25/10/2019 - 13:31

Evolution, not revolution for new-look BGC

25/10/2019 - 13:31

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A broad suite of asset sales is high on Daniel Cooper’s agenda, but radically changing the way BGC operates is not on the priority list for the company’s new chief executive.

Evolution, not revolution for new-look BGC
Daniel Cooper is embracing the legacy of the late Len Buckeridge as he shapes the future of a restructured BGC. Photos: Gabriel Oliveira

A broad suite of asset sales is high on Daniel Cooper’s agenda, but radically changing the way BGC operates is not on the priority list for the company’s new chief executive.

Taking the reins of BGC Australia in 2019 would be high on the list of the most challenging and complex roles in Western Australian business.

Following founder Len Buckeridge’s death in 2014, the spectre of a dispute over how BGC Australia and its assets are divided up between his six children, eight grandchildren, Mr Buckeridge’s partner and his former wife, as stipulated in his will, has hung over the company.

Nigel Satterley (left), with Daniel Cooper and Business News chairman Elton Swarts

But if new chief executive Daniel Cooper is daunted by the prospect of running BGC in the post-Buckeridge era, he’s doing a good job of hiding it.

However, it’s clear Mr Cooper will have to leverage every bit of experience from his lengthy career at Pioneer Building Products and Hanson Construction Materials to manage a new-look BGC.

Speaking at a recent Business News Success & Leadership event, Mr Cooper said he had not taken the role to transform the way BGC went about its business, notwithstanding the fact the company is midway through a major asset sell-off and a management restructure.

Assets such as The Westin and Aloft Perth have been sold, office building the BGC Centre remains on the market, while its contracting, plasterboard and fibre cement businesses are also available for the highest bidder.

Alongside Mr Cooper is a new chief financial officer in Alan Tate, while BGC’s housing divisions other than Ventura Home Group have been consolidated under a new leader in BGC Housing Group executive general manager Michael Bartier.

Once the restructure is complete, BGC will look vastly different to the house that Len built, but within its walls Mr Cooper said he was keen to maintain Mr Buckeridge’s legacy of determination and entrepreneurial spirit.

“It’s a fantastic legacy and I think anybody who runs a business is keen to not just come in and completely change the culture, but actually work with the culture that you’ve got and take it to the next step to evolve it rather than radically change it,” Mr Cooper told a crowd of more than 300 assembled at the Hyatt Regency for the Business News event.

“(Len) has done an amazing job and for us, it’s about using that going forward to define our culture rather than try and change it.

“We all work very hard to maintain the principles and maintain the values that have been set some time ago, and it’s really just about fine-tuning that going forward rather than radically turning it to the left or to the right.

“It is difficult for a new person to come in when there is this existing, staid way of doing things, and how do you actually change that?”

Mr Cooper, who has been in the job for about four months, said he was keen to embrace the sense of purpose that Mr Buckeridge instilled across the company from inception.

“That stems back to Len wanting to put roofs over the heads of Western Australians,” he said.

“That was Len’s mantra, and Len’s driving force as I understand it was that he was really keen to build affordable housing and to give more Western Australians the ability to own their own home.

“That still resonates through the business, not just in the residential space but also in the building materials space.

“They understand that their purpose is to put more homes on the ground and build more homes for Western Australians.”

For BGC’s core business of homebuilding, Mr Cooper has assumed the lead of the company at one of the most challenging times in the industry’s history in WA.

Activity has plunged steadily since peaking in 2015 at around 32,000 dwelling starts, with forecasts indicating around 14,000 homes will be started in WA in the current calendar year.

Despite that bleak backdrop, Mr Cooper said there would not be any wholesale changes in the way the company’s housing and building materials businesses were to operate.

“The business model that’s made BGC really successful and has taken the business from nothing in the late 1960s and early 1970s to $2.5 billion in turnover is really around scale residential building, building a lot of homes, and then having the raw materials that supply into that residential building,” Mr Cooper said.

“It comes under attack from multinationals in the cement space, the brick space, whatever it may be, but it has it’s internal market that it can always retreat to and supply its own material.

“It’s not only been able to survive, but it’s been able to thrive with that business model.

“That’s the piece that I see is quite exciting.”

The biggest change, Mr Cooper said, would be to deliver more medium-density housing, in line with buyer demand and catalysed by a series of state government initiatives, such as Metronet, designed to curb congestion and limit urban sprawl.

“With BGC evolving as we speak, I think we’re seeing a big change into medium-density housing – infill housing – whereas we’re used to the blocks of land and the move-out to the outer suburbs.” he said.

“That will still continue as people seek that space, but the demand more and more is for infill housing.

“It’s less infrastructure costs and at the same time I think people want to be a bit closer to the city and to the activity and amenities.”

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