THE ability to specialise in a range of areas that combine to form a targeted business plan has served Julian Walter well throughout his career.
Add to this a determination to stand out from the crowd, and the chairman of JWH Group is a formidable operator.
His business card even proclaims him as a “chairman, managing director, bon vivant and lover of things old”.
Ownership of one of Perth’s 11 Tiger Moth planes, another 1920s aircraft and a boat from the 1950s is an indication of Mr Walter’s love of things old.
“I love the old fashioned way of travelling, where the journey is part of the experience,” he said.
And while his career in the building sector didn’t start as smoothly as he would have hoped, initial rejection led to an opportunity and business success Mr Walter could hardly have imagined at the time.
After a period spent stuffing chickens following his graduation in marketing, Mr Walter eventually found employment in the housing sector, in turn presenting a plan to the marketing director of Jennings Corporation. The idea was rejected.
He took the concept rejected by Jennings Corp and started his own company, J-Corp in 1983, develop-ing his idea to corner niche areas of the housing market.
Over the next 20 years the business grew into a diversified housing group with an annual turnover of $270 million and 19 separate operating divisions in partnership with building giant BGC.
What followed in the late 1990s was a litigious, drawn out and public split between Mr Walter and his part-ner, BGC chairman Len Buckeridge.
“The public perception is that we were good mates, but this was never the case – we didn’t see eye to eye by the early ’90s, and it came to a head in the late ’90s,” Mr Walter said.
In June of last year Mr Walter and Mr Buckeridge came to an agreement about the businesses they had created. Mr Buckeridge walked away with J-Corp, while Mr Walter used monies from the settlement to buy back the Oswald Homes and Rural Building Company entities.
While more, still unresolved, litigation has ensued, Mr Walter is focused on building his JWH Group, including the WA Country Builders, In-Vouge Living, Metrostyle and Residential Attitudes, which generate $215 million a year in turnover.
“I didn’t want just one big entity, but targeted brands with a culture of their own – there are lots of niches in the market,” Mr Walter said.
“The delivery is highly geared towards the customer – most major builders come from a construction background, not a marketing background.
“The small groups have larger group buying power if they need it – just like armies are made up of smaller squads which specialise in areas, and pull together as a whole.”
Mr Walter said he had wanted a break from the business in the aftermath of the battles with Mr Buckeridge, until staff started coming over and wanting to help him build a new group.
“Originally I took about 100 staff, and we have about 300 now, 76 per cent of them from the old company,” he said. “I have 37 staff members who have worked for me for 10 years or more.
“We are now working with all major suppliers, and the group has a diverse range of entities which are competitive, but do help each other.
“I’m just trying a different approach, I don’t want it to get too big. The public want variety, not just the same thing under a different name.
“With everything I do I try to bring people together so that the sum equals more than the value of the bits, and then share the profits.”