VICTORIA
In Conversation With Ross Pelligra | Development Ready
Posted by Development Ready on Oct 23, 2019

Established in 1960, Pelligra Group is a third-generation construction company with a large profile of activity across Australia. Recently the Pelligra Group made headlines when they purchased two of Ford Australia's former plants in Victoria supported with a $500 million initial redevelopment commitment.

Current Chairman, Ross Pelligra, was initiated into the family business early in his life, with his father regularly bringing him to worksites and business meetings. When Ross’ formal career began at 17, he was already well versed in property and construction, but continued to seek broader experiences and apprenticeships to enhance his capabilities. Working his way up the ladder, Ross has now amassed over 19 years of professional experience, continuing the legacy first laid by his Grandfather. We sat down recently with him to discuss the Pelligra Group, his experiences and learnings through a very successful career. The following is an excerpt of Ross’ full recorded interview.

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DR:
You’re now the Chairman of Pelligra Group, your family’s business, but how did your journey into the property sector begin?

RP:
Well, as you said, it’s a family business, so from an early age I was helping out after school and on weekends. I couldn’t have escaped it, even if I had wanted to. My father was well known in the community, it was the main topic of conversation around the dinner table, and most of my father’s friends were in property too. I grew up around it and quickly grew eager to get working too. 

DR:
So you were streamlined to enter the family business?

RP:
Yes and no. I might have been born into this legacy, but it was never going to be a free ride. My father wanted me to have the experience and knowledge to lead the Pelligra business into the future, and that meant starting at the bottom and working my way up.

DR:
And what did this journey look like?

RP:
In my early days, I did a number of different apprenticeships to get certifications and experience. I got my plumbing licence, as well as my builders licence, and then entered the family business at the bottom level eager to earn my stripes. I knew that I wanted a seat at the top of our family business, so I had to learn quickly; not just about Pelligra, I had to be across the industry as a whole. It was a busy time.

DR:
Tell us about Pelligra Group in its modern day; who’s involved?

RP:
The family is still heavily involved. It’s the four brothers, our father and our grandfather, and the fourth generation has also just entered the business. We’re a very family-orientated business; even the employees that aren’t blood relatives are still considered family. 

DR:
What projects do you normally pursue?

RP:
Pelligra Group has a very broad and adaptable scope. We focus on all different sectors of development from residential to commercial, to industrial and retail. And our activities are also based around industry trends and analysis; we don’t limit ourselves, but we don’t just go after any project.

DR:
What are some of those projects that you’re involved in at the moment?

RP:
At the moment, we’ve got a number of industrial sites that we’re redeveloping into manufacturing assets. We’ve seen a need for these kinds of developments and there’s only a few players doing them well – so we saw a niche. Ultimately as well, it’s great to be able to help and expand businesses that are looking to manufacture in Australia. 

DR:
You were in the news recently for the purchase of Ford’s former plants in Broadmeadows and Geelong, what led you to that acquisition?

RP:
The location was the first aspect that drew us in, as they’re well positioned within employment zones. They are also brown-filled manufacturing sites, which helps new manufacturers get their business operating quickly. Added to this, there is considerable residual land which we’ll look at redeveloping for alternative uses.

DR:
Do you have a grand vision for those sites in the longer-term?

RP:
We’re currently doing our masterplanning for them; this involves looking at opportunities for start-up industrial manufacturers. A lot of these firms are either from the Geelong area, or have been associated with the Pelligra Group for some time, so it’s exciting to be able to help them grow to the next stage.

DR:
It sounds like many people would look up to and be grateful for yourself and Pelligra Group, but is there anyone that you look up to or seek advice from?

RP:
My father and grandfather have always been significant mentors in my life. Money can’t buy the level of experience and insight that they have afforded me. Our accounting and financial team also play a big part in our success. I think that businesses need to operate fiscally if they want to be sustainable.

DR:
20 years from now, what sort of legacy do you want Pelligra Group to leave behind?

RP:
In part, I hope that we’ll still be doing what we’ve been doing over the past 60 years; helping businesses of all sizes continue to grow. At the moment, we’re focused on assisting manufacturers, as well as broader industrial and commercial firms. There’s considerable room for growth in these sectors and we think it’s good for Australia as well.

DR:
And what about more personally for the up-and-coming fourth generation of the Pelligra family?

RP:
One of the biggest challenges that you have in a family business, is simply getting along. A lot of family businesses fall out because they don’t work as a team, they don’t communicate well and they don’t respect each other. Our family doesn’t operate like that and I would like the new generation to see the strength that comes from family businesses. I would like us to be an example for other family businesses too. I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to achieve together.
 
DR:
Having significant experience in this area, what do you think are the fundamentals of deal making?

RP:
Listening and understanding the needs of the other party. It seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but you have to be aligned to the same vision from the start – too many headaches will pop-up down the road if you didn’t take the time to hear and understand the needs of the client. The second point, is that your budget requirements are realistic. I’ve said it before, but being financially responsible is incredibly important to the sustainability of any business. 

DR:
What do you think Ross Pelligra knows now that he wishes he knew 20 years ago?

RP:
I wish I was more active buying land. Prices for blocks in the CBD and on the fringe have climbed higher than we could have known, but I don’t think the ride is over yet. The property market has its ups and downs but on a global scale Australia still has a lot more room for growth. So I could be saying the same thing in another 20 years’ time.  

DR:
Any last words of wisdom for aspiring property developers out there?

RP:
Learn, stay hungry, but most importantly, look out for each other. To keep the industry sustainable, we need multiple successful people, not just one successful person. When you help others, they in turn can help more people and this is a sign of a prosperous community. Stepping on people or businesses to get ahead is just going to result in the early end of your career



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