Tom Silk, Group General Manager of Infinity, watched competitors win multiple tenders with what appeared to be a “GFC-like panic” in the thick of the COVID-19 pandemic. Competitors routinely submitted bids up to 15 per cent lower than Infinity on multimillion-dollar projects. There was a sense of problems looming on the horizon, particularly in a “rising market”.
But Tom, a 30-year veteran of the commercial construction sector, and Infinity remained disciplined and stuck to the company’s policy of submitting accurate and well-developed bids. That disciplined approach is paying off post-pandemic as Infinity is now in a good position to forge ahead with growth, while a number of its competitors are suffering the consequences of underbidding.
“For those who underpriced these tenders, there is no recourse for them to reprice. They are on lump sum, fixed-price contracts and to minimise their losses, their standards drop. This leads to a whole new set of problems, which in essence becomes a ‘race to the bottom’,” he says.
Infinity has refused to enter the race to the bottom with underpricing. It is something it has avoided since its founding in 1992, according to Tom. And it’s allowed the company to focus on quality construction projects while remaining financially robust and maintaining strong relationships with subcontractors and suppliers – who are paid promptly and properly.
“Our mindset is that our construction capability is unlimited.”
Underbidding also stifles innovation in the sector, he points out, with the “lack of profit generally within the industry being a big driver of construction companies just trying to hold on rather than moving forward with new digital transformation and sustainability programs”.
“The construction industry is currently going through a huge catch-up in these spaces versus other industry categories,” he says. “Digital transformation has been particularly challenging in the construction industry in three main areas – fragmentation along value chains, transience of each project and decentralisation of business processes. Like many other construction companies, we are upgrading and replacing legacy back-office systems while also implementing new systems and software to increase field productivity.
“But a huge part of this has been fixing business pain points, not just installing IT solutions. There are a wide range of new and exciting business transformations tools around now, and we are implementing them alongside a clear strategy of digital integration, cloud architecture, robotics, analytics, artificial intelligence, automation and the Internet of Things.”
Since its foundation, Infinity has focused mostly on commercial and industrial projects, along with the student accommodation, health, aged care, hotels and hospitality, offices, defence, build-to-rent and community sectors. The company, which has offices in Sydney and Melbourne, also has a history of building “super-luxe residential” properties for high-net-worth individuals.
“Our mindset is that our construction capability is unlimited,” Tom says, adding that every project is evaluated carefully to determine its feasibility. “A feasible project is where everybody involved in the project can make a profit, whether it’s financial or non-financial. A project is not feasible if anybody in the chain must lose money to make the project feasible.”
As a firm, Infinity has always thought big and strived to do things differently. “Alan Yazbek, who is the Founder, named the company Infinity because he didn’t want there to be any ceiling on what we did,” Tom reveals.
Doing things differently includes embracing innovation and sustainability practices. “Although we always have more work to do in this space, we are making progress,” he says.
The company has focused its attention on sustainability in recent years as the construction industry moves towards net zero emissions and buildings become carbon neutral and even carbon sinks, according to Tom. “Many of our projects are Green Star rated via the Green Building Council of Australia. Our clients want green building developments. We envisage this will continue to grow.”
Doing things differently also involves building close relationships with clients, influencers and suppliers. “Our vision, mission and values are all based around trust and being accountable for what we build,” he says. “Our whole ethos is about trust. That’s what drives us: to be a trustworthy business partner with all those stakeholders.”
“Our goal is to be the best company we can be, with well-managed and well-disciplined growth.”
That trust results in 80 per cent of Infinity projects coming from repeat clients. It also improves relationships with subcontractors.
Few construction companies last 30 years, but Tom speaks optimistically of the next 30 years. “Our goal is to be the best company we can be, with well-managed and well-disciplined growth.”