Curating a Khula Nathi Culture
Murray & Dickson Construction is continuing to successfully navigate a tough industry environment thanks to its ‘grow with us’ way of working
Writer: Tom Wadlow | Project Manager: Eddie Clinton
Major project shortages, non-payment from state entities, hijacking of construction sites – these are all challenges that continue to face South Africa’s building industry.
Indeed, the year 2019 was another challenging one, with many companies collapsing and thousands of skilled workers left without employment, a trend which is showing little sign of reversing in the immediate future unless a concerted, coordinated response from government and enterprise takes place.
However, among the troubles there are some uplifting success stories.
Homegrown Murray & Dickson Construction (M&D) continues to operate successfully and on a sustainable footing, the company increasing its share of a declining national market.
“This bears testament to the skills and capabilities of the group,” comments CEO Rukesh Raghubir, catching up on the last time we spoke with him towards the end of 2018.
“Certainly, being an entrepreneurial owner-led business that can respond swiftly to provide solutions is a significant competitive edge.
“Moreover, our focus on only partnering with companies and people with whom we have synergies to achieve our mission of ‘growing a great company with great people and great partnerships’ is also working.”
This latter point is critical, one which is entwined with M&D’s motto of Khula Nathi – grow with us.
It is applied to both employees and the firm’s network of subcontractors and suppliers, a unifying bond which Raghubir says has been crucial in allowing the organisation (and its partners) to not only ride out a tough industry storm, but diversify and develop its portfolio.
“Importantly, we demand loyalty and a firm commitment to our own core values of ‘being safe’, ‘doing it right’, ‘finding the best way’ and ‘doing what we say’ from all our partners,” he adds. “In turn, they have reaped the benefits of this unwavering commitment to quality by growing with us.”
Continuing to deliver
Such growth is about to accelerate into Mozambique.
Through a new wholly owned subsidiary, scheduled to be operational in Q2 2020, M&D will be seeking to participate in the construction of vital infrastructure on the country’s major liquified natural gas (LNG) projects.
The new division will be managed by experienced local energy infrastructure specialists, and has already submitted bids on two landmark developments, including one of the largest greenfield LNG facilities to have ever been given the green light.
Raghubir explains the magnitude of the development, one that involves building infrastructure to extract gas from a field offshore northern Mozambique, pumping it onshore and liquefying it, ready for further export by LNG tankers.
The second project will produce, liquefy and market natural gas and comprises the construction of onshore facilities, including two LNG trains with a total capacity of 15.2 million tonnes per year.
In order to deliver on these developments, should M&D tender successfully, the company is actively looking to bring in other individuals who have left the country.
“We are in a position where we can handpick the best of the best, considering our solid track-record and history,” Raghubir adds. “There is also an abundance of construction industry skills available.
“However, the challenge is finding the right people for our company with its specific culture and values. Experience is just the starting point.
There are a host of other factors that need to be considered to ensure that we have selected the most suitable candidate to fulfil a specific role in our company.”
This project pipeline in Mozambique represents an extension of M&D’s work on other significant energy-related developments closer to home.
These include a R210 million contract to build a catch pot tank at Total South Africa’s Alrodedepot, and the successful completion of civil works for three 6,500-cubic-metre jet fuel storage tanks at OR Tambo International Airport.
M&D has further worked on the upgrade of the fire-fighting system at both the airport and Transnet’s Kroonstad and Alrode fuel depots.
“On these projects, we also worked alongside prominent consulting engineering firms such as Kantey & Templer Consulting Engineers, SiVEST and VGI Consulting,” the CEO adds.
“Oil and energy projects will be a significant focus for M&D Construction Group moving forward. This division also intends to participate in the construction of wind and solar farms, as well as positioning itself as the construction partner of choice in EPC contracts.
“Meanwhile, we also intend to deploy our extensive skills and experience in structural steel, mechanical, piping and plate work construction, as well as electrical and instrumentation in these markets.”
The multidisciplinary advantage
Beyond the energy sphere, M&D has made a concerted effort to restructure and refocus its business, making the most out of its multidisciplinary expertise.
This enables the firm to bid on a wide variety of projects, such capabilities highlighted by Raghubir who goes on to detail a number of developments covering water, mining and what the company classifies as special projects carried out by its own dedicated division.
He starts with Rand Water, a longstanding client for whom M&D is building a four-kilometre steel pipeline in Vereeniging, as well as four hot tops which are said to be the largest in the South African market, work which is due for completion in July 2020.
“Other milestone projects for this specific client body include the R250 million 06 Pipeline and associated infrastructure,” adds Raghubir.
“These are complemented by, among others, our work for Magalies Water, namely the 11-kilometre-long and 508-millimetre-diameter steel Tuschenkost mine pipeline and pump station, as well as the 43 kilometre-long, one-metre-diameter steel pipeline from the MafenyaReservoir to Evergreen.”
In the Dr Ruth Segomotsi Mompati District Municipality, M&D is helping to deliver a new wastewater treatment works, while further civil engineering construction highlights include the construction of the technically complex Aeroton Tower on behalf of Johannesburg Water, and a large reservoir and associated services for Heineken South Africa.
“Our continued work for the demanding mining and metals sector also remains an immense source of pride for me,” the CEO adds, before outlining several projects.
“One is a R300 million contract to construct various civil structures, access roads, parking, kerbing, concrete pavements and drainage for Black Mountain Mining’s Gamsbergconcentrator project in Aggeneys.
“Moreover, M&D successfully completed the civil works for Coal of Africa’s Mooiplaatsoperation in Ermelo. The project entailed earthworks and concrete works, including the construction of, among others, a water treatment plant, silt traps, drains and tunnels.”
Other recent mining projects include a 50 ML reservoir and associated infrastructure for Maseve Investments in the North West Province of South Africa, and the installation of an 18.4-kilometre steel raw water pipeline at Northam Platinum’s Booysendal UG2 North Mine.
The third area Raghubir highlights is special projects, a division which he hopes to be involved in the de-construction market for years to come.
The special projects unit has also applied for a license to operate technology that turns sludge into resources, M&D already active in a project that entails using sophisticated techniques to turn wastewater into resources, as well as the development of proprietary turbines, pumps and other energy efficiency technologies.
“We are in a position where we can handpick the best of the best, considering our solid track-record and history"
As the CEO has already affirmed, such a diverse spread of ongoing projects will only help to futureproof the business against a wider industry backdrop which continues to present challenges.
The largest, without doubt, is the rapidly developing outbreak of COVID-19.
“All M&D Construction Group’s head, regional and site offices have implemented robust measures to safeguard employees and play their role in preventing the spread of the virus,” says Raghubir.
“However, should a protracted shutdown of the sector become necessary – as has been the case in some of the other local sectors of the economy and elsewhere in the world – this would have a potentially devastating impact on many industry participants.
“This is especially true for smaller companies in the construction value chain considering the very nature of the industry and cash flow. Public private coordination, including relief from the financial sector, will be necessary to save companies and their employees from financial ruin.”
A functioning construction sector is critical for when the virus outbreak passes, the sector responsible for around eight percent of formal employment and 17 percent of informal employment in South Africa.
And Raghubir is optimistic that the country and region will come through the challenging times ahead, not just those caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his concluding remarks, the CEO outlines his positive outlook for both the sector and M&D, shedding light on several plans which lie in the pipeline for 2020 and beyond.
“President Cyril Ramaphosa has laid strong foundations for growth and we should start feeling the outcome of these policies over the short to medium terms,” he explains.
“Certainly, the restructured and refocused M&D Construction Group is well positioned to take advantage of the upturn when it arrives.
“By this time, we intend to have secured R1.5 billion of work, or R375 million a quarter, and built up adequate cash reserves.
This is in addition to resolving outstanding claims, as well as developing a marketing strategy and plan to enhance our relationships with all potential and existing clients.
“Our cross-border initiative should also be in full swing and our staff re- or upskilled to drive the new focus of the group. Importantly, we also intend to become a 51 percent black women-owned and 100 percent Black owned company.”