Freo Group (Freo) recently took delivery of a Grove GMK6400 to its Brisbane Branch, the first of this model to be delivered by Manitowoc in Queensland, and delivery of its sixth Grove GMK5150L.
In a wide-ranging interview, Tim Brouff, Freo and WGC Cranes, chief operating officer East Coast, provides some context to the purchases. Following a career which saw him focused on transport and logistics in and around the mining and resources sectors in Western Australia, Brouff joined Freo seven years ago.
“In 2013, I was working on a FIFO basis in Kalgoorlie when a role came up with Freo. They’d just won a contract with a major resources company and I was appointed as the Project Manager for the inland element of the contract. I worked alongside the client’s iron ore team for two years and we made a lot of changes and improvements to what we were doing,” said Brouff.
In October 2015, Brouff was promoted to the role of general manager, North West, which saw him managing the North West region of Western Australia.
“I was happy with the promotion as it saw me networking with other crane companies and major mining and resource companies. I gathered a wide range of experience relatively quickly. Chevron’s Wheatstone LNG Project was under construction at the time, and we had a high concentration of cranes working on that facility which also incorporated major supply chain and logistics in support of ongoing operations of the cranes. I was responsible for these services across several locations including Karratha, Port Hedland, and Newman. It was an exciting and challenging time with lots of construction, maintenance and shutdown works being undertaken in these locations and market sectors” he said.
Brouff remained in that role until 2018, when then Freo chief executive officer, Tony Canci asked if he would move to Queensland to undertake similar responsibilities but with focus on growth for the business. My wife, Rosie and I, being native Queenslander’s, we were more than happy to do so.
“On moving to Queensland, I immediately started work on a contract with a major Tier One company in the mining and construction sector. The work was similar in nature, culture and outlook to that in the North West and the people were great to work alongside,” said Brouff.
“In business, my focus and objective is to ensure Freo adds value wherever we can. In the process of doing this we are analysing our business all the time to identify areas of efficiency, technology application or improvement. We obviously examine our processes and procedures, but we also look at what our clients are trying to achieve and work with them to ensure we are aligned on objectives and outcomes and they are getting the best value they can from the products and services we are providing. These products are our values, culture, people and of course our modern fleet of assets.”
“At the end of the day, Freo understands that a business comes down to its people. People are our best asset, they come up with the best ideas and, in my opinion, it is the crews on the ground and our teams in the office that drive our business. I will always sit back and listen to what our people have to say.
“Marmon Crane Services is our parent company, and Marmon have an ‘Innovation Road Map’ which is designed to ensure that as an overall Crane Services business operating in Australia, Canada and the USA, we are able to add value to our client’s businesses through a relationship that is transparent and honest , places a high degree of importance on being a business partner and appropriately utilises the latest technology and assets. This initiative has been a really exciting journey for both the Freo and WGC businesses,” he said.
Marmon Crane Services acquired WGC Cranes, headquartered in Wollongong New South Wales, from the Sergi family in 2018. The Sergi family remains integrally involved in the business and are highly regarded by both clients and other crane companies. They had successfully developed the business into a well-known and respected brand throughout the industry says Brouff.
“At the end of 2019, there was a change of executive management at Freo and Stephen Rogers replaced Tony Canci as chief executive officer. In parallel to the new CEO appointment, it was decided to revise the national organisational structure of the business and I was promoted to take on the role and responsibilities of chief operating officer for Freo and WGC on the East Coast.”
“This promotion meant a move to Wollongong where I am now living and working closely with the WGC team. They are a very positive and motivated group of people and I enjoy working with them in such an environment to better understand the WGC business and what the brand stands for,” he said.
The Freo and WGC East Coast operations are considerable with dedicated and experienced staff, says Brouff.
“In Central Queensland, our regional manager, Jim Bell, has plenty of experience throughout the crane industry gained over many years. We have branches in Mount Isa and Moranbah which provide the full suite of crane services including servicing and workshops. In Nebo, we have a fantastic branch under the management of Wes Maurer and his team. The administration manager, Sonia Bennett is a respected and key member of this team who often takes on the role of trouble shooter on the administration side of the business which has been really helpful,” said Brouff. “Again, this branch has full facilities including offices and a workshop.”
“We also have the newly established branch in Brisbane which now has the new GMK6400 in its fleet. The Brisbane team is led by Colin Rush. Colin has over 30 years of knowledge and experience which is invaluable. He is ably supported by Shane McLaughlin heading up business development. The branch features full service capability including offices and workshop facilities.”
“As we move South into New South Wales and the Hunter Valley and Newcastle region, we are in Carlo Francis country, he’s the regional manager. Carlos is based out of the Muswellbrook branch but is also responsible for our operations in Orange and Newcastle. Once again, these branches feature full service capability. Our teams are local, community minded and really entrenched in these regional areas and they know their business which is fantastic,” he said.
South of Muswellbrook, we move into WGC country. We have a branch at Smeaton Grange, South West of Sydney, and a significant facility in Wollongong. WGC Projects works out of Victoria, providing a solid footprint there, says Brouff.
“The WGC business has been built on working safely, quality of service, family values and has inevitably resulted in great client relationships through each of these locations. Marc Sergi is the general manager of WGC and his knowledge and passion for the business is hugely valued. He is a key member of Freo / WGC’s senior management team, along with the others I have previously mentioned, and they all provide fantastic energy and drive for the business on the East Coast. I am leaning on Marc and relying on his knowledge of the business and his relationships with the various WGC clients and teams.
“Looking at the standout cranes in the fleet, we have a GMK 6300 300t all-terrain in central Queensland and of course in Brisbane we purchased the brand-new Grove GMK 6400 earlier in the year.
It is an exciting purchase and the crane went straight to work on the Cross-River Rail project. It was effectively purchased for this project and other infrastructure works in and around Brisbane. We are watching closely how the renewable sector develops in Queensland, especially the wind farm sector. We anticipate we will probably need to move into a larger crane for this area at some stage,” said Brouff.
“In Moranbah, the GMK 300t all-terrain and other large capacity cranes are complemented with custom- built trailers to move them around as efficiently as we can. We also have a Grove 300t machine working in the Hunter Valley area and this can be moves to Orange when needed. That is one of Carlo’s flagship cranes and this flexibility confirms our ability to add value wherever we can,” he said.
WGC has a Liebherr LTM 1500, a 500t capacity crane which has been working on wind farms in Victoria says Brouff.
“We did have a 750t crawler working on infrastructure / bridge construction projects, but that was recently transferred to Western Australia for a project. Being a large group with a strong balance sheet, we can move assets around the country to suit various projects. This is a key value driver for our clients who need to consider the risks of schedule flexibility and business continuity in their operations. We have 250t crawlers in the East Coast Heavy Lift Division. WGC Projects provide excellent service with their crawler fleet which includes a number of Sennebogen hydraulic crawlers,” he said.
We are committed to growing the WGC business, and with the amount of infrastructure planned for the Sydney area, there are going to be some good opportunities, says Brouff.
“It is complex. As a business you must move with the market and adapt to it, making sure you have the right equipment available for the right application. For us, it’s about putting in place strategic plans and actions so that the business can adapt and move to changing market requirements eg general construction and infrastructure capital works. WGC works with a lot of major companies in quarrying and mining throughout the southern highlands, so we are working across a good mix of general construction, infrastructure and resources projects,” said Brouff.
Brouff goes on to explain how he manages the relationships with crane suppliers including Manitowoc, and how different models work in the business.
“Given the mix and the nature of our crane fleet, we obviously have great relationships with several the OEM’s. Most brands feature in our fleet in one way or another.
“We have found the Manitowoc Grove all terrains to be reliable and productive machines and they have been particularly useful for our Queensland operations. In our experience, Groves can travel on the Eastern States roads a little easier than other brands. The Grove GMK 5150L, 150t capacity all terrain, can be driven with the boom over the front, on correct permits. We think they are one of the better machines for the East coast and they probably have an edge on the competitors in this area.”
“We’ve got Grove 300t capacity all terrain with a 80m boom operating in North Queensland. This boom makes a big difference on mine sites where our customers need this length of boom to get the boom tip to their draglines,” he said.
The Manitowoc service and support is transparent and robust, says Brouff.
“When we bought the new machines, we had a few teething problems, which happens, as a company we understand that. But the Manitowoc team including, John Stewart, Neil Hollingshead and Garry Barker have been very supportive. I cannot complain and can only praise the approach the guys take to their business. When we have had issues, Manitowoc have got on top of them straight away and are always very proactive. I’ve had calls from them about issues I wasn’t even aware of and they walk me through what is happening,” said Brouff.
Recently, Freo experienced some delays in registering the newly delivered GMK 6400 in Queensland. This was not because of anything Manitowoc or Freo had overlooked however it resulted in significant licencing and permitting delays. Some of this was related to the impact of Covid-19 but there were also changes made by the Queensland Regulator (TMR) that took time to understand and work through.
“We were fortunate that Brandon Hitch and his team at The Crane Industry Council of Australia (CICA) worked closely with the Grove team to get the crane registered. It was stressful for a while, but they managed to provide facilitation and assistance through their established contacts at the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR).
“Both CICA and Grove provided background work on the swept path of the GMK6400’s turning circumferences, including the required dolly, that was critical to the process of getting the NHVR and TMR technical requirements addressed and the documentation approved. Noting the regulations, we had to make sure it was going to be commercially viable to operate the crane in Queensland. Manitowoc/Grove made a major contribution in helping us to bring this evaluation to a successful conclusion,” he said.
Brouff sees the Freo/WGC East coast business growing and developing in a number of ways but recognises that integral to the company’s ability to realise these plans he needs to retain and attract the right people.
“Our strategic plan is to grow in the areas I have highlighted, but to make this happen, we need to be one of the most sort after employers in the industry.
Freo and WGC work closely with the unions and we have a good relationship with them that is based on Freo/WGC values of honesty, integrity and transparency. I want us to be viewed as a “employer of choice” and it is our intention that both brands continue to be regarded as the leading crane supply companies in the industry,” said Brouff.