26/08/2003 - 22:00

Phillips leads GHD growth

26/08/2003 - 22:00

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ENGINEERING and consulting company GHD has achieved remarkable growth over the past 25 years but no period was more significant than when John Phillips took the reins.

Phillips leads GHD growth

ENGINEERING and consulting company GHD has achieved remarkable growth over the past 25 years but no period was more significant than when John Phillips took the reins.

During Mr Phillips’ recently completed three-year stint as chairman, GHD nearly doubled its staff numbers to 2,300 and more than doubled its annual turnover to $280 million.

It also grew from one offshore office to a network of offices in 12 countries spread across Asia, the Pacific and the Middle East.

Mr Phillips also initiated major reforms to GHD’s board and governance structure, all the while continuing to work as an engineer, particularly on dams, water storage and waste management projects.

For his efforts, Mr Phillips has been nominated as a leading exporter of Australian engineering expertise.

He first came to Perth in 1979, when GHD had just 12 staff in WA.

His plan was to conduct a single feasibility study and, if successful, complete the project.

That project was the Worsley alumina refinery, which ran for four years and helped set up GRD for its subsequent growth in WA.

Mr Phillips cites the Woodman Point wastewater treatment plant and the Bullcreek sub-division as other key projects that took GHD from a minnow to a major player in WA.

He also believes GHD’s multi disciplinary approach – 19 professions are represented in the company – has contributed to its successful growth.

Mr Phillips became national chairman in 1999, with an agreement that 30 per cent of his time could be devoted to engineering work.

“I kept my sanity amidst all the administration by getting out and kicking some dirt,” he said.

“I found it almost therapeutic to get out in the real world.”

The legacy of Mr Phillips’ term as chairman included big changes to the governance structure of GHD.

When Mr Phillips became chairman, he found that the board members, all executives, stayed focused on their day-to-day issues.

“Effectively we had a management board. I turned it into a governance board to deal with governance issues,” he said.

Specific initiatives included allocating portfolios to each of the directors, in areas such as human resources, strategy and insurance, and asking them to develop initiatives in the designated area.

He established board committees covering audit, finance, nominations and strategy issues, with external representatives.

“It was a deliberate intent to establish a structure so that the difference between us and a public company would have been hard to tell,” Mr Phillips said.

To reinforce the governance role of the directors, Mr Phillips also established an operations group that is run by GHD’s chief executive, Clive Weeks.

Rapid expansion was another legacy of Mr Phillips’ term as chairman.

The key drivers of this expansion were domestic organic growth, the internationalisation of the firm through offshore offices and a series of takeovers.

“They all had a strategic purpose, by giving us a particular technology or entry to a market that we wanted,” he said.

“We never had a policy of going after growth for growth’s sake.”

By far the biggest takeover was last year’s acquisition of Egis Consulting (formerly CMPS&F), which brought 500 staff into GHD.

Mr Phillips acknowledged this put strains on the group’s management and finances, but he said these issues had been resolved faster than he had expected.

On the international front, Mr Phillips believes the key locations to date are New Zealand, the Middle East and the Philippines,

GHD’s big wins offshore include its appointment as project manager for the Asian Games in Doha, Qatar.

This includes running everything from transport and security to the events program, even the number of flag poles on the stadium.

More recently, GHD was appointed to a project management role for development of the main Olympic stadium in Beijing.

Mr Phillips believes international growth is critical to the future of GHD.

“Australian firms would not continue to survive if they just stayed in Australia,” he said.

“The only way to compete with the multinationals was to become a multinational ourself.”

After the hectic pace of being chairman, Mr Phillips now operates at a slightly easier pace, working on a casual basis for selected projects.

Recent work has been highly varied, ranging from the Ok Tedi mine in PNG to a tidal power station in Korea and the Worsley alumina refinery here in WA.

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