RICHARD SILCOCK catches up with Hugh Johnstone and gleans some insight into what makes him an award winner and the leader of his own successful contracting business.
“IT’S ALL ABOUT TEAMWORK and working within a small close-knit team that provides me with the opportunity to develop and challenge myself,” says Hugh Johnstone.
Hugh took out the ‘Young Contractor of the Year’ at the 2016 Hynds Construction Awards and AB Equipment People Awards run by the CCNZ Auckland branch. He then went to on to receive the Emerging Leader Award, in the Z People Awards, at the 2016 CCNZ Conference.
He says it adds to his list of personal achievements that include managing his own construction business in Auckland, assisting staff achieve their goals, and giving nine years’ service as a reservist with the New Zealand Defence Force – a time which saw him deployed in the Solomons in 2009 and rated ‘top soldier’ at the junior non-commissioned officer’s training course.
“I was promoted to corporal with responsibility for assisting in the training and development of soldiers,” says Hugh. “This taught me the value of patience, staying calm in stressful situations and providing effective leadership.
“My concurrent role, as both the managing director and senior project manager of the family owned business, Johnstone Construction, has also helped me a lot,” he says.
“Over the last 12 months our team has delivered five reasonably complex civil and building construction projects across the North Island for BP and I believe this is quite an achievement given our size, the complexity of the job and the time constraints involved.
“We have doubled the size of the company over the last eight years, from six to 12 and have implemented a staff training and development programme for their ongoing skills and career development.”
In the time Hugh has led the company, turnover has substantially increased and he has instituted a comprehensive review and update of the company’s health and safety systems and policy. This resulted in him achieving an A-Grade safety rating from the international agency, IS Networld.
He took over the family business in 2014 from his father Malcolm, who had built it up from a fledgling construction business back in 1984 – previously known as JCL Commercial and Civil.
“In the same year that I took over the business from dad I rebranded the company to reflect our shift away from a small family-owned business to a more dynamic contracting firm specialising in building construction and civil contracts with a younger hard-working team eager to make a difference,” says Hugh.
“We now provide the complete package, from feasibility studies through to the finished job.
“My philosophy is to provide a collaborative work environment where management is geared around active support of the staff. This team approach is paramount and as a team we have built a ‘team first’ culture, which extends to career planning and guidance, ongoing training and job security.
“Going that extra mile for my staff is important for me,” says Hugh. “I care about and I am committed to my team. I consider them as a part of the family and provide support, not just professionally, but also personally, helping them to set and achieve their goals.
“I endeavour to lead from the front and get involved in all levels of a project, working alongside the team, whether on-site or in the office. This can mean pushing a broom to give a junior staff member the opportunity to work with the machinery, through to being on-site assisting when after-hours or weekend work is required.”
Hugh says that as a project manager, having a clear objective each day, setting targets, and holding brief site meetings each morning to outline the work expectation and responsibilities is important as it allows for communication, delegation and direction.
“Within the company everyone is accountable at every level and I ensure we have mechanisms that support robust communication that we, as a team, prioritise and monitor. Our six key KPIs are – health and safety, time, cost, quality, building professional relationships and project delivery.
“The most important part of sharing responsibilities is to delegate and in doing this I have brought people on board with strengths that complement my own,” he says.
“I make sure they are given opportunities to grow and develop the business, while at the same time growing and developing their own skills and experience.
“Equally important is the timely sharing of information with our employees, subcontractors and clients. In facilitating this we have embraced modern technology to enhance communication between management, on-site staff, subcontractors, consultants, suppliers and clients by way of smartphones and tablets, and we are using GPS systems to track work progression.
“Key to centralising and sharing of information and data for each project has been our involvement with ‘Acuite construction intelligence software’. By using their analysis and reporting dashboard, our team can keep clients, consultants and suppliers up to date with ‘real-time’ information about a project, including work being done that day.”
Commenting on his own personal philosophy, Hugh says his approach has always been: “Don’t create problems, solve them.”
“For example,” he says, “I never go to a client with an issue, but with a viable solution, and this philosophy is enacted throughout the company. Working collaboratively as a team assists in our decision making process and as our people are empowered and supportive of each other we are able to respond and come up with solutions.”
In conferring the CCNZ Auckland branch Young Contractor of the Year Award this year, the judges say they were very impressed with Hugh’s extraordinary focus, communication skills and his remarkable ability to quickly learn new skills and help others.
“Hugh exhibits an uncanny ability to lead teams, undertake complex tasks and achieve objectives,” say the judges.
“I endeavour to lead from the front and get involved in all levels of a project, working alongside the team, whether on-site or in the office.”