Celebrating 5 Years

Civil Project Partners has just racked up a major milestone, celebrating its fifth birthday!

As the organisation goes from strength to strength, we caught up with Chris Dale and Ryan O’Neill to find out more about the last five years and what is next for the organisation.

When you started CPP 5 years ago, did you think you would be here five years later?

Ryan – Yes. I don’t start things to fail, for me there really was no option but to succeed, it wasn’t going to be easy, but the reality was that we had to make Civil Project Partners a success and being here in 5 years later was always part of the plan.

Chris – Like Ryan, I didn’t set out to fail. I had no choice, especially with a young family and a mortgage. So there is no choice but to succeed because I can’t imaging getting a ‘proper job’ again.

What made you decide to start CPP?

Chris –Working for major contractors was fantastic, gave me great opportunities and is something I will always appreciate, but there was that nagging feeling that there was a gap in the market in Queensland and that I could fill the gap. So, there was an opportunity to give it a go, and the rest is history.

Ryan – I had always wanted to back myself and see what happened. I’d had a good career working on projects around the world, but an opportunity was there, and I just had to give it a go.

What have you learnt most about yourself in the last five years?

Chris – I’m sure Ryan would agree with this, but for me, it is was how bad I was at time management. You often think that you are good at time management because whatever happens you get the job done, even if that means early starts and late nights at your desk, but overlaying being a business owner on top of that and you could easily spend 24 hours a day, seven days a week and 365 days a year doing your job. So, I have had to really work on that to find a balance and to be a business owner, a manager and an employee all at once, I might not always get it rights, but it’s getting better.

Ryan – I’ve learnt most about the importance of culture. It is one of those words that is thrown around LinkedIn, often with a picture of someone getting a welcome pack at a new job, but I think we all know it really isn’t what it is about. My big learning is that it isn’t about the things; it is about the mood and the way in which your team works. Learning to embrace the ebbs and flows of a business, pulling together in the really busy times but balancing that with flexibility and in the quieter times being able to take time with your family and so on.

I think it’s one of the things that we have got right here. Yes, we work hard, we put in the hours when required, but we balance that whenever we can and we’ve got a team who balance each other and work for each other, but also keep each other on the right track.

If you could go back 5 years and tell yourself one thing about running a business, what would it be?

Ryan – It is hard work, but we knew it would be. I think I’d use the time machine to tell myself that things will work out because if you do a good job the phone will ring and more projects will follow and your business will grow. And as you get more runs on the board and build up a track record, you will continue to grow and before you know it 5 years will have passed.

Chris – I’d echo Ryan’s point and would tell myself that you are only as good as your last job. I’d also say that you’ll make mistakes, and the difference is that not you carry the can, there is no one above you to take the heat then things go wrong. I think of it a bit like being the wicketkeeper when the nick comes on the big quick, and you drop the ball, there is nowhere to hide and no one to blame but yourself. But like in a cricket team, nobody is there to see you fail, everyone we work with has wanted us to succeed, so there is always support and understanding, just don’t drop the ball too often.

What has been your favourite project from the last 5 years?

Chris – For me, it is Mount Lindsey Highway. We priced it twice previously as part of a competitive tender process, but when the project was awarded, it wasn’t to our original partner. But then the phone rang, and we started a relationship with the eventual winner who wanted to work with us because of our experience on the project and thorough understanding of what was required. It was great to see our experience and knowledge trusted by an organisation who took the work we had done and created a successful design.

Ryan – I like projects where you see your work go from the office to construction and eventual completion, and my favourite example of that is Rookwood Weir. It was a challenging project, requiring lots of stakeholder engagement. To see it go from a bill of quantities in this office to works being undertaken on site is fantastic.

What has surprised you most over the last 5 years?

Ryan – That people want to work for us and admire the type of work we are involved in. We are a small business, yet we have been fortunate enough to attract highly qualified and experienced professionals to join the team and take a punt on Chris and me. For people to invest their careers in working with us is something I am really proud of, we all have a choice to work where we do so for people to entrust their career to us and not at a more established or bigger business is amazing.

As a small business, we may not be perceived as having a lot to offer, but what we do offer is more personal and flexible and that counts for a lot.

Chris – Just how lucky we are. I know that you can say that you make your own luck, but I think we were in the right place at the right time and offered a service that was lacking in the Queensland market and have been pretty lucky ever since. People wanted to work with us, were willing to give our business a go and to trust us to support their tenders and projects. For a couple of guys starting out in the business that was pretty lucky.

What’s the best thing about running a business?

Chris – Flexibility and one day I’ll have more if it, but there is something about being able to set your own agenda and to be able to work around the natural ebbs and flows in projects. I’d love to spend more time on the bike and more time with my family, but the balance is getting there, and I know that the time will come when flexibility is the best thing. So, I’ll have to go with a sense of completion and the pride you get in seeing a project that you have brought into the business go from business case to completion.

Ryan – We are very lucky in construction and infrastructure that work we do leaves a long-lasting legacy. There is something very satisfying about being able to drive along a highway you had a hand in the process of constructing or seeing a rail line moving goods that exists because of your involvement. And then there is the personal legacy of building a business, employing people and being able to say that ‘we did this’.

And the worst thing about running a business?

Ryan – It is hard sometimes to find a balance. We have all been on holiday and taken laptops to do work; we’ve replied to emails from the far side of the world and taken calls in the middle of the night.

Chris – I’m going with flexibility again. Work is never far from your mind, it is very different to a 9-5 role where to can switch off and not worry until the next day, so it can be tough on everyone around you, and you have to really make an effort not to be always on. Sick days don’t exist, and public holidays are for the public, but thankfully we both have very understanding partners and families, and the balance is improving all the time. No more laptops on holidays is something we’ve both achieved.

Ryan – There’s always the thought too that people rely on you. Employing people is very rewarding, but there is always the responsibility that you have to make sure that your team is looked after, has a steady pipeline of work and know they will get paid.

Why do you work so well together?

Chris – It’s clear that opposites attract, and it is great to work with Ryan as he loves all the stuff I hate. He is very organised, loves the business side of running a business and does things like accounts and BAS and paperwork that really isn’t my thing.

Ryan – Yes opposites definitely attract, and we complement each other in our approach, but we are opposites. The best way to see this in action is to look at our desks – Chris’ is in a permanent state of chaos, and I can’t imagine sitting there let alone working there, but that’s us in a nutshell, we enable each other to work how we need to work and has done OK for 5 years.

What are the strengths that each of you brings – from each other’s perspective?

Ryan – Chris’ experience is invaluable; he knows the industry, the work we do and can take his experience seamlessly across any project.

Chris – He is super smart, there is no two ways about it, far smarter than I am. I didn’t get honours at Uni, but Ryan knocked it out the park.

Where do you think you and CPP will be in 5 years’ time?

Chris – We will still be here; we are not going away. I think we want to continue to grow but to do so organically, not to overstretch and put at risk the culture of the company. We are both ambitious, but we are not going to force things to happen, as we’ve seen in the last 5 years we can grow and be successful without growth being all we focus on.

Ryan – I agree, we will grow and are taking steps to gain pre-qualification in other states to create new opportunities, but we will take the time to grow in the right way, to do it how we want and -as you’d expect from us – with a complete plan that takes into account all the risks.

What advice do you have for other business owners?

Ryan – Give it a go. The worst thing I can imagine is to be wondering ‘what if’ so I always think of the Michael Jordan quote ‘I missed 100% of the shots I didn’t take’. If you think running a business is right for you, give it a go, but from my experience it would be much harder to do so on your own, so find someone you can work with.

Chris – I agree, you need to trust people and work with expert partners. Doing everything yourself is not sustainable, so find people you can trust, outsource the things you are not good at and focus on your strengths.

What got you here?

Ryan – Self-motivation, I didn’t want to fail, but was OK with it if it had happened, so I was motivated to take the leap of faith and jump off the cliff into running a business.

Chris – I always wanted to work for myself, and I was lucky to be supported by my wife, who said to just ‘go for it’, and that was a huge support.

Ryan – I’d also add in systems, but you must wrap the systems around you and how you want to work and not vice versa. Good systems have really supported us over the last 5 years, but we drive them, and they work for us rather than is often the case the system driving you and your processes which just doesn’t work.

Chris – I also think, coming back to my flexibility and balance thoughts, that you have to learn to delegate. You can’t hog the work you have to share it around and get people involved, even though, when you are busy, your natural approach can be to just get it done yourself.

What was the first project CPP undertook – who for, what type, where?

Chris – The Cape River Bridge in Townsville for GHD. This project shows exactly what I meant earlier about people wanting to succeed, and we cannot be more thankful to Clint Spencer, who went above and beyond to support us.

When we put in our original proposal, we thought we had done a decent job, but we hadn’t it was terrible. It wasn’t to do with price; it was to do with how we came across to the client.

But Clint did something that most people would not do, he picked up the phone and talked us through the proposal, where it was lacking, what more he expected to see and gave us the chance to have another go. He could have easily just filed our proposal in the bin and moved on, but he didn’t he took the time to give us some advice based on experience and wanting people to succeed, and we can’t thank him enough for that approach and it’s an approach we look to pay forward whenever we can.

In the end, we got the job, our first job, the hardest job of all to get, and 5 years later we are still here all thanks to one person going the extra mile to support a couple of guys giving it a red hot go.

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