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Interview

Scott Cummins – CEO, McConnell Dowell, Australia

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McConnell Dowell is a major engineering, construction, building and maintenance contractor delivering service and expertise across a wide array of industry sectors, including oil and gas. Bringing extensive experience in the construction and engineering industry across various disciplines and geographies, newly appointed CEO, Scott Cummins, shares his vision for leading the company to grow, and maintaining its status as one the top construction companies out of Australia.

You have recently taken over as CEO at McConnell Dowell in Australia. What struck you most upon joining the company and what does being in this position of leadership mean to you?

It has certainly been an extremely interesting journey. Being appointed in a leadership role within McConnell Dowell satisfied a long-term personal aim professionally; as did the opportunity to return to Australia and preside in an executive capacity in a dynamic Australian company. McConnell Dowell serves not only the Australian market, but globally as well, including New Zealand, South East Asia and locations throughout the Middle East. Considering the challenges that I was eager to take on in the next phase of my career, the position into which I was appointed at McConnell Dowell turned out to be nearly a perfect match.

As the position called for someone with international experience, along with knowledge from a series of large scale projects, I was welcomed into the company as a good fit. As my understanding of the market is not only limited to Australia, but also extends throughout South East Asia and the Middle East, I am also able to fit the needs demanded of the company’s multi-national vision. This has served as a platform to leverage my 30 years of accumulated experience in the industry, both in Australia and abroad. Whereas my experiences have largely been focused in oil and gas, my new position at McConnell Dowell has a much broader scope, providing me with a new challenge to expand my capabilities.

What have been your priorities in your first months as CEO?

In the first three months, my main priority was to come in and observe, to best learn about McConnell Dowell, the capabilities that the organization has, and the culture of the organization. I have been keen to focus on the customers and the markets within which McConnell Dowell is actively involved. As I was becoming acquainted with the many diverse sectors in which McConnell Dowell is involved, there were several customers with whom I needed to meet, greatly broadening my personal network.

What initially captivated you when arriving at McConnell Dowell?

The diversity of the company certainly left me with a profound first impression. The immense geographic diversity of the company, including presence throughout Australia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, South East Asia and the Middle East was very impressive. Beyond the geographic diversity, the technical and disciplinary diversity of the company is also a great attribute of the organization. At McConnell Dowell, oil and gas services are only a part of the offering. There is also marine work, infrastructure, rail, tunnels and underground, as well as pipelines to name a few. Considering the multiple aspects of the company’s delivery capability over the considerable geographic market in which the company is present one begins to realize how much McConnell Dowell can truly offer.

In this capacity as CEO it is my role to review these capabilities while considering the opportunities throughout the market and focus where we want to participate as an organization. The objectives are to bring about growth and profitability, and ultimately best leverage the skills to encourage growth of the company into the future. Following my first three months, as I diligently observed and took all of this in, I have since led a robust strategic planning process encompassing the entire organization. The initiative is to consider how to best operate and position ourselves for the future.

Have you already identified some key challenges or obstacles that may impede the growth of the company?

We will call these “areas or opportunities for improvement” that I have addressed and we continue to focus upon. As we position ourselves to be stronger in all the markets we participate in, it is my personal mission to promote a more encompassing company approach to our initiatives throughout McConnell Dowell; one where all of the operating and execution groups are more closely connected. The vision is to be able to further work together and leverage the capabilities of all of our branches and employees to be applied throughout our organization. This would require removal of unnecessary segmentation. We want areas of excellence to be applied throughout all facets of our business. We have reduced the number of business units in order to encourage a more stream-lined approach, and establish a much more communicative resource sharing environment.

McConnell Dowell is excellent at the execution of projects, however, as a company we are working to establish greater up-front relations with our customer base. We are eager to be more involved in the initial planning and organizing stages of projects. This theme of collaboration is a consistent need throughout the industry, and we at McConnell Dowell are aware of the fact that there are limitations as to what an organization can do when working independently. Much more can be accomplished when collaboration is facilitated, and optimum solutions can be achieved. We are presently very focused on increasing our presence and our connectivity at the front-end of our business with all our customers. The sooner that we can apply the knowledge from our innovation, as well as new ingenuity from increased collaboration into a project development scenario, the greater impact the results are going to be. I am a firm believer in building relationships and connectivity to achieve optimum results through collaborative efforts in order to bring maximum value to the table.

Creativity is a value upheld by McConnell Dowell. What does it mean to be creative as an engineer working on construction?

The key is to not be blinkered, and to seek to be solution-based rather than process-based. This requires listening to the needs of our customers, by stepping back and considering new, novel, and alternative ideas that may provide for more efficient and productive outcomes. When teams engage in this fashion, we are able to lower the costs associated with projects, reduce the level of risks related to the schedule, and ultimately establish greater certainty in regards to the desired ultimate outcome.

There is definitely a dawning of a new era in the energy industry, particularly throughout Australia.

There is definitely a dawning of a new era in the energy industry, particularly throughout Australia, and one of the key components of this new era will be a focus on increased collaboration. Projects are now big and complex, costing a lot of money. The industry cannot afford to have some of the cost blowouts that we have seen in the past. There is a necessity for much greater certainty. Some of the models that were utilized in past are now found to be lacking. When respective parties are brought together, we will be able to navigate new strategies to bring about positive outcomes, as well as greater certainty in regards to cost and schedule. This delegation of who can best handle particular tasks and particular risks will bring about a significant change throughout the industry.

With a team of over 7500 employees operating in 23 locations throughout Australia, Asia, New Zealand, the Pacific Islands, and the Middle East, McConnell Dowell already has an impressive international presence. How do you foresee expanding and deepening McConnell Dowell’s international footprint in the upcoming years?

Being relatively new in my appointed position at McConnell Dowell, it is not in my near-term strategy to look into expanding our international footprint, however I do have ambitions to expand our capabilities within our established footprint. I believe that we have growth opportunities throughout Australia, and we certainly have growth opportunities in New Zealand as well as in South East Asia. The good news is that the seeds have already been planted, and we already have offices established throughout all of these locations.

With this local presence, we also maintain a local connection with our customers in these regions, better to cater to their needs. If we increase our front-end focus, truly understanding the needs of our customers and working with them early to bring and develop creative and innovative solutions, I believe that we have more than sufficient opportunities to take McConnell Dowell where it needs to go without needed to turn our gaze towards other international locations.

With industry leading expertise, McConnell Dowel is truly a champion of Australian engineering capabilities. What have you noticed as the global perception of the company when working internationally?

It is great to go and meet a customer and speak with someone that shares that they prefer to work with McConnell Dowell because the company delivers, and does it safely. It is the trust in our company that is truly commendable. When customers have projects that they wish to develop that will cost a lot of money, they want to put the execution of that project into the hands of someone that they can trust and will keep their word in delivering results. Having this strong brand recognition that is known for being able to provide a solution is something that we are very proud to uphold. Thanks to our commitment to our customers, we are able to maintain many long-term and repeat partnerships.

Customers … prefer to work with McConnell Dowell because the company delivers, and does it safely.

What is your vision for the coming years for McConnell Dowell?

In the coming years, you will find a company that is inarguably one of Australia’s premier international construction companies in the markets in which we participate. The hope is to achieve such accolades in all of the markets in which we participate. There are some markets in which we are already performing at such levels, but we are working to reach levels of output and quality in all of our markets. If we are capable to establish consistency in our front-end engagement and our project execution on par with our most successful projects, we will be able to achieve this position of recognition throughout the industry. At McConnell Dowell, we strive to be the company that customers can collaborate with to solve problems with creative solutions, delivering the ultimate outcome.

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