C&L, Features, Victoria

Johnson & Young Cranes: Company culture key to lifting standards

Brent Young and Reece Johnson drive a dynamic, customer-focused crane business renowned for its versatility and project management abilities on Victoria’s major infrastructure projects. Cranes and Lifting reports.

Brent Young and Reece Johnson drive a dynamic, customer-focused crane business renowned for its versatility and project management abilities on Victoria’s major infrastructure projects. Cranes and Lifting reports.

For over 18 years, Brent Young had various roles with one of Melbourne’s largest crane hire businesses, before launching his own brand in 2010.

“I worked as a rigger and in various crane crew roles and after five years, I moved into a management position. For the remainder of my time I worked on the operational side of the business,” he said.

“By the time of the GFC, I was ready to do my own thing but waited for the Melbourne infrastructure boom. In 2010, I launched Young Plant Hire which had dry hire equipment including crawler cranes. In 2016, I made the transition from dry hire to a wet hire company with the addition of a 55t Liebherr all-terrain crane. Brent Young Cranes (BYC) was officially open for business.

“Due to the number of infrastructure projects coming online, I was in a position where one mobile crane led to four new plant acquisitions inside of 12 months. This included a new Superlift MAC 25t Franna, a new 13t Kato City Crane and a 130t all-terrain Grove,” said Young.

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“We were initially involved with the level crossing removal projects but the real kick-starter for our business was the Fulton Hogan M80 EJ Whitten Bridge widening project which put us on the map in terms of being a project supply company. This was the first major project that BYC ran exclusively, and it was a great achievement for both the customer and us,” said Young.

Reece Johnson first started working with cranes as a boilermaker on major infrastructure projects with John Holland.

“After working on major projects around Melbourne for about 6 years, I moved solely into the crane division where I started working with the larger cranes. I was taking on more and more responsibility and was appointed the operations manager when Brent left,” he said.

Brent and Reece had worked together for many years before forming their business partnership.

“I’ve known Reece for over 15 years and we’ve always got along professionally. I was responsible for employing Reece in senior positions on crews working with fairly large cranes on key infrastructure projects across the state and also interstate, so we’ve always had a healthy working relationship,” said Young.

“When I moved on, it was no surprise that Reece was my successor as Operations Manager. This gave him the insight and the knowledge of the management side of how a business works,” he said.

Two years ago, in October 2017, the pair decided to form a partnership as Johnson and Young Cranes with Johnson becoming a joint director of the business. Since then, it’s seen consistent growth.

“The decision to invest in Brent Young Cranes was fairly easy, I wanted to see my hard work go towards something that I was passionate about instead of building someone else’s company. Brent’s business was growing rapidly, and it made sense to join forces,” said Johnson.

“Since the restructure of the business to Johnson and Young Cranes in 2017, the business has been trading as Brent Young Cranes. From 1st October, 2019, two years to the day that the partnership began, we’ll completely rebrand and now trade as Johnson and Young Cranes,” he said.

Young explains how important it is to have good relationships with their crane suppliers.

“When Reece first invested in the business, he and I sat down to create a business plan, examining the directions we wanted to go, who we wanted to be working for, and what equipment we would need to do this. At the time we spoke to a couple of major suppliers including Liebherr and decided to go with them, mainly because of the support their team offered but also because of the strength and capacity within their cranes. We work well with all our suppliers and they supply great equipment,” he said.

“The first bulk order was for four new cranes included a new LTM 1060 3.1, two LTM 1250 5.1s and an LTM 1400. We originally had an LTM 1100 on order but changed that to the second LTM 1250 5.1. This model is a very successful option for us with its versatile configurations.”

“We are constantly adding to the mix of our fleet, adding cranes that will cater to our current workload, both the projects we are involved with currently and tendering for. We had previously been using dry hire cranes for specific jobs and we’d outsourced large capacity cranes to fill gaps in the fleet. We have always felt that having our own equipment puts us in a more secure position,” said Young.

“We entered the larger capacity crawler crane space with the acquisition of a Demag CC 2200 and we are confident this will help open doors to the heavy-lift space. Our fleet now stands at 17 cranes, which ranges from a 3t Maeda mini crawler up to right through to the 350t and 400t cranes,” he said.

“Not long ago, we were completing the smaller jobs on these big infrastructure projects and we had to step aside for the bigger lifts. We wanted to be in a position where we could be a ‘one-stop-shop’ and realised we didn’t want to be dependent on third parties to complete our lift plans. We’ve now addressed that with the purchases of the much larger capacity cranes,” said Johnson.

The crane fleet is supported by the company’s own transport fleet.

“From our perspective, the business is being built around the project works requirement and our adaptability to change quickly. These are our key strengths. We’ve got a lot of experience in that heavy-lift area and we wanted to manage this ourselves,” said Johnson.

Predominantly, the business is working on Victoria’s “Big Build” projects, the marquee projects around the state.

“We work closely with tier-one customers and we win projects as a result of our engineering capabilities and our adaptability to tier-one requirements. Our level of responsiveness and urgency to major projects is second to none. The whole business is focussed on customer service,” said Johnson.

Young was recently appointed to the CICA Victoria steering committee.

“The committee is involved in the decision-making process ensuring our industry council is focused on the important issues facing the crane sector. Current issues include training, road access for cranes, and includes mapping. It also involves the technology features in lifting equipment and new crane technology,” he said.

Young also recognises the importance of the crew at Johnson and Young Cranes and how vital attitude is to the successful outcome of projects.

“We have a crew of 65 and they are a major reason for the success of the business, they have taken us to where we are today. The culture throughout the business makes it work and it’s important for our people to feel invested in the work we are doing,” he said.

“Our culture is reflected in the way our people conduct themselves, especially when on-site. It’s based on accountability – owning your responsibilities. We are only as strong as our weakest link and as good as the people around us. There are no grey areas in our business culture; it’s very much black and white – we do things to a standard. There’s no ‘it’ll be right’, our actions are definite, and our crew understand this.

“We empower our people to make decisions on our behalf. If something isn’t right, they have the ability to make decisions there and then with our full support. They understand our customers are integral to our business and meeting their demands and expectations is key. It’s one thing to stand up and say what you are going to do, it’s another to bring this attitude into every action you perform,” he said.

“Reece and I have been doing this for a long time now and that’s not coming from a position of complacency. When we spoke about the business plan, we wrote down what we thought our strengths were and what could we do better.

Together, Johnson and Young have introduced a lot of the elements that make the business better for their people. Empowering them and always showing respect is a big part of that culture.

“Understanding the work-life balance is one of the challenges in the industry. When you are working up 70-80 hours a week, you have to remember we have families and we want to have time to watch them grow. Reece and I have young families and that was part of the decision to form our business partnership,” said Young.

For Johnson, the sign of good company culture is how it performs under pressure.

“As we grow, we are finding it easier to recruit good people and that comes down to the workplace environment we have here – it’s a place where people want to come to work. We have set our standard, and our customers know it. In our industry, we are always facing pressure. This can be pricing pressure, availability pressure, time pressure, there are pressures from different angles. The business is dependent on how we and the crew manage them,” he said.

“We are obviously aware of the need to bring young blood into the company and the industry as a whole. We have one apprentice at the moment, and he came through the CFMEU CICA traineeship program,” said Johnson.

“The average age of our team would definitely be below the industry demographics of between 40 and 50. For us, the crane sector is a key industry that the younger generations are looking to get into it, it’s quite lucrative but it also comes with demands and challenges. We are keen to attract people with the right attitude to mould into the next generation of operators,” he said.

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