Cranecorp Australia achieved one of its most impressive coups earlier this year when it signed a multi-million dollar buy-in deal with specialist private equity investor Viburnum Funds.
Rick Musarra has never been afraid of taking a calculated risk whether he is racing cars on a dirt track, lifting tonnes of delicate equipment by crane, or negotiating a million-dollar boardroom deal.
The calm, measured approach has seen Musarra grow his family business, from a one-man, single crane operation into one of the biggest mobile crane fleets in Western Australia.
As a boy, Musarra shared a love of cranes with his father John, a crane operator with Brambles Manford. Musarra’s first job was working with his father to operate the vessel lift crane at Fremantle Sailing Club.
John encouraged his son to complete an apprenticeship in mechanics, which was an obvious choice for the boy who had been racing junior speedway sedans from the age of 10.
But nothing detracted from Musarra’s fascination with cranes and, after 15 years in mining, he bought his first crane in 1994 and cemented a niche in the Kalgoorlie mining industry. Four years later, with the support of his wife Sara, he started Goldfields Crane Hire, growing the business and winning bigger contracts. By 2002, the company had established the safety management systems required to tender on major projects.
“When I started, I had no real expectation of where I would end up. I get a bit overwhelmed when I think about how far we have come, and I am very excited about the future.
“Along the way there have been plenty of opportunities to sell the business, but I am passionate about the company and I didn’t want to give it up. It is a legacy for my family,” he said.
Fast forward 20 years and Cranecorp Australia achieved one of its most impressive coups earlier this year when it signed a multi-million dollar buy-in deal with specialist private equity investor Viburnum Funds. WA-based Viburnum provides equity capital to resource services companies across the Asia Pacific, helping profitable small and medium-sized companies make acquisitions and pursue organic growth opportunities.
“It was a 12-month process and a tough process. We had been working on the deal for months when COVID hit. None of us knew what impact that would have on the mining industry, so settlement was put off.
“It was disappointing but understandable. Within a month, Viburnum called to say the deal was back on. The mining industry didn’t shut down and they liked the way we handled the situation. For them to continue showed great confidence in us,” said Musarra.
The arrangement paved the way for Musarra to move out of daily operations to focus on his role as technical and strategic adviser and non-executive director on the new Board. It also heralded the retirement of Craig O’Donnell who had been a partner in the business for 20 years.
“The craneage industry has changed in a big way over the years and Cranecorp has successfully moved with it. It is a high-risk industry – not just in a safety sense but also in the size of equipment you are working with, the value of the loads and the heights you are lifting. There is a lot more training and regulation today, but it has made the job easier and safer so that’s a positive thing.
“Finding the right people is a challenge. It was tough even before COVID hit and the borders closed. It is even harder to find people with the right attitude and that is hugely important,” said Musarra.
“I’m surprised because crane operators and riggers are well paid but for some reason it doesn’t attract people into the industry. For that reason, we are looking at developing more apprenticeships and we have active Verification of Competency (VOC) training programs in place.
“My business development theory has always been very simple – right crane, right area, right person in it – today we have the same commitment to the basic things, providing good service and building relationships with clients for the long term,” he said.
The Musarra family moved from Kalgoorlie in 2013 and set up new company headquarters at Henderson. This opened the doors to major operators on the Kwinana industrial strip as well as iron ore and oil and gas producers in the Mid-West and Pilbara.
This month Cranecorp moved to new premises just down the road comprising sophisticated corporate offices and a 1,500sqm depot housing the company’s South West – Metro fleet. The location ensures quick and easy deployment of equipment to support industrial clients in Kwinana, the Australian Marine Park, Garden Island and for cargo loading and offloading at Fremantle Port.
It is also the central control station for more than 170 Cranecorp staff and 140 fleet assets deployed right across WA. Cranecorp’s 70-strong crane fleet is concentrated in the mining hubs of the Pilbara, Mid West and Goldfields, with depots in Kalgoorlie, Leonora, Leinster, Geraldton, Tom Price and Wickham, with further expansion planned in the near future.
Heading the customer delivery team is general manager – operations, Adrian Third, a young veteran of more than 20 years in mine operations, maintenance and development around Australia and Canada.
“We have the best teams in the industry working on all sites, but when a client phones in the middle of the night, it is usually diverted to my number,” laughed Third.
Specialising in complex shutdown and maintenance lifts, the company provides wet hire, dry hire and specialist labour hire services for clients in mining, oil and gas, construction, manufacturing, utilities and renewables. Its client list reads like a who’s who of the resources industry and includes BHP, Rio Tinto, AngloGold Ashanti, Glencore and Kalgoorlie Consolidated Gold Mines.
Cranecorp provides mobile cranes of all sizes (pick and carry, all terrain and rough terrain) with a single lift capacity from 15t to 400t. The heart of the fleet is a mix of Terex, Tadano, Liebherr, Demag and Grove brand names. Six new cranes have been added in the past six months with the latest arrivals including a Tadano ATF 200G-5 all terrain 5-axle crane, and a Demag AC 160-5, one of the most compact cranes in its class.
“We generally stick with the same suppliers because we have a good relationship and the vehicles are very reliable,” said Third.
“The Tadano is a good size crane – a strong 220 – it’s flexible and a very popular sized crane in both the Pilbara and Goldfields. We chose the Demag not only for its analytics and intelligence. Telematics are available within any 3G/4G range so it can be accessed remotely. This gives us more information on lifts and ensures you have the right size crane for the job. That data can mean big savings for the client.
“We also like its flexibility. The luffing weights, counterweights, and winches are interchangeable between the 5-axle Demag fleet, which is very cost effective because you don’t have to purchase one for all your cranes, which has been a standard in the industry – it’s a smart initiative,” he said.
“In the future we are looking at adding bigger cranes, based on the profile of work we are lifting. Our maximum now is 400t but we will look to go up to the 500-650t range.
“The TIDD PC28 is a new pick and carry crane we are considering because of its advanced safety features.
“We work closely with our customers and many are developing new mines, particularly while gold and iron ore prices are strong, so lifts are getting bigger and more complex which requires us to have more technology,” said Third.
Cranecorp has set its sights on being the smart crane company and is backing its promise with a commitment to sophisticated systems and new technology.
A specialist lift study designer has recently been employed providing computerised engineering drawings to ensure the right sized crane and right rigging is assigned to every job.
“We now have the ability to provide our clients with 3D drawings on their complex lifts providing greater clarity and understanding, especially in confined spaces,” said Third.
“The support from Viburnum means we aren’t restricted by access to capital which allows us to grow. The challenge in doing that is ensuring we maintain the same level of old school service that has helped us get this far – a lot of big companies don’t provide that,” he said.
Recent work highlights include a three-crane rail lift to install more than 100m of track, in the Pilbara, to a 200m long underground ladder lift. Installing the ladder at a 10-degree angle was a complex two-week effort with each section having to be lowered, locked into place and welded before the next section could be lowered.
“Having the right equipment with the right configuration can have a big impact on both value and safety. Over the years we have developed a huge amount of data to fine tune operations and help clients save money. We can show them why a crane they have previously used may not be optimal for the job. Frequently this means a cost saving,” said Third.
“Integrity and transparent pricing are a critical part of our service. Clients should know the cost before the job is done and that means we have to get the planning right.
“We are about partnering for the long term so we work on lift plans with the client and go through the journey together – it’s just what a smart crane company does,” he said.