Australian Mine Services managing director Ian Massara has clear memories of winning his first job with BHP Billiton.
The phone rang at 6am on a Saturday morning, even before his infant children had woken up, but despite the awkward timing, within 24 hours he had a maintenance crew on a plane flying north to the Pilbara.
That rapid response is one reason he believes AMS has grown rapidly, from a standing start three years ago to having budgeted turnover of $20 million and 120 staff this financial year.
The Bayswater company was co-founded by Mr Massara and his partner, Julie Smith-Massara.
Together they bring a deep technical knowledge and enormous energy and enthusiasm to the business, which specialises in the fabrication and maintenance of heavy earthmoving equipment and fixed plant for the mining industry.
“I always wanted to have my own business,” said Mr Massara, who previously worked as a welding engineer and manager in Australia and overseas for contracting companies such as Eltin and RCR Tomlinson.
Ms Smith-Massara previously worked as a stock controller in the automotive trade, and now runs the administration and marketing sides of the business.
“We did our research before we opened the doors and identified two niche opportunities,” Ms Smith-Massara said.
“The industry was screaming out for innovation because it was quite traditional.”
Second, AMS wanted to overcome the disconnect between site managers and head office, which she believes led to problems like the wrong equipment being selected and purchasing decisions being made purely on price.
AMS has maintained a highly specialised focus, which is one of its main points of difference from larger competitors.
“One of the keys to why we have done so well is that, despite the temptation and the repeated requests, we haven’t moved away from our core competencies,” Ms Smith-Massara said.
“We want to make sure we are good at what we do.”
Business Symmetry director Brenton Siviour, who consults to the company in an external CFO role, said opportunities to diversify would also have eroded the company’s profit margins.
“You could say yes to all sorts of things but they are usually at thin margins and you would stretch yourself,” Mr Siviour said.
“You accept the jobs that are on the terms that you know have made the business successful; the right margins, the right locations, the right employees.”
Mr Massara emphasised that AMS always had its work teams in place before accepting contracts.
“You need to make sure you have that in place before you get the job,” Mr Massara said.
Instead of focusing on the company’s total number of employees, he said each project manager and supervisor built “little football teams”, with each striving to be the best.
To make this process work well, the key step was to recruit the right managers and supervisors first.
AMS established a set of cultural and ethical guidelines prior to opening the business and believes this has helped it recruit and retain good staff.
Ms Smith-Massara said the company had “sailed through the skills shortage” with most recruitment by word-of-mouth.
“We haven’t had to pay top dollar but we have looked after the boys in other ways,” she said.
For instance, AMS supplied gardeners and cleaners for its workers at Paraburdoo.
“Those two things were priceless for those boys because they were working 12-hour shifts,” Ms Smith-Massara told WA Business News.
AMS has achieved significant technical breakthroughs in its short history, in one case reducing the weight of an excavator bucket by 10 per cent while also doubling its working life, leading to big savings for the client.
Mr Massara said this reflected the company’s commitment to in-house training, the constant use of new welding equipment and procedures, and its culture of innovation.
Traditionally, the mining industry focuses on getting maintenance completed as quickly as possible, whereas AMS seeks to find smarter ways of operating.
“We empower the staff to try new things,” Mr Massara said.
“If you let people take a bit longer and work on it, they come up with some fantastic ideas.”
The company’s long-term plan is to diversify its business by moving into new sectors, including nickel and gold and new regions, initially interstate and eventually overseas.