15/03/2005 - 21:00

Special Report: Alcock nurtures building sector’s next generation

15/03/2005 - 21:00

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Born and raised in Kellerberrin Dale Alcock has become somewhat of a poster boy for the building industry, working his way up from apprentice bricklayer to 50 per cent owner in the nation’s second largest residential building company.

Special Report: Alcock nurtures building sector’s next generation

Born and raised in Kellerberrin Dale Alcock has become somewhat of a poster boy for the building industry, working his way up from apprentice bricklayer to 50 per cent owner in the nation’s second largest residential building company.

The Alcock Brown-Neaves group anticipates a turnover of $600 million this year through the building of 3,800 houses, a volume of work Mr Alcock says would be greater if not for the skills shortages that plague the industry.

Overwhelmingly Mr Alcock, a third-generation builder, is described as energetic, and with good reason.

Mr Alcock entered the industry against the advice of his parents and career adviser, who were disparaging of his choice and told him there was no future in building.

Perhaps his overcoming of those low expectations provide some of the fuel for the campaign he heads to promote careers in the building and construction industry.

“I am very happy to put myself at the front of the campaign because doing an apprenticeship in the environment I did put me in a position so far ahead of other people my age at the time,” Mr Alcock said.

“You don’t have to go to an institution to get an education, and an apprenticeship gives you a background of practical education and knowledge.”

In his role as chair of the Building and Construction Industry Training Fund (BCITF) for almost a year Mr Alcock has launched a campaign within schools, to students and parents, to promote the industry.

BCITF executive director Ralph Dawson said Mr Alcock recognised the looming skills shortage problem before anyone else in industry and that he spent an “amazing amount of time” talking in schools about the industry.

“He has an amazing vision and passion, and puts his money and time where his mouth is – he sets a real example to the rest of industry,” Mr Dawson told WA Business News.

After completing year 12 in Northam Mr Alcock toyed with the idea of studying architecture before deciding instead to do an apprenticeship with his father.

“Despite my parents relatively actively trying to talk me out of doing it, my father was the best teacher you will ever get. He always encouraged me to take time and do things right,” Mr Alcock said.

After initially studying for his builder’s registration certificate at night, Mr Alcock moved to Perth to complete the qualification. At this time he took a job as a two-way operator with the Webb Brown-Neaves group, but left shortly afterwards to travel. He then moved back to Kellerberrin, where he says he had every intention of continuing the family business.

“I had the view to turn it into something bigger, but knew there were restraints in the country,” Mr Alcock said.

“John Webb [of Webb Brown-Neaves] would ring me on a really hot summer day trying to convince me to come back, and then six months later when it was cold and raining, he would call again.

“So I gave in and came to Perth, only expecting to talk, but what we were talking about would ultimately become Dale Alcock homes.

“My first reaction was that I couldn’t do it, and that it was way out of my comfort zone, and on their behalf there was no compromise about what the company would be called.

“It was always going to be Dale Alcock homes, because in their view that was the ultimate form of accountability, and if I failed it would be my name in the mud.”

So, in 1987 at the age of 26, Dale Alcock started Dale Alcock Homes, which sold 200 houses in its first year.

The previous year Webb and Brown-Neaves had built 80 homes.

Gary Brown-Neaves said Mr Alcock’s potential was always evident.

“You don’t often find talent like that – he was a unique combination of intelligence and common sense,” he said.

“He was very quick at his work and spoke up when he needed to, and when we approached him to start Dale Alcock Homes, age was really irrelevant. We had faith in him.

“We didn’t have any idea how successful he or we would be, we just worked hard and tried to look after people.

“Dale has an unbelievable passion for industry and most people don’t realise the selfless work he does for industry.”

For his part Mr Alcock believes much of the energy and passion that has led to his success results from fear of the opposite outcome – failure.

“Success is not about the money or what you achieve, but the underlying fear of failure is what drives you,” he said.

“I’m a very optimistic person, but there is always that fear in the back of your mind.”

Within two years of Mr Alcock starting his business Mr Webb retired from the group, providing the opportunity for Mr Alcock to become a partner in the group.

More entities within the group were formed at this time.

“We had a strategy to separate the companies and they had to each forge their own way, and wouldn’t be saved or propped up – the fear of failure was engendered into each one,” Mr Alcock said.

The biggest and quickest lesson he learnt was when to shut-up and allow others to contribute.

“I had so much energy, enthusiasm and passion, and I really needed to learn to curb that and allow others to communicate,” he said.

Today the group contains 10 different entities, partners a number of Western Australian developers, and has also started its own finance broking operation, which is expected to write $600 million worth of loans this year.

The group also partners a number of WA land developers in syndicated developments throughout the state.

One such operator is Peet and Co, and managing director Warwick Hemsley said Mr Alcock was a very innovative thinker and leader in industry.

“He has the very good management attribute of listening first and then taking action – he’s very clear thinking,” Mr Hemsley told WA Business News.

“I have always admired him for the fact he has come from a trade background in the country and done so incredibly well.  It’s no surprise he is such a good spokesperson for attracting people to industry.”

Mr Alcock said there was an inherent understanding that when people chose to build a new home they were trusting the builder with their biggest-ever investment.

It’s a responsibility Mr Alcock does not take lightly.

“We are essentially a retailer of a big ticket item and we have to deliver throughout the process and be in constant contact, which is something that is not that well understood, but makes the industry one of the most honest businesses you can be in,” he said.

Mr Alcock is heavily involved in industry promotion and advocacy, and said the largest obstacle to the industry was a huge skills shortage.

“The acute shortage that is currently being experienced has focused us on the need to grab the issue and steer it,” Mr Alcock said.

“We are running the group at less than capacity because there is not the labour force to do the work.

“WA is the only state that has a four-year apprenticeship by law and we need to move to a competency-based system.

“Increasingly there is an understanding from industry and unions that the system has to change.

“Once the system is changed to a competency-based one it will give people an incentive to get through quickly, and then we can really start to see something we can promote to young people.

“We are going to push really hard on this, and we are not the only group or industry saying it.”

A lot of the lobbying and industry involvement is about freeing up the industry going forward into the future, but also to assist his own business, according to Mr Alcock.

Master Builders Association director Michael McLean said Mr Alcock was a real leader within industry in terms of the initiatives he has been pursuing.

“When you look at his contribution compared to others, Dale is pretty much in a league of his own,” Mr McLean said.

“He is an extremely dynamic individual who is prepared to give back to the industry in which he has been very successful.”

Department of Housing and Works executive director of commercial opportunities John Coles echoed Mr McLean’s comments, saying Mr Alcock was one of the most innovative people in the industry.

“While he is a good business person, he is also very concerned about helping the home buyer, and makes himself very accessible,” Mr Coles said.

“He has a keen interest in the housing problems of the future and has an incredible amount of energy and ideas. I have never found him in a bad mood, and whenever you sit down with him, he is buzzing around all the time.”

The Alcock Brown-Neaves group is the first in the industry to establish its own group-training scheme for apprentices.

“If we can take them down a career path and educate them about industry, little by little we can change the culture of the industry,” Mr Alcock said.

Among the culture changes Mr Alcock wants to effect is the perception of the industry as a typically ‘blokey’ one.

“There are a lot of women who want to be part of the industry but are not comfortable in pursuing that,” he said.

“If we can gradually improve the culture and image of the industry then women will be more attracted to careers in it.”

With more than 600 people employed within the group and a further 4,000 to 5,000 subcontractors indirectly employed, Mr Alcock said he tried to lead by example.

“If people in the group have a positive view of the leadership around them with energy, vibrancy and passion, then the whole operation has a positive tilt,” he said.

“We work hard on creating that culture – there is no time to stand around and be negative.”

The role of good corporate citizen entailed community and environmental obligations, Mr Alcock said, and these were important priorities with the group involved in many community projects.

Alcock Brown-Neaves group has built many homes for fundraising, and constructed new rooms for the Kingsley Football Club.

Mr Alcock also donates all proceeds from public speaking engagements to George O’Neil’s naltrexone clinic.

“Our industry is quite quick to accuse people of being self serving, but when you are a leader in the marketplace, you need to give back,” Mr Alcock said.

“I don’t see sufficient operators in the industry committed to promotion of the industry, and it is an enormous shame.

“We all have the same problems and it bothers me that some people seem to have a short-term view, and don’t make the effort to change things positively.”

 

ABN GROUP 

  • Dale Alcock Homes
  • Webb & Brown-Neaves Homes
  • Homebuyers Centre
  • APG Homes
  • Dale Alcock Homes South West
  • Dale Alcock Home Improvement
  • Boeing Holdings
  • Ceiling Solutions
  • Conoble Park
  • Celebration Homes
  • Resolve Financial Solutions
  • ABN Constructions

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