Richard Silcock talks with Graeme Johnson, Fulton Hogan’s chief for New Zealand, who has been with the company since 2003.
At 37 years of age, Graeme Johnson heads the New Zealand operation of privately-owned contracting company Fulton Hogan, a position he has held since the beginning of last year following a period as chief executive for regional business.
His appointment followed the retirement in late 2016 of Fulton Hogan’s Group managing director, Nick Miller, and former CE for New Zealand, Robert Jones (profiled in Contractor October 2016) in 2017. In a review of the company’s operations, the Kiwi business was split into two streams – a regional business (headed by Graeme Johnson) and a construction business headed by Domenic De-Fazio (who features in Contractor February 2018).
Graeme reports to Group managing director, Cos Bruyn, who succeeded Nick Miller in January 2017.
Graeme came up through the ranks of the organisation after joining the company at Petone where he initially did part-time work during his university holidays.
“It was then that I decided civil engineering was for me.
“I liked the technical challenges, the nature and diversity of infrastructure construction and the people I was working with. From day one, I learnt that the culture at Fulton Hogan was all about camaraderie, loyalty, engagement and working as part of a team.
“Over the ensuing years, the company has been hugely supportive of my training and development – from initially allowing me to further my tertiary study at WelTec in Petone and later at the University of Canterbury.
“Nothing has changed in that regard throughout the company, and although there is now a staff level of some 5000 in our New Zealand operation, that same ethic still stands.
“There are fantastic opportunities for those who stick their hand-up and are prepared to give it a go. We all get on and respect each-other’s input and individual skills, and it’s one of the reasons I, and many others, have remained with Fulton Hogan.”
In 2003 he was offered a full-time position in a cadet engineering role at Fulton Hogan’s Petone and later Rongotai depots, where he worked on a number of highway and road maintenance projects before moving to Christchurch to join the civil division and complete his honours degree in civil engineering.
A secondment to Holmes Consulting gave him the opportunity to further develop civil and structural design skills, and learn from senior engineers working on projects, such as the Christchurch International Airport Control Tower.
He moved back to Fulton Hogan in 2009 and was appointed structures manager for the $120-million first stage of the Christchurch Southern Motorway. During this time he and his team were also involved in immediate response work and checking of bridge structures as a result of the earthquakes in 2010/11.
In 2012, Graeme was relocated to Auckland as northern region civil manager and led the team in providing specialist capabilities and resources for a number of projects including the Te Rapa section of the Waikato Expressway, the SH16/Lincoln Road Interchange, the Te Atatu Interchange and causeway widening, the Onehunga foreshore project and various water infrastructure projects.
He was also instrumental in helping to secure work and set up the company’s Fiji civil business in Suva, providing civil and bridge construction services to the Fiji Roads Authority.
Returning to Christchurch in 2015 with responsibility for all South Island operations, he provided management oversight of some 1600 staff.
“Our operation in the South Island is pretty diverse and involves a wide range of infrastructure construction and maintenance contracts along with services and material supply chain operations including asphalt plants, quarries and biofuel manufacturing.
“For me, it was all about reconnecting with our clients and staff in the south and working with a very capable and experienced team to set a strategy that responded to the varied market conditions across our six regions in the South Island and moving from project management to general management.
“We also played our part in responding to events like the Kaikoura earthquake which was an inspiring experience to see our people come from around the country to be involved.”
On his appointment as chief executive regional business and now CE for New Zealand, Graeme says his responsibilities are a blend of strategy and a ‘front-end’ presence for operations made up of client relations, staff management, contracts, major projects, and material supply chains.
“I’m reasonably hands-on from a management perspective and enjoy getting involved in our regional businesses, projects and meeting with our clients around the country.”
Outside of core activities the company is a key partner in the Department of Conservation’s Takahe recovery programme and provides financial support for predator-free areas for its survival. Fulton Hogan is also a sponsor of Endometriosis NZ and the NZ Defence Force’s Invictus Games team who competed in Sydney last year.
“I see this as us acting responsibly as a corporate citizen, connecting with communities and providing support for worthwhile programmes” Graeme says.
In regards to Fulton Hogan’s future business here he says, while the Australian arm will be larger due to the scale of the market and magnitude of the projects, this market remains a very important and successful part of Fulton Hogan’s collective operation.
“There are, for example, a number of evolving opportunities in the transport sector, including rapid transport in Auckland, regional roads, and an ever-increasing focus on improving water and wastewater infrastructure.
“We are shaping our business to respond to these new challenges, listening and understanding the intent of government and local authorities, and are ready to help bring that infrastructure to reality.”
And it not always about new projects, he adds.
“We all appreciate new roads, but we don’t always need to build new roads to meet society’s needs.
“Improving what we’ve already got is no lesser a challenge and in some situations it could be argued that it is a far more honourable challenge – working with what you’ve got and making it more sustainable.”
Fulton Hogan interesting facts
Founded by Julius Fulton and Robert Hogan in Dunedin in 1933. Julius Fulton was an assistant surveyor, and Hogan, a mechanic, who had both been employees of the Neuchatel Asphalte Company near East Taieri in the late 1920s. After losing their jobs, they formed their own company during the Depression, with Hogan organising machinery, often bought or loaned from the Public Works Department, and Fulton overseeing the works.
The company benefited from Government roading programmes in the South Island and found large growth in roadworks after WW2 and through the building of the Comalco Aluminium Smelter and Roxburgh Hydro plant. These days, the company’s operations stretch through much of Australasia and the South Pacific.
On 30 July 2011, its chief executive Bill Perry died of a rare meningococcal disease.
Fulton Hogan’s logo appeared in all five series of the BBC Comedy Keeping Up Appearances through the character Onslow who is always seen wearing a cap with the FH logo.
With headquarters in Christchurch and Parkville Victoria, today the company is a public company not listed on any stock exchange.
The group posted its sixth consecutive year of growth in the 12 months to 30 June 2018 with net profit after tax of $180.1 million. At the end of last year, it won the 2-Degrees Best Growth Strategy Award in the Deloitte’s Top 200 awards.
As revealed in its 2017 Annual Report, The Fulton Hogan families held 57.2 of the shares, current staff 5.4 percent and others at 37.4 percent. Last year, it released a new staff shareholding scheme for Aussie employees.