Development Ready: As it was founded back in 1911, can you tell us about the origin of Hutchinson Builders?
Scott Hutchinson: My great-grandfather came to Austra-lia in 1911, but the first building that he completed was in fact in 1912. He was already operating in his home town, Manchester in England, and shortly after the fam-ily’s arrival, his sons joined his activities.
DR: When did you get involved in the family business?
SH: When I was about 10 years old, I could see and un-derstand what both my Father and his Father were do-ing. I knew early on that this was a legacy that I was going to continue.
After I finished my degree in civil engineering in 1981, I worked for three years with a structural engi-neer to get my registration. Following a stint abroad in Europe, where I toured around in a combi with some of my closest friends, I returned to Brisbane to finish my MBA. I entered Hutchinson Builders shortly after that.
DR: And into what role to did you enter?
SH: Apprentice project manager, but it was sort of a working-title. I was placed under the supervision of one of the more advanced foremans of the business, and as well as that my father involved me in nearly every fac-et of its operations.
DR: Did he pass down much wisdom?
SH: Absolutely, he was fantastic to work with and it’s a little difficult to know where to start. His main lesson though was to remain adaptable, which was quite differ-ent to the approach of my grandfather and great-grand-father. He would always look at the way something was done and wonder if it could be done better. I guess it’s the idea of welcoming change, rather than fearing it.
DR: Has this philosophy stayed with the business to the current era?
SH: Definitely. I did every elective in the MBA that I could on Human Resources, and I saw a connection between those practices and our own, in terms of adaptability. It helped me view the business in a way that moved away from pyramid management styles. In this, our employ-ees allow changes in the market to move through the business. We’re flexible, and there’s no one just try-ing to impress people above them for short term gain.
DR: Now the business has grown to around 1,750 em-ployees, what do you think it takes to grow a business to that size?
SH: Hutchinson Builders doesn’t have any profit goals, turnover goals, geographic goals, so it really has just happened naturally. Our flat management structure, however, is one unique aspect that I believe is key to our success. This is something that started with my fa-ther, but I formally introduced it.
DR: Do you think this approach works for everyone?
SH: There are pros and cons to it, like any structure. You do get some difficult times, because you are trusting people and they make mistakes. Some don’t like it because they want to move up the ladder, and our ladders are pretty small. But you do also get a lot of pas-sion, and employees that feel in control of their work and their working lives. Empowerment is a great motivator.
DR: You’re deeply passionate about music and cultural activities, was this a main driver behind The Fortitude Music Hall development?
SH: Before that project, we were just about to sell block in Newstead to developers, who wanted to construct apartments, when the bass player from Powderfinger and some other museos said that they wanted a music venue in place instead. I pulled the sale quickly and we set to work on building what is now The Triffid.
After that, I saw that Brisbane was in a bit of trouble, having no inner-city big music venue after Festival Hall got demolished in 2003. I knew that I had to do some-thing. We started looking for sites and found one that had a DA for 350 units, so I had to pay for something that the music industry itself couldn’t afford. It ended up costing us about $46 million and it was valued at around $30 million. It’s not commercial but I think it’s important for the city.
DR: Can you tell us about some of the other socially and ethically minded practices that have been brought into the business?
SH: The main initiative that comes to mind was insti-gated by our managing director Greg Quinn. Statim Yaga, which roughly translates to ‘start work’ in several traditional languages. This is a program centralised around the training, development and placement of in-digenous people into jobs, with ongoing support. We’ve placed 350 individuals so far, with a target of 550 by 2020. The response has been incredible.
DR: What do you think of the construction industry at the moment, are there any challenges?
SH: The challenge at the moment is quality. Too much was built too quickly. We worked out around five years ago that there was going to be this problem and a big thanks needs to go our Managing Director Greg Quinn. We had quality people all over it and it (quality) is now built into our culture.
DR: So, are the opportunities limited currently?
SH: Not at all. It’s counter-intuitive, but builders do better when the market is coming off. Booms don’t help us at all. We’re excited for a return to quality for the industry, and we’re seeing more clients starting to look for build-ers with bigger balance sheets and better reputations.
I think that the future is a place for builders of mer-it, where the decisions that are made come from a con-scientious place, and hold a long-term lens.
This passage is an excerpt from Scott's full recorded interview. To watch the interview with Development Ready's Rob Langton, visit click play on the video above.