professionalism that is expected from the much larger multi-nationals.” He says that an example of how they have implemented this personal touch can be seen in the Pelican’s Waters Development on the Sunshine Coast. “We have been there for 20 years, and have done more than 120 million dollars’ worth of work in that time, and the client has never once gone out to tender since we have been on the job. That means they have been giving us follow up work for more than 20 years.” This is remarkable in today’s competitive environment.
Planning for the future, getting ready today
Cameron says that the management systems that they have put in place have at once secured the future and the continuation of Hall Contracting, but has also let them expand into the size they now have. “We put these management systems into place before we started looking to expand. Of course we could have just gone out and done that anyway, but to ensure each new project was delivered safely, efficiently and in the way we have become known for as we grew the business, we wanted to make sure it was fully controlled,” he says. He says that Hall Contracting wanted to maintain its reputation for delivering high quality products in all its operations. “Rather than go out and win projects and hope they end up successful we wanted to find a way of guaranteeing their quality completion,” says Cameron. “Having this level of control is really critical.” He says that in this market they are also looking to diversify but still maintain their core abilities. “We have recently developed a capability in marine civil works, so this comes off the back of our dredging capabilities, and we are now targeting projects that involve costal defenses like breakwaters,” says Cameron, adding that Hall Contracting has a lot of experience in soft costal defenses, such as sand bag groynes and beach protection, but they are looking to extend these abilities with the addition of new staff and new skill sets.
Hall Contracting will also be expanding their marine services fleet in order for them to access the early stages of dredging projects. “This is an exciting new path for us, but it is not too different from what we do already,” says Cameron. “Dredging involves moving large bits of floating plant around the country, and operating them in highly regulated port environments, often for mining companies and governments. Some of this marine structures work that involves crane barges and jack-up barges is a natural extension of what we already do and don’t see that as too large a leap for us to take,” he says that they have added a new individual to the team that already has over 35 years of experience in the industry. They have also developed strategic partnerships with other dredging companies that have complimentary types of equipment. This means that Hall Contracting has capabilities greater than they appear on paper. “From now on we will be able to offer the complete dredging solution for all but the biggest dredging projects,” he says. “Most port projects coming up in Australia, we have the capability, with these partners, to undertake the project without the client to have to look to Europe for a solution.” Recently, Cameron just returned from Singapore to launch Hall’s new Cutter Suction Dredge, the Eastern Aurora, further adding to Hall Contracting’s already expansive abilities .
Being able to develop non-competitive relationships with other companies is a testament to Hall Contracting’s origins as a strong family company. Another way that they have extended this family circle is by becoming involved with their community. “It is a key to our business and is a corner stone. It was one of the key values that was instilled by Les Hall when he started the business,” says Cameron. “There are three things you have to stand for; the first is that you pay your bills on time, every time. That fosters loyalty and support from your suppliers and sub-contractors. The second is that you do exactly what you say you can do. This means that you always finish a job and never walk away from it,” he says. “The third thing is that you stay involved in the local community.” Giving back to the community is something you will always see a return on in one form or another says Cameron. “We are particularly supportive of local charities, but we also are involved in nationwide programs.” One of the projects Cameron thinks is particularly important is their involvement with the University of the Sunshine Coast, were they endow the Les and Mary Hall Family Scholarship. “The university is a key economic driver in the Sunshine Coast, so we started this scholarship a number years ago in order to assist engineering students.” They have also supported athletics at the university by providing them funds in order that they develop an Olympic sized swimming pool. “They were short of funds, so we decided to help them out with it,” he says modestly.