A History of Perseverance
Morris Corporation has a singular and remarkable story, one that is filled with both the triumphs and tragedies that would make up any great narrative.
David Morris founded the company in 1966; he continued to build the business offerings. By the 1970s they had expanded into Indonesia and South China. In the 80s they redirected their focus to build their domestic holdings, opened up the company to opportunities in the Middle East, and even won the contract to cater Expo ‘88 in Brisbane and eventually picked up some very promising portfolios in Somalia for the UN in catering to the troops and staff that were over there on the 1990’s humanitarian mission. During this time David Morris fell in love with the country and the work they were doing. However the work was not without its hardships and loss.
The company has been in and out of the headlines, and has even been the subject of a book that focused on the work David Morris did, and what he was trying to accomplish. US President George W. Bush even thanked the company when they landed a lucrative contract in Iraq for the meal they provided him, surprised by the quality they put into the meals they were providing the troops.
In 1993 David’s son Tyson joined the company and moved to Somalia to oversee the kitchens at the UN mission. Tyson had fired some of the Somali workers in the kitchen due to a dispute in the workplace. Later, two of the workers blocked the Afgoi road and then fired through the windshield, killing Tyson.
David Morris was devastated, but continued his work in the country. He used his position to try and bring many of the warring groups together by offering them jobs and opportunities in the hopes that his efforts could be part of the peace process. During this time, David Morris was kidnapped twice and held for ransom, and just before the UN itself pulled out of the region, he was kidnapped again, apparently by Islamic militants, and killed. Robert McVicker was given the hard task of going to Somalia and retrieving the body of his corporate partner, as well as folding up the operations in that country.
McVicker is now the Governing Director and owner of Morris Corporation, and has been instrumental in the growth of the company over the last three decades. The current CEO of the group is Fiona Berkin, who has directed the energies of the company on the domestic side, and is credited with doubling the company’s annual revenue annually since her appointment. This year Morris Corporation landed the 12th spot on the Queensland 400 by the Queensland Business Review, a true testament to the impact they are having on even the local economy. They may make headlines internationally, but they maintain a strong connection to their home.
“I focus on Australasian businesses, and Robert McVicker takes care of our overseas operations,” says Berkin. She began working for the company in 1997 as a Marketing Assistant, and soon found her way working up the company ladder. She was then offered a position as the Group Business Development Manager, and Berkin jokingly says that McVicker suggested her for the job as a “sink or swim” gambit. Once he saw how well she settled into the role he was pleasantly surprised, which led to the offer of becoming the CEO of the company in 2004. “I don’t think he really thought I could do it, but he was the first one to congratulate me on my success in the role,” she recollects.
A company divided, a company united
When looking at the role the company plays, Berkin says that the overseas and domestic businesses operate as almost two separate entities. The international team focuses on providing quality food and services to military and international businesses, where the domestic branch has refocused its efforts into the booming mining and resources industry. This is where Berkin gets very excited about the direction the company is taking.
Morris Corporation has a plethora of services, some of which may surprise many. Outside of catering they have developed their portfolio to provide for airport management, property management services, grounds keeping, waste management, and water services. Each of these services has been painstakingly built up to offer potential clients exactly what they need, where ever, and whenever they need it.
For the resource and construction industries, Morris Corporation administer a mix of owned, leased, contract and mixed properties to workers on site. “We have been presented with a number of opportunities when mining companies have decided they are in the mining business, and not the camp or village business, so they have decided to sell it” says Berkin. Morris Corporation is currently developing other projects that will be completely owned, developed and operated by the company, and only require “the nod” from councils and government.
The ActiV8 Program
Since much of their work in catering for the Australian Market has been geared towards the mining and resource industries, Berkin is very proud of their new ActiV8 program which looks after these workers need’s in a very specific way. “These are tough physical jobs,” she says. “They require good nutrition and good food, we developed the menu and the program to make it easy for every person that we serve to get to nutrition and information they need.” The plan allows for employees to moderate and judge their own health and nutrition needs. The program is split into three sections, the first administers to worker’s diet and nutrition, they then looks at safety and rest requirements, and finally at maintaining a high level of lifestyle and recreational exercise.
ActiV8 ensures that workers on sight maintain good overall health as well as providing their clients workforce with what Berkin describes as “nutritious, quality, home cooked meals”.
According to Morris Corporation “ActiV8 will keep your workforce happier and healthier with a plan of delicious meals, healthy snacks, rest and body movement. It is proven that as employees become healthier, absenteeism and work place injuries decrease.”
Doing more than food service
The problem with looking at the historical operations of Morris Corporation is that it means that the catering aspect of the business is often highlighted over their other functions. Berkin is particularly impressed with their developed capability to operate and manage entire airports.
“We can do everything from baggage checking to refuelling an aircraft on the tarmac,” says Berkin. She points to a few of their successful endeavours in this regard, and stands by their record, as does many of their client’s testimonies.
Within the airport they can offer flight traffic control, ticketing, refuelling, and baggage handling, as well as janitorial services.
Morris Corporation also offers Property Maintenance Services, Landscaping, and even Water Testing and treatment and sewerage testing/treatment. They have also opened the way to help companies introduce recycling programs and green initiatives.
In everything that they do, their people are the most import thing to their continued success as a business, says Berkin. “Whilst the government is continually talking about the skilled people shortage, we are experiencing something of an unskilled labour shortage, as well as and a short fall of management talent,” she says. “We are working on constantly working on challenges in relation to this, while at the same time keeping our people motivated.” They are constantly investing in career development for their employees. “The goal is to become the employer of choice, and this is very, very difficult, but at the same time rewarding,” says Berkin.
Making homes away from home
Among the most glowing of these testimonials come from Xstrata Coal, who Morris Corporation has played a major role in delivering both food services and worker accommodations. “It’s important to realise that accommodations don’t end at air conditioning and a bed,” says Berkin. “People who work in the resource and mining industry need a comfortable place to go after the long hours they put in. You have to remember many of these people are away from home weeks – and even months at a time.”
Providing them some of the comforts of home is one of the goals that Morris Corporation has made a priority since 1984. Morris Corporation began with Glenden, and has grown this first offering to include several sites across Central Queensland and the Pilbara. The sites offer such amenities as plasma televisions, DVD lending libraries, a la carte menus, and full service bars. Each of these projects has been specifically designed with the travelling worker in mind, making the commute from home to their work sites a little less difficult on them.
Since its humble begins in New Zealand, Morris Corporation has expanded across the globe and continues to offer exciting opportunities to workforces both foreign and domestic. Both McVicker and Berkin have been tireless in promoting the standing of the company, as well as looking at new ways they can implement the expertise that they have built over the years. It is a challenge that Berkin will not shrink from, just like she did not shrink from the challenge of becoming CEO. She is sure that the legacy the Morris Corporation name represents would make David Morris proud of the position and the esteem that the company holds today. Their ability to grow and adapt their services over time has been a true testament to the people that make up the company, and as Berkin says, “if someone wants to know if we can do something, we will definitely try to accommodate.”
The future of the company
“We aren’t expecting to move into any new market sectors, our core markets will continue to be the construction and resource industries,” says Berkin. She says that Morris Corporation only occupies a small share of that market, so if anything they hope to grow their business to represent more and more of it in Australia and the rest of the world. “This market affords us the opportunity and the space to grow,” she says. “So we aren’t looking to expanding into new target markets, just expand in the ones we are currently in.”
Berkin says that of all the things she enjoys from working with the company is that she is constantly getting an education. “With the growth rate that we are experiencing right now it has remained a very steep learning curve for me,” she says. Whether it is exploring alternate funding options other than debt through the banks, there are constantly new and fulfilling challenges. “It keeps me on my feet and I am learning on my feet every day. The fact that you can get out of the office and get to travel the world is another reason I love working for this company.” Berkin says that she cannot see herself working with another company that would provide so many opportunities, and new experiences that Morris Corporation does.