40under40: Having a clear vision has paid off for GenusPlus Group founder and managing director David Riches.
David Riches has a clear idea about what constitutes success and it’s not all about financial performance.
Mr Riches said he was drawn to a career as an electrical contractor after watching his father work and witnessing the mateship he shared with his colleagues.
“I saw the mateship that my father’s workers had, and I wanted to be a part of that,” Mr Riches told Business News.
Despite having since built an ASX-listed electrical services company that turned over around $320 million in its first year on the exchange, Mr Riches said growing a sense of mateship within the GenusPlus Group was his greatest source of pride.
He credits this culture for the group’s capacity to grow to employ 1,000 staff.
Mr Riches also admired his father’s ability to work for himself and so decided he also wanted to own his own business.
And it has been the success of that enterprise that has earned him the 2022 40under40 First Amongst Equals and Large-Sized Business category awards.
Mr Riches started his linesman apprenticeship at Western Power before joining the family business in 2005.
Although he harboured an ambition to take over the family business, it was sold in 2007.
In 2009, he left his role working for the new owners and went out on his own to start electrical services contractor, Powerlines Plus (In 2018, Powerlines Plus was incorporated into the GenusPlus Group.)
“I had some ideas about how I wanted to work with dad’s business but because dad sold that didn’t come to fruition, so I wanted to try those ideas myself,” Mr Riches said.
He said he wanted to ensure the importance of the work done by the employees on the ground was recognised and not lost by the corporate side of the business.
“I had a dream of how I felt a powerline or power infrastructure company should operate and run,” Mr Riches said.
“Coming from the tools, [I was] trying to instil that in the business; that blue collar comes first, and the business must support the blue collar at the coalface.”
The business grew organically, starting with Mr Riches and two young employees taking on smaller tasks, before progressing to being contracted for whole jobs.
He knew he wanted to work for the state’s large iron ore miners, so a year into building his business he worked to get Powerlines Plus’s safety systems accredited by Rio Tinto.
“It was a really big task to take a small business with maybe 10 employees at that time through the Rio onboarding process,” Mr Riches said.
The hard work paid off and the business started winning work with the iron ore miner.
Contracts followed with Western Power, Fortescue Metals Group, Roy Hill and several goldminers.
In 2013, Powerlines set itself the goal of winning a transmission line build of at least 100-kilometres. It recently finished the project and far superseded its target.
“That goal came to fruition over the past two years as we completed a 230-kilometre powerline for FMG,” Mr Riches said.
Of course, such substantial business growth has not been without challenges.
“I had to go and learn how to be an accountant, a commercial person, a safety person,” Mr Riches said.
“It’s been a big challenge, personally, to find the time to do that and also run the business every day.”
Mr Riches navigated the corporate obstacles by acknowledging his weaknesses and hiring a colleague from whom he could learn.
When the business grew to a stage where it was turning over between $200 million and $300 million a year, Mr Riches decided it was time to begin thinking about listing on the ASX.
He said the reason was threefold: capital was needed to grow the business; a lot of Powerlines’ competitors were listed, and he thought it would make them more competitive; and he wanted to provide more opportunities for his employees.
Since listing, the company has acquired Connect Infrastructure in NSW, select assets of Tandem Corp in NSW and Victoria and, most recently, Pole Foundations Australia.
These strategic acquisitions have helped GenusPlus Group expand on the east coast.
Mr Riches said he wanted to take the things the group had done well in the west and replicate them in the east coast’s larger markets.
About 80 per cent of the group’s work is undertaken in Western Australia, which leaves room to grow on the eastern seaboard.
“We definitely want to see the east coast market grow bigger than the west coast market; we think the access to that is there because the markets are so much bigger,” Mr Riches said.
Another growth strategy involves servicing the expanding renewables sector.
In October 2021, GenusPlus Group won a $50 million contract to install the largest battery energy storage system in WA for Synergy in Kwinana.
Mr Riches said renewables were the future of energy and he wanted his company to be at the forefront of the change.
“As we go green as a country, these are some of the most exciting projects that will ever be built,” he said.
“We just are very blessed to be part of it and be building some of these green projects to make the world a better world and turn off some of these dirty power stations.”
Mr Riches said there were lots of opportunities to be involved in renewable projects on the east coast.
“The NSW government has a lot of big infrastructure projects currently, the Queensland market and likewise the Victorian markets have some really big infrastructure projects on the horizon, so we would love to be part of that in some way, shape or form,” he said.