Home' Future Building: The Australian Infrastructure Review : July 2011 Contents The playing field has levelled: Brecht
‘You have to lead by example. If you come in and
try to bullshit, people in the construction business
will see through it pretty quickly,’ Brecht says.
‘I don’t go off my head. When I get upset, people
notice because then they know something is wrong.
There’s a better way of managing people.’
His easy charm, mixed with an eye for detail and
goal oriented approach, is what Scott Charlton says
he’s come to expect from Brecht.
‘With Peter it’s always about honesty and
integrity,’ Charlton says. ‘In meetings and just
generally in business, Peter is always focused on the
relevant issues on the table and getting an outcome.
‘He also has a great sense of humour – there’s a
bit of the larrikin about him, so while he is all about
delivery, he obviously enjoys what he does.’
That engagement with people and focus on the
business makes it easier to spot potential problems,
and quickly marshal resources to iron out wrinkles –
before they escalate into more serious headaches.
Valemus last year had 135 projects on the
go. In one case, a few years ago, a $150 million
project on the Pacific Highway was in danger of
falling behind schedule because of heavy rain. The
company initially wrote down the project profit to
$7 million from its original estimate of $12 million.
The company called in extra people and resources
from around the country to help bring the project on
track. In the end, the project was completed ahead
of time and with a profit of between $12 million and
‘The challenge is to identify problems and get in
early; take action in the early stages when you can
bring in resources and fix it,’ Brecht says.
Projects are assessed through monthly reports,
and then again through quarterly reviews that include
the project team, the state manager, the state civil
manager and the managing director of that business
to review progress, as well as other measures such
as cost to date.
While the new company will be in better shape
to take on larger players, it won’t be immune to the
skills shortage that plagues the sector.
Brecht is involved with Newcastle University to
help drum up more interest in engineering among
high school students.
‘The skills shortage is only going to get worse. It
creates problems because not only does it drive up
wages, it makes it harder to put good teams together,
and that raises your risk profile,’ Brecht says.
‘We don’t do enough to encourage kids in year
10 to study maths and science so that they can
pursue studies in engineering.’
When his eldest son was mulling over what to
study at university, Brecht says he kept ‘studiously
quiet’. The eventual decision was engineering at
‘I deliberately tried not to influence the oldest
bloke there, but when he told me his decision, I said,
“well, it’s what I’ve done for 25 years and I wouldn’t
want to do anything else.”’
Volume 2 Number 1
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