Value builder18 November 2013

Anthony Leighs is Managing Director of Leighs Construction Ltd. He founded the Christchurch-based company in 1995 and has spearheaded its growth in both New Zealand and offshore markets. Anthony was joint winner of the NZIOB Supreme Award and Innovation Award in 2005. He is chairman of the New Zealand Master Builders Federation and deputy chair of the Building Research Advisory Council.

Leighs Construction is a big player in the Canterbury rebuild with $150 million worth of projects currently under construction. These include Mainfreight's new terminal, a utility company HQ, schools, retail projects and the new Botanic Gardens visitors centre. Anthony is hot on collaboration as being key to the construction industry delivering the best possible outcomes for Canterbury, and New Zealand. He explains why.

The task at hand in Christchurch is large. Pulling together the appropriate resources to deliver a mammoth workload in a short time requires a strong degree of collaboration:

  1. between contracting companies, and
  2. between clients, contractors and the supply chain.

The Productivity Partnership has brought significant awareness to clients and the construction community to reconsider the way we're doing things so we can achieve better outcomes.

How New Zealand's construction industry approaches Christchurch is very important. Otherwise, we'll create the biggest peak followed by the biggest trough we have known. What's happening in Christchurch always has to be seen in the context of the bigger picture, including the surge of work in Auckland and the whole country recovering economically. Maintaining a sustainable construction industry is paramount. To deliver projects well and increase productivity you need to make investment and the boom and bust cycle works against that.

The pressures of the Canterbury rebuild present a challenge. Working against tight deadlines you can find yourself behaving very unproductively. The drivers of decisions change so processes become reactive rather than efficient.

Certainty is the game changer. If organisations have certainty about the forward workload they can confidently invest in an efficient manner and make sure they have the resources, especially skilled labour, ahead of time to carry out the work. It's essential to approach projects in a planned, productive manner. The Productivity Partnership's work in giving visibility to the forward workload is really valuable. We also need innovative and robust procurement mechanisms in place so contractual relationships enable parties to focus on what they do best to achieve great project outcomes.

An issue facing Christchurch is a real shortage of subcontracting companies and tradespeople with sufficient capability to deal with the scale of work that's coming.

The solution is a better capitalised and better skilled approach. This means being open to sourcing capital and skills from other markets.

Since the earthquakes Leighs Construction has entered into a number of joint ventures (JVs). We have a JV with Dominion Constructors to build a new facility for Mainfreight and we recently formed a JV with Cockram Construction, a large Australian firm, to tender for some of the large anchor projects in Christchurch.

We've found collaboration works well as long as the parties share similar goals. It also helps to allocate risk at different project stages to the party that can best manage the risk.

To deliver the best outcomes we need to realise we can't do everything ourselves. It's so important that our industry develops an approach where we train, upskill and bring in resources from other countries when necessary to meet demand.

There's a big population of construction workers globally who move to construction hot spots, do their bit then move on to another market. We need to tap into that. For instance, US demolition company Grant Mackay Demolition came over here from mid-2011 to early 2012 and did a load of work, including demolishing the damaged Crowne Plaza Hotel. We just didn't have the local capacity or capability to match theirs. They didn't take jobs from New Zealanders - the skills and techniques they demonstrated on the ground here were massive learning for the firms working alongside them. In construction, it's critical to take a longer-term view, not be short-sighted. That applies not just to Christchurch, but everywhere.

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