Oct
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Starting Out: Brian Melloy

Leighton Properties 1 Oct 2012

The early days were very exciting. We were all young – the world was our oyster, we had no fears, we went like a rocket when we could find clients who would take a punt on us, we had great confidence in ourselves – we felt we could do anything!

In 1972 the Leighton Group was effectively a road building and civil company. We saw the opportunity to be involved in development, where we could control the property - its sale and profit. However this represented a very different risk profile to what the company had been exposed to in contract building. Leighton Properties was initially established as a marketing entity of the Group to try to maximise project profitability. The team was seconded from Leighton Contractors. There was no official Managing Director until Leighton Properties became a working subsidiary of the Leighton Group in the late 1970's and I was then appointed to that role.

One of our earliest projects was Ridgewood Heights, a 580 ha site in Queensland. Over a ten-year period we were responsible for the master planning, subdivision and sale of the lots, which totalled 1,300 home sites. This was really a forerunner to Properties' turnkey solutions.

Survival in the early days
There were difficulties building the business; we were hamstrung with two very significant conditions:

1.  We had to use Leighton Contractors for building, and
2.  We had to have a 60% pre-commitment before we could commence a project.

In property, you have to have a gut feel that something is going to work, but within that low risk framework, it was often difficult to get a project up. We were always battling for our existence – we would go from feast to famine! In those days, 'sustainability' simply meant survival – bottom line results.

Having said that, we did always look for ways where we could balance capital outlay and running costs. For example, we were one of the first developers to look at minimising heat transfer through walls and glazing to lower running costs, and we employed grey water recycling for gardens. As a company grounded in our engineering roots, we were always interested in innovation.

There was a major downturn in 1975 and we survived because of our Group Managing Director Stewart Wallis and our CFO Bert Hardy. They had tremendous tenacity that went right through the Group.

Our culture and values
Leighton has always had a very supportive culture. The Group consistently had the best people and equipment they could afford on every project. Our core values were developed out of our experiences.

  • You had to believe in what you were doing.
  • You could take chances but had to live by the results.
  • The benefits achieved by the company were shared throughout the company.
  • Leighton Properties added a fourth one – our objective being to always satisfy our clients. We were honest and if there was a problem, we would always fix it.

What's changed?
Leighton Properties has changed a lot since those days – the company is far more professional now. I joined the Leighton Holdings Board in 1983, which really gave a kudos and legitimacy to Leighton Properties as a working subsidiary in its own right. When I left the company because of health reasons in 1987 we were really starting to stand on our own two feet - we were hiring employees who had deep property backgrounds, technological advancements were allowing us to better evaluate projects and we were exposed to statistical information that enabled the team to make more informed value judgment. This was an enormous step forward and the company has continued to develop this level of expertise.

How would I sum up my experience at Leighton Properties?
It gave me the opportunity for a third career!

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