AFTER 26 years with the Clough group, including eight as managing director, Brian Hewitt is discovering life outside a big company.
Since retiring last month, Mr Hewitt has found some extra time for golf and sailing, but he remains very active as a company director and as a board member on a range of government, educational and industry organisations.
Mr Hewitt’s retirement was part of a wider restructuring at Clough, as the company seeks to deal with problem contracts and the prospect of an annual loss.
However, when Clough’s corporate history is written, Mr Hewitt is sure to be remembered for his role in building its engineering and construction business in Australia, Asia and the Middle East.
For his efforts in this area, Mr Hewitt has been nominated for his contribution to the export of Australian engineering expertise.
He joined the Clough group in 1977, when it was known as JO Clough & Son.
Mr Hewitt said the group was focused on export opportunities for most of the years he was an employee.
Surprisingly, he credits Alan Bond with a decisive role in the group’s success.
“Alan Bond gave us a job to do in joint venture with Bechtel to build the Harriet oil field, and that was really the major breakthrough into the oil and gas business, not only in Australia but internationally,” he said.
Mr Hewitt has some very clear views about the “substantial competitive advantages” that Australian companies have in Asia and the Middle East.
“Fundamentally what we’ve got to sell is Australian expertise,” he said.
“We are very good, we are relatively cheap, we’re straightforward, we do the job to the best of our ability, we usually finish on time and to budget.
“All these sorts of things are rare and valuable commodities in Asia and the Middle East.”
While offshore oil and gas projects have been the main focus internationally, Clough has also managed a range of onshore mining and infrastructure projects, particularly in Indonesia.
“Of course, all of our Indonesian projects are significantly managed by Australian engineers with Australian experience,” Mr Hewitt said.
“That’s our core strength. The Australian engineering skill; that’s really what we are exporting.”
The Indonesian growth has also been aided by the acquisition of a major shareholding in local company PT Petrosea.
“It gives you more credibility. They are seen as an Indonesian company with overseas expertise.”
Mr Hewitt said his number one message for people wanting to penetrate the Asian market was to have “patience, perseverance and determination”.
“It’s not easy, its very difficult,” he said.
“Its not simply a matter of finding the right partner or the right agent.
“Our most successful formula invariably is in joint ventures where you have common objectives.”
Mr Hewitt said joint ventures had also been very important in helping the group to grow in Australia.
Looking back at his career, Mr Hewitt said the best project for him personally was the Pagerungan gas project in Indonesia in the early 1990s.
“This was the biggest project we had ever undertaken, we worked for Atlantic Richfield, we engineered and built an entire gas processing plant with offshore collection facilities on a little island north of Bali,” he said.
“We finished on time, we made some money, it was a fantastic project.
“It was the culmination of a lot of work we had done before. We had done every element of the project before and on this occasion it all came together in one project.”
Since retiring from Clough in July, Mr Hewitt has become chairman of Acumen Property Securities and a director of listed scaffolding company PCH Group.
He has also continued as a councillor at Curtin University and board member of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of WA.
However his real passion is promoting the capabilities of Australian industry.
To that end, he is chairman of the Federal Government’s national infrastructure and engineering forum, whose role is “to ensure Australian expertise is being recognised by the big resource developers”.
Mr Hewitt is also chairman of the advisory board of the Industrial Supplies Office of WA, which seeks to maximise local content on big projects.
He sees a role for both local industry, which he says needs to pursue e-business strategies so they can be part of the international procurement scene, and government, which must continually promote the capabilities of Australian industry.
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