A bright future in South African construction
Back in 1984, a foursome with the ability and forward thinking to take on Africa’s civil road and construction industry formed the Cape Town-based company, Haw & Inglis. That was 26 years ago and the company is still going strong. In fact, Haw & Inglis continues to spearhead industry development and raise the bar on all fronts, particularly project execution, cost, delivery and team experience, coupled with more than your typical employee support and skills training structure.
As Francis Chemaly, Haw & Inglis Commercial Director tells TABJ, “the company believes that you have to let the sun shine on everybody,” and with a wealth of highly experienced, skilled and loyal bright sparks amongst its ranks, this is one construction company that shines a little brighter than most.
A steady growth record
Chemaly explains that Haw & Inglis, with its caring company culture, has historically specialised in the construction of major roads. Today, the company has around 580 permanent staff and a total workforce of around 1,200, yet it still draws on tentative milestones superseded some 20 years ago. The overall industry was in the throes of decline during the 1980s-1990s as a result of the previous government’s lack of capital infrastructural expenditure, but Haw & Inglis continued to thrive.
“We were trying to set strategic objectives in 1989-1990. We were hoping to do R90 million a year, and this year we did R1.3 billion in turnover so we’re doing in excess of R100 million a month,” he says.
“Our first big contract that we got from the South African National Road Agency was in 1989 and it was with R12 million. It was the singlelargest job we had ever done and we thought, are we really going to be able to do this? That was an 18 month project.”
Like many other construction companies, Haw & Inglis has enjoyed somewhat of a contract flush in the three years leading up to the recent World Cup, including some rather large infrastructural projects in Cape Town and in the Southern Cape.
“We were working three major arterial roads or freeways. The Hospital Bend was around about R220 million and the arterial free was about R550 million—that gives you a sense of the size of those projects,” Chemaly explains.
“The work we did in Knysna was the widening of a road next to a lagoon with a number of sensitive environmental issues. That went well, the environmentalists were happy and we rehabilitated some old quarry areas that really needed fixing. This spin-off from the project was a significant environmental improvement.”
Chemaly says that the construction industry is well-legislated environmentally and firm pre-project requirements for method statements covering concerns such as environmental impact mitigation are in place. Coupling this with Haw & Inglis’ history of project excellence and highly experienced workforce has allowed the company to soar.
“It is run very much on a first-world principle,” he continues.
“There’s a high level of consciousness to ensure the environment is looked after, both in our own company’s culture and in the construction fraternity from a road building perspective.”
Similarly, developments in health and safety standards, which Chemaly says have been shaped around legislation in the U.K. “We’ve had to ramp up our health and safety focus in the last seven years,” he says.
“In terms of training people in various disciplines, we’ve got in-house training linked to those safety standards.”
One example of this is the Haw & Inglis card system—a different colour-coded card is awarded to an individual depending on how knowledgeable they are in terms of health and safety, then employees are placed onsite depending on their abilities and the level of complexity of a project. Not only does this demonstrate the physical application of those first-world standards, it sheds a little light on the employee-centric focus upheld by the company throughout its endeavours today.
Investing in Haw & Inglis people
The company’s historical corporate social investment activities hark back to the 1980s when the founding shareholders began working to take disadvantaged children and move them into better schools. It was a tumultuous time to attempt such integration, and Chemaly notes the reasonably significant cultural differences between such peoples of South African and Western upbringings.
“Now the dynamics have changed and 20 years later it is getting more metropolitan—more mixed up in schools. We still focus on programmes for disadvantaged kids,” he says.
“Our industry requires a high level of maths and science, and good communication skills which is largely dominated by English. We focus on supporting programmes, such as Go for Gold where we take scholars at grades 10, 11 and 12 give them additional classes in maths and science and English—as well as leadership and communications skills—we basically bus them to three campuses in the Western cape area.”
These children receive extra schooling, meals and safe travel home, amongst a range of benefits, and Haw & Inglis also funds another similar programme. When Chemaly said that the company believes in letting “the sun shine on everybody” inside and outside of its ranks, he certainly hit the nail on the head.
“We don’t limit the shareholding of the company to just senior guys—it’s a broad-based shareholding. We put an empowerment trust in place some years ago which gave 13 per cent, now 15 per cent of the shareholding into the hands of all our employees,” he says.
“This mechanism allowed the recipients to participate in the dividend streams coming out of that immediately. It was an initiative from the company but had to meet the empowerment requirements of the. We thought it was a much better process to give them the shares and let the employees enjoy the returns immediately.”
As Chemaly says, from a conventional business viewpoint it might sound rather risky to give up 15 per cent of your company, but the benefits Haw & Inglis has seen since doing so really speak for themselves.
“In terms of the loyalty, impact on production, and the stability of our workforce, it has paid for itself,” he says.
“We have a very low turnover of staff. The people that generally join us, if they fit into our culture, logic and the way we think, tend to stay here for life.”
It looks like this approach is set to continue to serve the company well as we look at the shape of great things to come.
People, projects and promise
Haw & Inglis is somewhat of a low-profile affair, often working on the links between cities (major and country cities) where roads have to be fixed up, upgraded or new roads built. As a result, Chemaly says, the company’s culture centres on its need to be mobile.
“The nature of road building is that you can’t move the road, you have to move to the road. The mix of people in your organisation have to be comfortable and happy that they move around —you have to build a career path around it and grow the guys through, watch as they have families and work out how you manage that through a process so that you don’t end up losing your real stars because of the circumstances,” he says.
“The fact that our staff are shareholders has put us in unique position. It gives the workforce more of a sense of transparency and ownership for the company. This mechanism has removed that traditional manager and staff logic of ‘us and them’. Instead of pulling on opposite ends of the rope, we’re pulling on the same end.”
Like many another construction company, Haw & Inglis has experienced a tough year following the drop off in work post World Cup infrastructural demand.
“We were on this fast train to the World Cup, really needing to deliver world-class products to a deadline which suddenly stopped. We’ve gone from massive turnover, high-speed projects into a hiatus, delay —almost a hangover of the World Cup which has stressed the construction industry in the last six months,” Chemaly says.
“There was suddenly a void that wasn’t filled. Now I think the market is turning and we’re well-positioned to pick up work and keep competing. We’re very happy within the context of the South African market that we are well-placed to secure more work.”
Haw & Inglis has retained an enviable flexibility for both project and company growth, which stems in no small part from its efforts to value, support and career-lead staff. Whether you are a historically disadvantaged child with big dreams, a current employee with a voice and commitment to the company, or an organisation contracting the wealth of experience on offer for your project, at Haw & Inglis the sun shines very brightly on everybody, on every job, every time.