Broad Horizons

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-By John Boley

Woodhead’s origins go back to Adelaide and 1927, but the company today is very different and much larger. Now encompassing offices throughout Australia, Woodhead is also a serious presence in Asia and reaches as far as Europe. Its list of projects is impressive and includes a variety of major transport successes including Singapore Changi airport’s Terminal 3, work at Hong Kong’s award-winning Sydney airport, the interior of New Delhi airport in India (completed for the Commonwealth Games) and Leichhardt bus depot in New South Wales.

Commercial and industrial projects are also numerous – a recent contract is a 61,000 square metre interior fitout for DBS Bank in Singapore, and other examples stretch from the Australian High Commission in New Delhi to Diamond Island in Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City to Foxtel’s operations centre in Moonee Ponds.

The list goes on. But David King-Jones, principal at Woodhead, reminds us that “you’re only as good as your last project.” He rejects the notion that Woodhead’s stature makes it an automatic shortlist choice for major projects and instead insists hard work, competence and teamwork across his organisation is what counts, as well as listening and communicating with clients to understand fully their requirements. And winning new contracts is always exhilarating. “It’s a good feeling when you win (business). It’s brilliant – that’s what you’re here for.”

Woodhead also gets involved in smaller projects – “it doesn’t have to be massive.” There’s housing, education and also “a strong and proud record of indigenous projects over the last 40 years, such as the Central Land Council in Alice Springs which has won quite a few awards. It was a hallmark building for Alice, the first green star registered building in the centre of Australia.”

Woodhead’s reach entails some fascinating disciplines including mastering the intricacies of different cultures. A train station in Italy, for example, and a train station in China (they’ve done both – in Campania and Xining) share the basic concept but the requirements of the consumer differ by 180 degrees.

Hospitals are another great example, says David. “Our first project in China was a hospital” (Woodhead no longer has an office there because of the limitations imposed there on foreign companies that are only allowed to do the basic concept development). “We designed a western medical delivery system and they then unwound that when they did the details on the documentation. The clean/dirty separation that is absolutely mandatory in the surgical and clinical areas of hospital design here was not such a major issue there. But for cultural reasons the morgue had to be a long way out of sight of the building whereas normally it’s an encompassed part of the building here.”

This in-depth comprehension of the needs of the user is vital. “It’s fabulous work, to be able to get in there and learn those things and show that you are flexible enough to take on those challenges, and to actually interpret them and get it right. It’s a great challenge and it’s a privilege to be able to do that sort of work.”

Much of Woodhead’s work at home is currently public-sector based with health, education, defence and infrastructure projects, though some falls into the public sector, primarily resource projects. While the tourism/leisure sector has been slow in Australia lately, David reflects on some past projects in the sector: “we were involved in major projects such as the Sheraton Mirage at Port Douglas and Yulara out at Ayers Rock, which were signature tourist projects for Australia. But we haven’t seen anything like that for a long, long time.” There was massive investment in the eighties and nineties, says David, but those projects are being recycled and refurbished so there has not been a lot of tourism projects in the last 20 years. Australia is “still pretty interesting – a bit fragile in some areas.”

David acknowledges that Asia is a major opportunity. “We have an Asia focus. We can’t ignore the dynamics or numbers of Asia, it’s on our doorstep – we share climate, environmental issues, nothing’s too much of a surprise to us because it’s accessible and anyway Australia is such a multi-cultural country. There are existing shared values, excitement and opportunity.”

Without ignoring or neglecting the vital domestic market, he says, “we would like to grow, more out of Australia around the Asia region and the Middle East – I guess the jury’s out at the moment but hopefully it will settle down.” One thing is sure: when it settles down, Woodhead will be in there, making it look good.

Making Sense of Management

Management is the art, or science, of getting things done through people. Sounds fairly straightforward – except for the fact that people are not robots waiting to do our bidding. People have their own minds, motivations, and goals. So how do managers keep operations – and the people behind them – running as planned?

November 21, 2018, 3:45 AM AEDT