Busy is a good descriptor for the kind of year BMD Group CEO Scott Power has had so far, but exciting may be a better one.
The land development and construction company has made the most of a strong market, with a diversification strategy that’s pushed BMD’s boundaries in more ways than one.
“We rarely say no to an opportunity without considering it,” says Power. “Even if it’s a bit different to something we’d normally pursue.”
Current conditions in the construction and engineering space have offered the BMD Group the chance to expand its national footprint, an opportunity Power couldn’t refuse.
“Diversification is important to us, both by geography and by sector,” he says.
“Over the last five years we’ve been working to make a transition from being a Queensland-based business operating nationally to a national contractor, and now we’re seeing that happen, particularly thanks to our southern regions of New South Wales and Victoria.”
The breadth of the BMD Group’s operations is also expanding, he adds.
“Historically, we’ve been quite roads and transport infrastructure-centric, but our exposure to sectors like water and wastewater have really strengthened our opportunities and subsequently, our workload.”
Formed in bayside Brisbane by Mick and Denise Power, Mick’s sister Beverley and her husband Bevin in 1979, the BMD Group has become Australia’s largest privately owned civil construction, consulting and urban development companies.
While its hallmarks of family values (its founders contributed their initials to the company name) and a people-first culture have endured for 44 years and counting, the BMD Group of today has far outgrown its humble beginnings.
Even for BMD’s team of engineering experts, squeezing 1,800 employees from across Australia and the Philippines into the original Melville Terrace office would be a tall order. That’s why the business has 17 offices and close to 100 project sites split between the two countries.
The other big difference from those early days is Scott. Born in 1974, Power grew up with the business and, at an early age, developed an ambition to become a civil engineer.
He commenced his career with BMD as Site Engineer after graduating from Queensland University of Technology (QUT) in 1995 with first class honors.
Over the subsequent two decades, Power has held multiple roles across every facet of the business, including as Project Manager and Regional Manager. Along the way, he undertook executive programs at Harvard Business School and completed the MIT Sloan Fellows Program in Innovation and Global Leadership.
In his first year with the family business in 1995, BMD’s turnover was US$34 million, with offices in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Townsville – a far cry from the billion-dollar turnover the BMD Group enjoys today.
Within Australia, the Group is made up of five separate companies: BMD Constructions; BMD Urban; JMac; Empower Engineers & Project Managers; and developer Urbex.
In recent times, the Group has also diversified into other areas, owning corporate travel management firm Complete Business Travel (CBT), ex-company vehicle seller Better Motor Deals and used commercial and 4×4 automotive dealer East Coast Commercials.
Power took on the top job of CEO at BMD in 2020, a challenging time around the world. Despite this, his experience and firm belief in people power were able to carry BMD through the COVID-19 pandemic relatively unscathed, while his desire for greater growth has expanded the company’s footprint far beyond the Sunshine State.
The versatile BMD has projects both completed and underway in all of Australia’s states and territories, and include military airfields, rail crossings, sports fields, waterfront corsos and infrastructure to service mines and town centers.
“When you think about the nature of our business, our strong geographic footprint, we can offer people all sorts of opportunities, whether they want to work remotely, in metro, in water, defense, roads – we’ve got it all,” Power says.
“We’ve got such a diversity of market segments we operate in, and that really allows us a great opportunity to meet the needs of many different sorts of people.”
Another of BMD’s lasting virtues is the staying power of its work. Even the company’s first steps are still evident today, as Power enjoys pointing out to his kids.
“One of the great things about our industry is the ability to be able to drive through a completed project and tell your kids that you had a role in delivering it,” he says.
“My interest in the industry came from sitting in the back of the car with Dad on weekends as he drove around the jobs. I still drive around Brisbane and point to projects that he built in that early history.”
The Kemp Place tunnel, at the northern end of Brisbane’s Story Bridge, is one such milestone.
“I think every time we ever drove it, he mentioned it to us, and now every time I drive it I say to the kids, ‘Pa delivered that project’. It’s now 50 years ago.”
Even as the BMD Group moves into a new era of development, Power has fought to maintain flexibility and that opportunistic view of the world that’s served him well thus far.
“We’re a business that’s about people, and I think supporting and believing in the capability and capacity of our people allows us the confidence to go after opportunities,” he says.
“And ultimately, growing the business means we can then provide opportunities for those people. I see that as part of my role, and certainly for the senior leadership team here at BMD it’s essential to ensure we’re continuing to provide chances for our people to grow and develop in their careers, just as they help BMD grow. Obviously, you can only do that when you’re growing.”
The benefits of growth may be readily apparent, but managing growth – and making sure it doesn’t run away from you – is another matter entirely.
“It does come with its challenges, particularly in our working environment,” Power admits. “We’ve been resource-constrained in terms of people and commodities, and that’s added all sorts of pressure around escalation and cost.”
The savior? Digitization. During the pandemic, the BMD Group adopted the DigiLead program, which uses artificial intelligence and digital dockets to provide staff with quick and easy access to single source data. Thanks to DigiLead, the right decisions could be made quicker than ever without going through a committee.
“Things like that are so important in terms of getting more from our people and improving productivity,” Power says. “DigiLead has certainly been a key program for us, and we’re seeing it adding tangible benefits to our teams.”
Every person a business retains is one less role to fill. With that in mind, Power says BMD has a laser focus on doing all it can to support its people.
“We care about retention. We’ve got to make sure we’re giving our people the best training, development and career advancement opportunities here at BMD so they don’t need to go elsewhere to develop their careers.”
Change isn’t easy, particularly when it comes to changing mindsets. As the BMD Group has evolved, it’s had to respond to the expectations of the younger generation coming into the business.
“People like myself, who’ve been in the business for 28 years, we tend to think about things a certain way, it can be hard,” Power admits.
“We’re a project-based business and we need to deliver projects wherever they may be. You can’t build a road from home, you’ve actually got to move the dirt. But we challenge ourselves to think differently about things such as workplace flexibility and ensuring that where possible, people can enjoy greater flexibility in how they go about doing their work.”
This kind of cross-generational thinking is, he says, about striking the right balance.
“We want to give our people the best tools to allow them to do the job, and that gets to the DigiLead platform again,” he says.
“We want to attract a more diverse workforce, and the fact that we can offer people global opportunities and draw on a worldwide pool of talent to boost our Australian business as well is great.
“Just look at the free trade agreement we just struck with the United Kingdom: it’s made movement of people a bit easier. As a country and as a business, it’s so important we have those mechanisms in place to support the opportunities right in front of us.”
BMD’s bottom line indicates that this tricky balance has been struck, at least in terms of building an effective team. Although the construction industry has fallen on hard times, BMD has soldiered on thanks to the strength of its people.
“Like everyone, we’ve got our challenges, but I’d like to think we do a better job than most in managing it,” Power says. “And that speaks to the sort of people we have. I believe we’ve got the best people in the industry.
“It’s easy to say, but it’s also reflected in the outcomes; we’re performing probably better than most, and to me that’s a reflection of the quality of our people.”
Just as BMD achieves its greatness via its people, the Group’s partners are also integral to its success. In late 2022, BMD struck a US$11.5 million deal with leading Australian software-as-a-service provider (and fellow Queensland success story) TechnologyOne as part of the Group’s digitization drive.
The partnership will allow the BMD Group to manage its US$1.4 billion project portfolio via the TechnologyOne platform, a move Power believes will galvanize BMD’s project management ability.
“It’s a major program and a major investment for us,” he says. “It came about because we were looking for a platform that would better suit the needs of Urbex, our urban development business, because our existing platform was very much construction focused.”
In assessing TechnologyOne’s offering, Power and his team quickly identified that its application to the wider BMD business would drive significant benefits.
“These technology platforms are so critical to a business like ours. You need the right platform and one that will meet your needs going forward, but you also have to have a great relationship with the business you’re working with.
“There has to be some alignment between the way you think and the way they operate, and I think we’ve found it with TechnologyOne.”
The Brisbane-based TechnologyOne offers its market-leading OneAsset enterprise software solution worldwide across a number of industries, but Power believes teaming with BMD will allow the software provider a fantastic opportunity to branch out.
“There’s a real opportunity for us to work together to do some fantastic things,” he says.
“Their systems can drive benefits to businesses across any number of sectors, but they haven’t traditionally had huge exposure to construction as a segment, so it’s a chance for them to showcase what their platform can do for a business like ours.”
OneAsset allows corporations to manage high-value asset portfolios and better bring in projects on time and on budget. Additionally, the deal sees BMD adopting App Builder, a simple toolset that will allow the Group to create new applications with no coding skills necessary.
“We have so many assets around the business, so OneAsset will allow us to enhance our ability to manage time and cost outcomes,” Power says.
“It doesn’t take much in terms of incremental improvement to drive a significant benefit to a A$2 billion [US$1.4 billion] portfolio, so the flexibility in these solutions, the ability to configure the apps to suit the way we run our processes and do business, are invaluable. We’ve found the right fit and we’ll be able to drive strong outcomes.”
Platforms such as OneAsset are enablers for businesses like BMD, he adds.
“The right platform allows you to add other elements to your business to enhance productivity, whether that’s mobile platforms or other ways to take technology into the field and get real-time data.”
With data one of the greatest assets a business can have, that’s a significant win.
“There’s a growing recognition of the significant value of data, so by enhancing the ways in which we can capture and use that data, we’re enhancing opportunities for businesses like ours to find better ways and solutions, and ultimately more cost-effective outcomes for our bottom line.”
The TechnologyOne deal is sure to send shockwaves throughout the industry as the partnership delivers dividends.
“We’re one of the first construction businesses to move onto the TechnologyOne platform, and I think that in itself speaks volumes for the opportunity we see,” Power says.
“Any tools that we can use to access data quickly and effectively are very important for us, but also the entire industry. In this case, it’s really exciting for us to be able to work so closely with TechnologyOne to not only enhance our business, but also how we can help drive their product into our segment in a bigger way.”
The chaos the pandemic wrought on supply chains around the world didn’t spare BMD.
“It put a real strain on all sorts of resourcing,” Power says.
“Particularly with international procurement, but even domestically, with the volume of work that’s being delivered. Concrete, aggregates, formwork, quarries – all of these things have been in short supply.”
What’s helped BMD through this time is its network of steel: long-term relationships with trusted allies such as Humes, Iplex Pipelines, Holcim and Coates.
“We focus heavily on collaborative contracting at BMD, and this extends to our supply chain, which includes around 20 vitally important national accounts,” Power says.
“The loyalty that we’ve shown to subcontractors and suppliers such as Sci-Fleet Toyota, WRB Group Holdings, Hanson and Boral has been reciprocated time and time again in terms of the impact they have on ensuring we deliver our projects on time and to a high-quality standard for our clients.”
Loyalty is often used to describe BMD’s approach to its suppliers and subcontractors, but Power says it’s about building meaningful relationships built on trust and assurance. These two elements are crucial for a firm that doesn’t own much of its own plant equipment.
“That means we’re able to engage locally based suppliers and owner-operators in the regions and communities where our projects are delivered, which maximizes the opportunity for local input with flow-on effects in the training and development of locally based staff engaged on our projects,” Power says.
“We’re proud of the long-term, key supplier relationships that have developed as part of this philosophy, such as Avis, Sherrin Rentals, Bremer Ford and Tutt Bryant.”
Brisbane-based Lipke Motors is another beneficiary of this approach, charged with helping keep BMD’s 1,400-strong national fleet running.
“They play a critical role in delivering reliable and quality services without impacting the delivery time of our projects or compromising our quality standards.”
Maintaining these relationships is, in Power’s assessment, simply a matter of building a sturdy buttress of trust.
“That’s the key, above all else,” he says.
“BMD was built on the foundation that your word is your bond and a handshake means more than any legal document. This foundation has grown with the company and continues to play an important part in how we do business today, with our clients, suppliers, subcontractors and stakeholders.”
BMD also is of the firm belief that such relationships must never be one-sided.
“We’re focused on understanding the needs of our partners and tailoring our offerings to meet them,” Power says. “We foster collaboration by involving our partners in decision-making processes and jointly developing innovative solutions to garner the most effective results across all the work we do.”
BMD’s suppliers and subcontractors are, in effect, an extension of BMD, he adds.
“We ensure they receive the added value and loyalty of working with our business that encourages added value and loyalty in return.”
Having such a team in place is one thing, but Power says recognizing clear and present constraints and accommodating them is just as important.
“We ensure we have what we need ahead of time so we have the time to find solutions to the challenges we’re facing,” he says. “Planning has always been very important in project management, but in an environment as challenging as it’s been and as dynamic as it is currently, it’s even more so.”
While he admits BMD doesn’t get its response right every time, it’s always on the lookout for a win–win solution.
“It’s somewhat cliche to say we approach these things in a way that we’re looking for a mutual opportunity, but the reality is that everyone needs to get the outcome they’re chasing in order to be able to continue doing what they do.”
That recognition is at the heart of BMD’s supply chain strategy, he adds, even with new suppliers.
“We’re keen to make sure our partners get what they need while we do the same,” he says. “We’ve all got long memories and remember circumstances where we don’t quite get what we want. You have to be careful who you step on, on the way up, as you start to come back down.”
Ultimately, going through something like a global pandemic together strengthens partners in ways traditional working relationships never could.
“I’d like to think that on the other side of the pandemic, people recognize that businesses like BMD have been there to work with them and help them through some of the challenges they’ve faced so that they’ve come out stronger and better equipped for what’s ahead,” he says.
Another side effect of supply chain disruption is the sensation of having to adjust to unfamiliar products and materials. Power says unavailability of certain goods has driven innovation and preparedness.
“Clients have had to accept different products and materials, as supply chain constraints warranted being open to other solutions,” he says.
“And I think to their credit, a number of clients have been prepared to consider options they previously weren’t that open to. A crisis often drives a need for change; we saw it internally as we adopted Teams and some of these platforms we ordinarily would have taken years to implement – by necessity, we were able to move quickly.”
Power believes the construction landscape will, on the whole, be more open to a variety of options as time goes on.
“That preparedness to consider alternatives is there, and I think for the better.”
The Philippines was BMD’s first foray overseas; Power is determined to ensure it won’t be the last.
“The Philippines gave us a lot of confidence as a business in terms of where we sit and what our true capabilities and capacities are,” he says.
“The fact that we’ve been able to deliver some fantastic projects and great results for our clients and our own business over there says to us we have something the world wants in terms of our ability to deliver projects and manage critical infrastructure.”
It’s a message that’s now being received from an even greater distance, as the market in the United Kingdom has opened itself up to the BMD Group’s expertise.
“We had key people within our business who, for personal reasons, wanted to be in the market in the United Kingdom at a time when there is a significant volume of work happening there,” Power says.
That point of entry presented itself as BMD acquired United Kingdom consultancy firm TUSP in April 2023.
“In terms of a market entry opportunity, it’s a good one.”
Before taking the plunge, however, Power and his team had to give a lot of thought to what BMD Group could offer a very crowded marketplace.
“We realized we have key resources that want to be in that market. We do bring something different, and it’s an opportunity to be a global business and all that means for our people.”
BMD has chosen to enter the market in the United Kingdom through construction advisory services as opposed to taking on delivery of construction projects. An unorthodox method perhaps, but Power says it’s in keeping with BMD’s point of difference.
“We’ve ultimately got the strength of our capability we’ve demonstrated through the volume of work we’ve delivered for over 44 years; we’ve got a strong balance sheet, solid systems, great people,” he says.
“We also have the ability to take proven expertise into the market in the United Kingdom at a time when they need support in delivering their pipeline of work. At the same time, there are some things we do in the Australian market – delivering social initiatives and other benefits – that are points of difference as well.”
One of those initiatives is, Power admits, somewhat driven by selfishness.
“We need to find ways to bring people into our business,” he says.
“That’s required us to establish a supply chain for people. We’ve worked with QUT on programs to deliver STEM to schools, and now we’re working with the UNIQ YOU platform in Queensland to open up engineering and STEM to girls and women in years 9–12.
“We want to provide positive role models of what careers for women in engineering can look like, and we’re really excited to be one of the program’s foundation partners.”
There are barriers in the industry that must be broken down, he says, and the resulting diversity can only generate positive outcomes for all involved.
“The reality is there are so many different roles within construction. You don’t have to be out there kicking the dirt, although we absolutely want to see women out there kicking the dirt.”
There are also opportunities to be discovered in the world of immigrants with engineering backgrounds.
“It can be hard for them to break into the industry if English isn’t their first language,” he says. “Working with organizations that help that transition is something we’re also focused on. There’s real capability out there that just needs to be unlocked.”
If it sounds like BMD is on a recruitment drive, that’s because it is.
“We’re keen to emphasize the fact that we’re a growing business with a diverse range of opportunities,” Power says.
“We’ve got tremendous breadth, both geographically and by the sectors in which we operate, and we’re keen to take our expertise to the world. We back ourselves and, more importantly, we back our people. There are so many roles across the business that allow people the opportunity to be a part of something exciting. And it is exciting.”
With so much going on in the BMD world, you’d be forgiven for thinking Power might find himself overwhelmed or exhausted. Not so, he says.
“I love it, and I hope my kids get a sense of that. Work is such an important part of life, and if you enjoy it, it’s never a burden,” he says. “You don’t have to make this choice between work and life because work is where you have to be. I want my kids to realize you have to enjoy what you do.”
The key to doing so, he says, is constantly developing and challenging yourself, enjoying the people you work with, and celebrating and enjoying the accomplishments along the way.
“If you can do those things, then you’re halfway to this work–life balance everyone desires.”