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The Connell Contractors team at the 2019 Westpac Waikato Business Awards – company founders Margo and Dave Connell are front centre

Supreme win for Waikato civil infrastructure firm

‘No pain, no gain,’ as the saying goes, and nowhere is this more likely to resonate than in the construction industry. Dave and Margo Connell, founders of Waikato civil infrastructure firm Connell Contractors, can certainly attest to that.

Fortunately, the Connells are currently enjoying the gain. In November the company won the Supreme Business of the Year Award at the 2019 Westpac Waikato Business Awards, alongside the Business Growth and Strategy category award.

The gain has certainly been earned. Founded in 1985, Connell Contractors has experienced growth in a highly competitive industry, they’ve worked through the global financial crisis of 2007/08 (and come out the other side), and in the last five years they’ve stuck to a business plan that has seen them diversify. But it hasn’t all been smooth sailing.

“Four years ago, we realised our business model wasn’t going to steer us in the direction we needed it to,” acknowledges Dave Connell. “So we did some pretty deep soul searching and strategic thinking to create a sustainable platform that would position us where we wanted to be in the industry.

“We’ve always believed that we’ve needed to invest and build an organisation that was capable of delivering projects on time and of great quality. That has stood us in good stead for the last 30 years, but we needed to up the ante to pave the way for the next 30 years, and to do that, we needed another income stream.”

Power play in the energy sector

That income stream was identified as the power sector. Enter Connell CEO and fellow director Lester Foxall, who led the charge, utilising his networks throughout the sector to establish Connell as a player in the energy sector. The decision has paid off.

“It’s been four years of hard graft, but we’ve cemented our reputation as a quality provider of infrastructure for our power sector clients, which include the likes of Transpower and Vector,” Lester Foxall says. “Directors determined very early on that, as a company, Connell wouldn’t compete on tenders based on price alone. We stayed true to that throughout our diversification plan and we’ve quickly got to a place where clients now approach us directly to work.”

Director Wayne Collinson agrees. As operations manager, he says the success of their projects, on which the company’s reputation sits, is a result of Connell’s strategic approach to business growth and culture where people are at the heart of its operations. “We are passionate about our people and take great pride empowering them to develop their career,” Wayne Collinson says. “That’s why we don’t tender on price alone.

“We want to work on projects that enable us to showcase our attributes. Those aren’t just the attributes of Connell as a company, but the attributes of our staff. The projects that suit our business model the best are those that empower our staff and help them develop their careers.”

An exciting industry at an exciting time

Connell currently delivers to both central and local government clients, including Hamilton City Council, Port of Tauranga, Electrix, Nova Energy, Waikato District Council and Auckland Council.

Operating out of Waikato, Auckland and New Plymouth, Connell’s project portfolio includes the Hamilton Western Interceptor duplication project, Rotokauri bulk watermain, Kinleith and Kawerau substation projects in and around the Waikato region; Stratford substation, Junction Road substation, Carrington Street substation and Linton substation around Taranaki; and Mt Roskill substation, Hobsonville Point substation, and Ngawha substation in Auckland and further north.

“We’re in an exciting industry at an exciting time,” says Dave Connell. “The breadth and depth of projects happening across a multitude of sectors throughout New Zealand showcases the country’s growth, but it doesn’t come without its challenges. For us, the main challenge is finding the right resources. We have a staff of 50, but ideally we’d like to double that.”

Right people, right result

The company’s philosophy, ‘right people, right result’, has been instrumental to its success. “We don’t offer jobs, we offer careers,” says Dave Connell. “If you offer a career, you get loyalty back – and our staff are loyal.”

Such is the importance placed on staff that Connell operates by a rule of thirds, with a third of profits reinvested back into the business, a third returned to staff by way of bonus payments and other staff incentives, and a third returned to shareholders.

“It may sound a little cliché, but our people really make our business,” says Dave Connell. “They’re the ones who share our pain, but we ensure they share the gains too. Yes, it’s our business, but it’s their career and we’re very conscious of that. We have high standards, we demand professional attitudes, we place extreme importance on safety, and we deliver quality results.

“I’m very proud of the company Margo and I have built over the past three decades, but I’m prouder still of our staff. They approach every project with the same level of professionalism and are committed to delivering projects that exceed our clients’ expectations. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s appreciated by our clients and it’s rewarding for us. At the end of the day, it’s worth all the pain.”

Connell Contractors was established in 1985 by Dave and Margo Connell. The award-winning civil infrastructure company is ISO certified, a member of Civil Contractors New Zealand, and is ACC workplace safety accredited.

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