When Tonkin Consulting was first formed in 1955, the whole business was operated from the double garage home of founder Berwick “Skip” Tonkin. In the almost 60 years since, the company has evolved into a thriving engineering, environmental and spatial business with offices in Adelaide, Mount Gambier, Berri and Darwin. In that time, they have built one of the most knowledgeable teams on the market and have earned the loyalty and satisfaction of a long list of clients.
“We combine quality with service,” says Gerry Doyle, CEO of the company. “We make sure the quality of the deliverable is top notch, and we make sure the client we’re working for today is the same client we’re working for tomorrow.”
Tonkin Consulting experienced its first burst of growth in the 1960s, when there was a steadily increasing demand for consulting engineering services. In the early 1970s, that growth continued as the company gained a reputation for their stormwater engineering services. In the decades that followed, Tonkin entered into new markets such as traffic engineering, and environmental engineering for the waste management sector.
By the early 2000s, Tonkin Consulting had moved into the fields of spatial consulting and asset management. As they did, they developed a strong reputation in South Australia for being at the cutting edge of technology and engineering advances. According to Gerry, they became known as a company that was really good at what they did – and they’ve maintained that reputation ever since.
Quality meets service
Today, Tonkin Consulting provides a diverse range of engineering consulting services to local government, state government, as well as the private sector. They do a variety of projects, ranging from price values of $300 to $1 million and up. In recent years, they have particularly concentrated on offering water management solutions to the public sector, and mining and resources solutions to the private sector.
No matter what kind of project they are working on, Gerry says Tonkin Consulting is set apart by their intense focus on customer service.
“Throughout the history of Tonkin Consulting, we’ve always been very highly regarded for the quality of the deliverables we produce,” he explains. “We never want to lose that, but we want to make sure we’re equally regarded for the service we provide.”
“We want the client to have the best possible experience,” adds Sam McCarthy, the company’s Business Development Manager.
According to Gerry, providing that experience starts with building trust. Usually, that means being completely honest and transparent. Sometimes, it means giving “fearless advice,” and telling clients what they need to hear versus exactly what they want to hear.
“Clients need to know you’re looking out for their interests,” Gerry says. “They need to know you’re saying things for the right reasons. It takes time to develop that trust, and it takes working on the relationship. But we put that time into it.”
Clients also gravitate towards Tonkin Consulting because they are locally based. Many of their competitors are huge multi-nationals, but Tonkin’s head office is in Adelaide, and their whole team is very accessible.
“The people our clients are talking to are based here, and can easily get out and see them,” Sam says. “Our local people can service our local clients, and that’s what they appreciate.”
Over the years, this focus on client service has paid dividends in the form of customer loyalty and repeat business. Some of the company’s relationships with local governments, for example, have lasted the 60-plus years that the company’s been in business. Several local councils that Skip Tonkin started working with in the 50s still use Tonkin Consulting today.
Tonkin Consulting is further set apart by their team – which includes some of the most highly skilled and knowledgeable staff members in the industry. The strength of that team begins at the top with their Executive Leadership, and continues all the way to the people on the ground and in the office. According to both Gerry and Sam, the company offers a multitude of opportunities and experiences, which helps to attract and retain the best and brightest of people.
Both men can speak to that fact personally, as they both joined Tonkin Consulting for those exact reasons. Gerry’s been around for 13 years, Sam since 2005. Each of them have risen through the company’s ranks, and had the opportunity to take on multiple roles before achieving their current positions.
“I joined the company because I wanted to get some broad experience as an engineer,” Gerry explains. “I wanted to try different projects, and see different things, and see how different people worked. I didn’t want to be fenced in somewhere.”
“I stayed because, over the last 13 years, every time I wanted a new challenge or to try something different, Tonkin has always presented the opportunity,” he says. “Since joining, I felt like I had control over my career and could do the things I want to do. And it’s been a lot of fun.”
“We don’t get pigeonholed into any one business unit,” Sam adds. “If we see an opportunity, we’ve always been able to make the most of it. I’m someone who likes to visit other parts of the countries and do interesting work, and I’ve had the chance to do that here.”
By providing that flexibility to its employees, Tonkin has been able to cultivate an extremely talented team. And unlike many companies in the engineering field, they have been able to hold on to that team, and keep the knowledge in house. According to Gerry, the staff members that stay for more than a year tend to stay for 10 or 15 years.
“People buy into what we’re doing,” he says. “It’s a little bit like a big family.”
Tonkin Consulting’s depth of knowledge is virtually unparalleled, especially when it comes to stormwater engineering. That expertise was recently acknowledged by several industry bodies, for the Stormwater Management Plan they developed with the cities of Marion and Holdfast Bay.
At the 2013 South Australian Engineering Excellence Awards, for example, the company was named a finalist in the category for Reports, Procedures and Systems. And at the 2013 IPWEA Excellence Awards for SA, they won in the category for Excellence in the Design and/or Construction of a Public Works Project.
“That recognition is nice, but for us the number one concern is if our client is happy,” Gerry says. “So when we go for awards, we like to go in partnership with our clients. That way it’s about the overall success of the project and the relationships within that project.”
“So we think those awards mean a lot,” he continues. “Because they were won by being collaborative, and they were won by both us and the client. They show that we were able to pull those relationships off, and deliver a great project as a result.”
The award-winning Stormwater Management Plan – titled “Holding Back the Flood” – was developed collaboratively with Marion and Holdfast Bay, cities that share common boundaries and storm watcher catchments. Sam says the process involved working very closely with both local councils, as well as with Jensen Planning + Design.
The goal of the project was to examine how storm water was managed in the area, and identify the impact future development may have on that management. They underwent a lot of analysis and modelling, and engaged with the local community so they could receive feedback on the management strategies they were considering.
Awards bodies recognised the project for its innovative approach to documenting strategies, actions and plans. They highly commended it for its approach to integrating planning and stormwater management, while also addressing water quality improvement targets.
Gerry credits the award success to the strong relationships they built all around – with their clients, with the designers, and with the local community.
“The better your relationships are, the better the outcome is,” he says “And the outcome is what an award. You don’t have to have a massive project, and you don’t have to do the biggest thing in town. You just need to produce a good outcome.”
Gerry also credits the company’s experience in the water management space. After all, they have been doing it since the early 1970s, and have been building on their knowledge base with every successful project. Over the years, there have been many successful projects. In the future, Gerry predicts there will be many more.