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The virtuoso of the outback

The virtuoso of the outback

With a total maximum load capacity of mobile cranes of more than 3000t, Max Cranes is not only in the Cranes and Lifting Top 50 crane owning companies in Australia and New Zealand, it is in the top five in South Australia. And it is hard to imagine that the SA crane giant began with three cranes on a small dusty block on the Augusta Highway in Port Augusta, with an ATCO hut for an office, writes Jacqueline Ong.

Max Cranes was founded in 2002 by two businessmen – one a steel erector and the other a concrete/builder – when they identified a gap in the market for crane, transport and access equipment hire services across regional SA. The duo picked out Port Augusta, where their head office remains, as the ideal location to base their new business due to its geographical position and the mining, oil and gas, and heavy industrial projects forecasted at the time.

Today, Max Cranes, headed up by managing director Mark Kuhn and director Graham Elliot, boasts a 100-strong team that operates across the state and country from the company’s state-of-the-art office building, large maintenance workshop, wash-down bays, crane storage sheds, fully equipped staff crib rooms, and associated facilities.

The early years

Kuhn told Cranes and Lifting the main challenge in the early years was turning their idea into reality, which no doubt required funding, leading edge assets, and above all else, “good people.”

“The early challenges were in fact a result of the organisation getting traction quickly, cementing client relationships that pulled rapidly on these resources so the challenge was ultimately the rapid growth curve we were working to,” he said.

“The first milestone in an overarching sense was ‘scale’. With scale came agility, the ability to invest heavily in safety and having a skill set that was exceptionally diverse allowing us to undertake a wide variety of projects for our clients. The demand for cranes and the foresight of the start-up owners were right – the need was there and the business grew with the need at the time. With a lot of hard work and entrepreneurship, support from the local community across multiple levels and good business judgement, the company grew year on year.”

Maintaining its track record

Working in regional SA is no mean feat – Australia’s outback is known for its harsh terrain, which exacerbates wear and tear, and its extreme weather. Just thinking about temperatures soaring to 50°C one minute and changing the next to conditions that could very well include torrential rains and severe winds, is enough to put many businesses off. Not Max Cranes.

“Being highly reactive to requirements 24/7 is a large part of why we are recognised as experts for working in these remote locations. We are operationally prepared, highly experienced and have the systems in place to ensure our staff and clients’ teams are safe at all times,” Kuhn said.

“We have state-of-the-art management systems including fleet and personnel tracking and monitoring for safety; 24/7 in-house on call technical and maintenance assistance; and very experienced personnel.”

Maintaining fleet quality is another factor that has driven Max Cranes’ success in SA and the team has its eye fixed on the future, continuing to invest in its fleet, technology, staff, infrastructure, and systems to ensure its longevity.

“We undertake a large amount of market research and due-diligence in order to understand the markets we operate in, future-proofing the business for prospective opportunities and also ensuring we have a differentiator, which is providing not only a diverse fleet for crane hire, but access equipment and heavy haulage transport to provide a holistic project solution where possible. This has been a consistent driver behind fleet transformation and growth,” Kuhn said.

But perhaps it is Max Cranes’ unfaltering commitment to its customers that is most impressive, with Kuhn telling Cranes and Lifting that the company’s mantra is to be a partner to its clients and it will never take a shortcut to increase profit margins at the expense of safety and quality – often not an easy promise to make when you consider just how commercially competitive the market is. But Max Cranes is determined to honour its commitment, noting that management has authorised the team to say ‘no’ if they believe that quality and safety will be compromised.

 The virtuoso of the outback

The future 

Like its neighbours across Australia, SA has had to evolve over the last two years as the economic climate continues to change. The state is at the forefront in a number of areas, including the circular economy and renewable energy, presenting opportunities for Max Cranes and others in the sector. In fact, the company pointed to the wind farm maintenance sector as one that is “especially transformative at the moment”, which led the team to acquire 400t and 500t cranes that are at the heart of the business today.

Max Cranes has been able to move with the times and take up opportunities as they

come because from the very onset, the directors have instilled a learning environment.

“We still haven’t stopped learning. The greatest lesson learnt in the early years was that for every opportunity, we must see our solution or proposition from the standpoint of the client. The company listens, we offer ideas and we solve problems while being focussed on the efficiencies and economies. This embedded approach is what still forms our company culture today,” Kuhn said.

Over the last two years, Max Cranes has also repositioned and refocussed its business and service offerings and said that as a business, its competitors are “low in our strategic thinking”.

“We pride ourselves on a number of differentiating points but ultimately it comes down to our company values,” Kuhn said.

“What sets us apart is our people – the business takes care of its people and in return we have specialised, dedicated staff that want the best for the business and its growth. The culture is that, the better the business is doing, the more it can give back to our community through earnings and additional non-specific employment, traineeships, apprenticeships, upskilling and associated mentoring. The fleet is of no use without the people behind it.”

Max Cranes also prides itself on “in-sourcing”, largely driven by its geographic location.

“Being predominantly regional, our fleet is based further from manufacturer support than sometimes practical, so we’ve invested heavily in ‘in-house’ maintenance and repair, employing full-time specialists that operate from our purpose-built workshop and remote location service vehicles,” Kuhn explained.

Looking ahead, the challenges Max Cranes faces is no different to its peers – getting the mix right for customers who expect optimisation, efficiencies and safety. But the company is unfazed, pointing to its efforts in researching and developing systems as well as safety processes, and marrying the right technologies.

“We embrace the challenge these critical components bring and the reward for getting them right is the bond it creates with our clients,” Kuhn said.

The company is also excited about the emerging renewables projects in SA, revitalised oil and gas sector, and infrastructure developments in metro SA – areas that the company will no doubt be a part of as they grow and develop.

Max Cranes also has news to share in the coming months, with Kuhn revealing: “We are traveling to Europe in March of this year to research our next acquisition, which will add a whole new dimension to the business, and although we don’t wish to give too much away just now, we are sure it will make for an exciting ‘next article’ so we will keep it up our sleeve till then…”

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