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Building a reputation on asphalting

With a close-knit team, Luke Lee of PCL Contracting has created a successful niche business. Richard Silcock talks to its managing director, Luke.

Luke (left), Denise Dunne (PCL’s H&S/Office manager) and work/life coach Norm Hewitt at the recent CCNZ/Hynds Wellington Region Awards where the company was awarded the Image Award for professionalism in all aspects of the business.

Based at Pauatahanui, north of Wellington, this comparatively small contracting firm has been in business since July 2006, employs a staff of 40 and has garnered a niche market with many repeat clients who recognise the quality of work the company provides.

“Fifty percent of our work is repeat business,” iterates Luke, managing director and co-shareholder of PCL Contracting.

Luke left school and worked for a period in the landscaping field before joining Kevin Purser Contracting.

“When Kevin retired I, together with Wayne Buchanan took over the business, and we renamed it PCL,” says Luke.

“In 2015, together with my wife Jacqui, we became the sole owners and have gone on to develop and expand it, carrying out all forms of civil contracting, including infrastructure installation and excavation work.

“Our niche market is asphalting, which is at the centre of the work we do. We have built our reputation on this, and it has led us onto expanding into these other areas.

“We take a proactive approach to the changing work environment. By maintaining sound quality principles and safe work practices we have captured a good share of the market around the Hutt, Kapiti and Wellington region and various parts of the lower North Island.”

Most of their work is for local authorities and private developers, along with sub-contracting work for some larger contractors such as Fulton Hogan, Higgins, Downers and Fletchers which engage them to provide asphalting and other civil work.

Some of the largest projects worked on have included the development of a $2.5 million sub-division in Waikanae on the Kapiti Coast, where, as the main contractor, they did the earthworks, road construction and services.

Other recent projects include the redevelopment of the sports facilities at Fraser Park in the Hutt, and landscaping work for the Dowse Gallery forecourt which involved redesigning the forecourt levels to integrate with the existing structures.

While a comparatively small project, the company recently completed a walkway around the northern shore of the Pauatahanui Inlet for the Porirua City Council. This required the construction of rock retaining walls, reconstituting the pathway surface, and laying culverts.

“In addition to obtaining resource consents, an extensive environmental plan was required due to the archaeological and historic aspects of the area,” says Luke.

Prior to constructing a seawall, excavations and piles for the walkway around the Pauatahanui Inlet had to be done at low tide.

“There were a number of construction challenges and where the work encroached on the waterway, we could only operate when the tide was out.

“The narrowness of the walkway and the weight limitations on the bridges made it impossible to bring large heavy equipment on-site, and due to the number of large road projects being undertaken nearby (Transmission Gully and Kapiti Expressway), we had to source rock from other parts of the region.”

Due to the specified camber of the walkway, PCL fabricated a specially designed screed, which was dragged behind a bobcat to form the crown within the width and depth specification.

The project was done in two stages and took three and a half months to complete. Access had to be maintained for boat-shed owners and the public, and this was managed by erecting a safety fence and putting up signage showing where to walk safely.

Prior to driving piles for the retaining walls, PCL trialled a number of alternatives, which culminated in inserting PVC sleeves inside the steel casings and drilling down to bedrock.

Luke is passionate about the company he has built up over the years, but is quick to point out that it is the people he has working with him who make the difference.

“I operate the business like a large family (he came from a family of 15 brothers and sisters). You’ve got to take an interest in your staff, give them opportunities, provide support and build a team culture – after all if you don’t care about them, they won’t care about you or your business.”  >

Working with life/work coach and mentor, Norm Hewitt (of rugby fame), PCL has adopted five pillars or foundations for working together as a team: Communication, Respect, Attitude, Support and Honesty.

“This has helped us create our own unique culture and ‘weld’ our team together as a cohesive unit,” says Luke.

Almost a quarter of the staff have been with the company for over 10 years, with two having been there since day one.

“This is a pretty good track record and shows we care about our staff and look to retain them,” he says.

“Getting to know them and the strengths they can bring to the business is vitally important.”

Luke says winning the Image Award at the recent CCNZ/Hynds Wellington Region Awards was a feather in their cap.

“We were voted the best by our peers for projecting a professional image through our public profile, staff relations, customer service, quality of work and interaction within the industry.”

Redevelopment work of the walkway around the Pauatahanui Inlet, which was widened, and resurfaced and protected by armour rock to inhibit erosion from the sea.

With regard to the civil contracting industry as a whole, Luke agrees there is concern within the industry regarding the lack of tradespeople with relevant skills.

“We need more people from a technical college background, people who can get down and dirty, roll their sleeves up and dig a trench or operate an excavator,” he says. “Sure, we need the qualified civil engineers as well, but it is these others where there is a real shortage – that is why companies have to bring in workers from overseas.”

Looking forward, Luke says his vision for the company is to retain flexibility, remain competitive and do what they do best.

“Eighty percent of our work comes from 12 to 14 of our clients whom we have built a strong working relationship with,” he says. “It’s not only about doing a good job for a fair price, but about keeping in touch, providing innovative solutions and being honest – that’s what leads to repeat business.

“I see more work coming from local authorities and more sub-contracting with the larger operators as they become more project managers with the sub-contractors providing niche specialist skills.”

“I love getting up in the morning and going to work, and I want to instil that mentality with all our staff,” he says. “It’s about enjoying the work you do, taking a pride in it, doing it well, learning from mistakes and not looking back.

“We have a motto here at PCL – ‘Quality – we own it’ or, you could say, PCL now stands for ‘people changing lives’ for the better.”

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