C&L, Cranes & Lifting, Features

Harnessing a runaway business

Premier Cranes & Rigging provides clients with unparalleled service through safe, consistent and all-inclusive lifting solutions.

With rapid growth, Premier was a runaway success story. Behind the scenes the business systems struggled to keep up with the growth and as a result the business owners turned to their trusted team of employees for answers.

The Premier Cranes and Rigging story – is like many in the industry, and then with a twist. It involved a couple of mates who saw an opportunity to start their own crane business.  Because they were passionate and professional about what they did, the business succeeded.

Over time they realised that the business was driving them. They were serving the business and not the other-way around. Their solution was to identify and introduce more effective business management processes. And then, to empower their operations team.

Steve Warton and Matt Clark, both country boys from Western Victoria, are great mates.  They played football together and relocated to Melbourne together.

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Their careers took different directions.

Matt drove cranes and Steve project-managed telecommunications infrastructure.

Just before the Global Financial Crisis, Matt decided to work for himself.  He’d arranged his own finance, purchased a crane, and found work!

At a loose end and through redundancy, Warton decided to ask his mate if he would teach him the ropes.  Matt agreed and Steve jumped on the tools and got his tickets.

That was the beginning of the Premier Cranes and Rigging story.

The Clark and Warton partnership grew based on friendship, trust, respect and recognition.  They each brought unique capabilities and skill sets to the business. Together they were a strong force to reckon with.

“We started with a 30t KATO, with me dogging and rigging and Matty in the crane. When Kevin Rudd’s BER school construction program came up after the GFC, we were a team!  Managing and completing the rigging work by constructing the structural steel with our boys” said Warton.

The business picked up speed.

“We had work in Melbourne, and in Ararat on prison projects for John Holland and Multiplex. Doing a lot of other projects, and with successful delivery to John Holland, our reputation solidified,” Said Warton.

This led to larger contracts and to more prison work, and then to even larger operations as the business momentum grew.

“There were some interesting times with builders going under around us. Times where our clients were not able to pay us. Times when the prison work had government funds exhausted. Times when news footage reported work would stop. They said that contractors could be left with insurmountable debt.

“There has certainly been some adversity and the path forward hasn’t always been smooth. We’ve been able to build a resilient business.  We have a team featuring a lot of people who’ve been with us for a long time,” said Warton.

Over the next 12 years, the business grew. It reached a size where Clark and Warton recognised the need for structure. And scalability was critical.

“We lost control of our business in the sense that we were all working ridiculous hours. It was like a ‘duck underwater’. On the surface, we were presenting well to clients. Beneath the surface we were paddling as fast as we could to cope,” said Warton.

“We realised the business management side of the company had started to let us down. We set out to transform Premier Cranes into the business it should be.  With strong ‘Pillars of Support’, and without forgetting where we’ve come from,” he said.

Warton and Clark came to this realisation two years ago.  They were busy picking up crane hire contracts on large infrastructure projects.

“We could see we needed to get our ‘one percenter’s right.  The focal point remained on always saying “yes” then delivering no matter what it took. Our people dug deep and fought along with us, but it wasn’t sustainable,” said Warton.

“Matty and I both had young families.  We concluded we couldn’t continue working the hours the business demanded. as well as spend time with our loved ones. We had an obligation to our business; in the same way we do to our families and we have a lot of mouths to feed.

“Our people helped build Premier. It would’ve been reckless for us to have continued doing what we’d always done.  And hoping for a different outcome.” he said.

Warton embarked on a quest to transform Premier. His focus was from a leadership and business management point of view.

“There are a couple of theories which encouraged us to work on our business rather than work in our business. We’ve taken Premier through a process called systemisation.  This allows us to organise our people, jobs and tasks into teams and document the way we do it at Premier. This helps create organisation right across our operation. Tasks are completed to Premier’s standard every time.

“We have departmentalised areas of the business and decentralised the management. It is no longer Matty and myself as the business owners pulling strings. The majority of our responsibilities and accountabilities are now delegated to our people. We are empowering our people with leadership skills to drive.

“Every-day, Premier Cranes is a stronger business. Our long-term employees are now in positions where they lead others on how we do things at Premier Cranes,” said Warton.

Premier Cranes has a team in the field of 50 plus, and 20 in the office, so it’s a sizable business. The company’s fleet mostly features Liebherr, but not solely, says Warton.

“We have an arsenal of Frannas, including a new AT40, and we run five MAC25 plus the AT20 units. The balance of the fleet includes a 250t, 220t, 200t, 100t, and 80t Liebherr. Also, there are a couple of 40t Demags, and Tadano 100t units.”

“Our finance partners are supporting us again. They’re enabling Premier to have a fully-kitted Liebherr LR1350/1 on the way and another Terex Franna AT40. And our entire team are excited to welcome our new 350T crawler,” he said.

The main advantage of the LR1350/1 crawler crane is its ability to complement on the infrastructure projects, with huge lifting capacity and ability to move and lift heavy loads around the site easily. In addition, the tracks of the crane provide support and increased stability and no outriggers are needed.

Warton acknowledges changing the management style of the business is a major undertaking.  He said that he can see the benefits of the transformation taking place.

“It’s clear in our people’s job satisfaction and in the clarity in their roles. This is incredibly rewarding. Our team has been open to the changes. They have responded well, and they are open to accepting more responsibility. We are bringing a critical and innovative culture to everything we do. This operates under the ‘#TeamLifting’ banner.

“The ‘#TeamLifting’ notion encourages everyone to work together. We rise together by lifting others. We motivate individuals to look at what they’re doing and ask, ‘Is that #TeamLifting?’ If it isn’t in alignment, they’re inspired to work together to revise so it fits with our “#TeamLifting’ approach. Everyone wins,” he said.

“Anyone can come forward with ideas on how ‘#TeamLifting’ can be applied to every aspect of the business. We encourage them to visualise the result when the ‘#TeamLifting’ standard is applied. I am confident this standard resonates throughout the business.

“Our team knows we’re in this together; it’s not just about the business owners. We’re not talking about the bottom line. We’re talking about ‘#TeamLifting’ standards. This inspires our approach to everything we do.

It’s a standard that’s also lifting our team to new levels of expertise,” said Warton.

Premier has never presented to the industry as a key player says Warton.

“We’re making this statement on behalf of our team, because we want them to realise we have arrived as a key player. These changes are also for our clients; and we want our worthy rivals to know we have arrived as well.

“This isn’t meant in an egotistical way. Rather, we’re in a position where we can stand tall and push forward with intent. It isn’t about winning.  We don’t want our rivals to go away! It’s a source of self-improvement through a focus that reveals new skills and boosts resilience” he said.

Premier Cranes has a strong footprint in the Victorian infrastructure sector.  Lifting for Tier One contractors and builders.

“Our work includes building infrastructure projects that will stand the test of time. The removal of rail crossings across Victoria, commercial construction, and upgrades,” said Warton.

Premier puts great emphasis on safety, responding promptly to the requirements of COVID19, and providing hand-made reusable masks to all employees with the #TeamLifting branding to accompany.

Employees are voiced on the requirements of social distancing and staying home if unwell. Safety is featured in our OHS policies and procedures and the approach is acted on each day onsite.

“We understand that it’s no small task to introduce new business systems — and expect them to work overnight. Our team sees our commitment to improvement. They see our focus on regular, ongoing engagement at all levels of our business.

“With this, we achieve a clear, systemised way of working. We have what we call our ‘Business Development Cycle’. This is key and pushes innovation, allowing incremental improvement over time,” said Warton.

“We all accept that mistakes will occur, so we all take a ‘no blame’ approach to mistakes. At Premier we continually fine-tune our systems, ensuring we achieve results within standard. Of course, sometimes this is easier said than done!  Our quest for improvement is deep-rooted in how we work,” he said.

One issue identified involved the arrival of new employees at Premier Cranes. The right structure for onboarding was not in place, and new employees were left to find their own way, says Warton.

“We’ve reimagined the business holistically with an organisational map.  This illustrates all the functions required to be Premier Cranes. We’ve produced clear-cut “job agreements”. They define the responsibilities held by each function.

“We ensure new and prospective team members clearly understand how Premier operates. They understand where they fit into the business,” he said.

During the recruitment process, applicants are screened for personality traits and skills.  This ensures that they’re ‘a fit’ for the position they applied for.

“Along with our high-calibre front line team, we have fostered a number of natural leaders who’ve been with us for a long time. They’ve moved into mentoring roles throughout the business”. They’re also working as operators, dogmen, riggers, and in management.

“They’re key people and are remunerated as such. We hold them in high regard. When there are major business decisions to be made, we consult with them. Their wisdom is vital.  We do this as a part of our internal management team structure.

“All in ‘#TeamLifting’ employees understand our strategic intent; ‘this is how we do it at Premier Cranes’. As I’ve said, it’s more about empowerment than ownership,” said Warton.

“Our field crew members on the front line have been adapted into manageable groups of five to seven with a leader. They might not physically work with each other every day, but they communicate every day.

‘#TeamLifting’ encourages everyone to work together towards the same goals says Warton.

“As the saying goes ‘we are only as strong as our weakest link’, or “small hinges swing big doors” he said.

Matt Clark leads the team with a client centred focus. Premier cultivates strong relationships with clients.

“We’ve been working with the same clients small and large for a long time, some have been with us since we started the business. For me, client relationships are crucial to any business. Without them there is no business.”

“We’ve worked hard to instil a ‘can do’ attitude across the whole organisation.  Our clients are paramount. They come first. This ensures everything we do adheres to the “#TeamLifting’ approach.

“Our clients feel this, and the relationship grows.  It’s our crews who win the work, especially the repeat business. There are a large number of crane companies in Melbourne. It’s a very competitive market where the client has plenty of options. To build client loyalty, we must put them first.

“Premier’s clients are paying for end to end lifting solutions.  On-time, every-time, and exactly as promised. Yes, another job delivered by our professional team. Every job completed as planned, safely, in full, on time and on budget,” said Clark

The Premier team is our best capability statement.

Clark and Warton have complementary skills. This has grown their ‘grassroots business’ into a scalable, systemised version of Premier.

As set up by Warton, Clark encourages a ‘client-centred culture’ within each department.

“The team in all departments understands (and that’s including internal support departments such as resource and planning teams!) the part they play in delivering a Premier experience to all our clients and industry partners,” said Clark.

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