DAN Tenardi has been busy in the five months since he joined Ngarda Civil and Mining as CEO, having already launched a new arm of the business and working on plans to expand the company’s services to the east coast.
The Ngarda Ngarli Yarndu Foundation, Indigenous Business Australia and contract miner Henry Walker Eltin established Ngarda in the Pilbara in 2001 as a small landscaping business.
A decade later it has become one of the nation’s largest indigenous owned and operated contracting companies, providing earth moving, civil engineering and contract mining services to the resources and construction sectors.
Ngarda has also become recognised as an industry leader in recruiting, training and employing local indigenous people.
Before his recent appointment Mr Tenardi was managing director of Bauxite Resources, had spent 13 years with Alcoa, and worked with Rio Tinto, during which time he was appointed as a director of Robe River Iron Associates.
He began his relationship with Ngarda 10 years ago while working for Robe River.
“At the time, I was the general manager of Robe River and I negotiated with Ngarda and gave them their first mining job in Pannawonica. I then stayed in touch with Ngarda through the years,” Mr Tenardi said.
Ngarda has grown from six staff to more than 430, has trained almost 2,000 indigenous people and turned over more than $120 million last financial year.
The company has also worked with major players in Western Australia’s resources sector, including BHP Billiton, Woodside and Rio Tinto.
In 2008, Ngarda was awarded BHP’s $300 million Yarrie contract, the largest ever mining contract awarded to an Aboriginal company.
Despite the company’s involvement in major resource projects, Mr Tenardi said the rapid growth of Ngarda over the past decade has created gaps in its systems and processes.
“We have realised that, to put money and resources back into indigenous communities and provide growth opportunities, you have to be commercially successful,” Mr Tenardi told WA Business News.
“The rapid growth of Ngarda, I think, has created a lot of gaps in its processes and procedures, so we’ve since had a series of audits and reviews and now have a strategic plan to go forward.”
Competition from larger players to recruit indigenous people, and consistently high overheads led Mr Tenardi and the board to make the decision to diversify the business.
The company recently launched Ngarda People, a recruitment and labor hire business to service the growing demand for indigenous participation in the state’s resource projects.
Mr Tenardi said a training organisation would be developed under Ngarda People to allow indigenous people to achieve national accreditation for their skills.
“We’ve recognised the competition for indigenous Australians to work in the mining sector is very intense, all companies have their indigenous programs and they want to employ indigenous people on their projects,” he said.
“Ngarda does a lot of pre-work training and this adds quite a bit of money to our overheads, so by splitting off Ngarda People and having labour hire, we can offset those overheads with a commercial business.”
In 2006, Australia’s largest contracting company, Leighton Contractors, bought the 50 per cent shareholding in Ngarda previously owned by Henry Walker Eltin.
Despite ongoing support from Leighton, Mr Tenardi said Ngarda was in competition with its major shareholder, as well as other top-tier contracting companies.
“The fact is we are in competition with Leighton even though we are 50 per cent owned by them … for us to be competitive we must deliver what we promise because you don’t get a free ride just because you are indigenous,” he said.
The company has also experienced challenges relating to recruitment, as well as securing a constant stream of projects.
“It’s harder to recruit good indigenous staff in the mining space because we can’t always offer the conditions that Rio Tinto and BHP can offer … they can offer more stability, and because we go from project to project, people tend to feel more secure in those companies,” Mr Tenardi said.
“One of the biggest challenges we’ve got is continuity of work; if we pick up a project it may last five or six months, and if we haven’t got a project to move onto straight away … we keep these people on our books and that incurs costs.”
Along with Ngarda People, Mr Tenardi plans to focus on creating greater awareness of the company both locally and on the east coast.
He has launched a marketing campaign that includes national newspaper advertisements, new sponsorship programs and the delivery of capability statements to potential clients.
“We are currently in talks in Queensland and hope to move there in the next six months, because there are some real indigenous resources there that we can tap into,” Mr Tenardi said.
“Our purpose, which is to give opportunities to indigenous people, hasn’t been well understood in the past and now it’s about getting that message out.”