From the small town of Brynmawr in Wales to Dunedin, Josh Keogh and Dean Carey have built a successful civil construction business from the underground, up.
A little over a year ago, the two men took a leap of faith, leaving their jobs in Christchurch to relocate their families and their lives to Dunedin and start Pro Civil Construction, which specialises in three waters infrastructure – pipelaying, sewer, stormwater and water reticulation.
“We bought two diggers without having a single contract signed,” Dean says.
Fortunately, it was a leap of faith that has paid off. The company now has 12 staff, including Josh and Dean, five excavators – with another on its way after Christmas – as well as two trucks, six utes and a van.
Dean, who got his start on the shovel back in Wales as a keen 20-year-old, says he knew straight away the industry was for him.
“I fell in love with it immediately. I had some good mentors, old boys who took me under their wing.”
He had plans to head to Australia, to drive the big diggers in the mines, but instead found himself in New Zealand, working with Downer on the Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team (SCIRT) to rebuild damaged infrastructure in Canterbury following the Christchurch earthquakes in 2010 and 2011. He then worked with Utilities Infrastructure NZ as project manager before working as operations manager with Tasman Civil; his job prior to starting Pro Civil Construction.
Josh didn’t have the same instant conviction about the industry that Dean had, but he found his feet after moving into contract management. He graduated from the University of South Wales with a degree in Civil and Construction Engineering before landing a job at a design consultancy.
“I wasn’t really happy. I was sitting behind a computer, designing all day and I didn’t feel too passionate about that side of the industry.”
So, he left that job, moved to Australia and travelled a little, before settling in the Northern Territory, where he did some labouring work to keep himself busy and earn a living.
After a while, a job opportunity working on the SCIRT rebuild came up in Christchurch, and Josh and his partner relocated. They spent a year in Christchurch before he was approached by a civil construction company to make the move to Nelson to be their Contracts Manager/Estimator.
While he was there, he reconnected with Dean, and after a few years working hard and learning new skills they decided to strike out on their own by starting Pro Civil Construction.
As children, Dean and Josh’s fathers had been best friends back in Brynmawr, and they’d also got on well. However, neither of them ever entertained the idea they might end up in business together on the other side of the world.
Dean thinks they make a good team.
“Josh does all the fancy stuff – the pre-contract work, the pricing; he does a good job. Then it comes down to me and the team to execute.
“And there are no egos in this business either, ‘cause we’re all on the same playing field.
“We have true intentions for what we’re trying to do.”
Those intentions and the absence of ego are obvious in the business’ focus on culture and professional development, which Josh and Dean believe is helping their business grow.
Pro Civil Construction currently has eight of its 12 staff undertaking some kind of formal training; two – including Josh – are working toward Civil Trade Certification through Civil Contractors New Zealand and another six are undertaking various Connexis infrastructure training programmes.
“The most important thing is that the team is learning and improving, and then it’s just a by-product that the business does better. If people are focused on improving, it’s just a good environment to be in,” Dean says.
Dean says he and Josh place a massive emphasis on culture.
“I don’t use the word culture lightly. I’ve worked with a lot of people over the years where culture is just a word they sprout out their mouth. When you truly care about the team and you want to do better, I think that’s the difference.
“We focus on emotional intelligence, social intelligence and reading people’s personalities, because everyone is different.”
He says, like all jobs, this one has its ups and downs.
“One day you’re on top of the world and then the next day you think the world is falling apart.
“That’s interlinked with our culture. I don’t hear no one shouting on site, and there’s always things going wrong,” Dean says.
“Even if something is going bad for us, we go ‘we can fix it’. That’s how we approach our communication.”
Both men also have a competitive streak and take great pleasure in setting, meeting and exceeding targets, albeit in two quite different areas of the business.
“I just love putting a pipe in the ground … I suppose I just want to be a master of it because I’ve done it for so long,” Dean says.
“I keep on studying it, and now I’m always thinking of different ways we can improve stuff. Even with the team, I can show them ways I learnt when I was younger. Technology is moving on and its good, but there’s old ways we can do stuff as well.”
Josh, however, is passionate about the pre-contract work.
“I’m more passionate about chasing the work and business development. Tendering, bid submission, that sort of side,” he says.
“I do enjoy seeing a pipe go into the ground also, but it’s more about leading employees, seeing that they’re achieving, that the business is achieving. We’re in the position now where we’re seeing the direct effects of good work.”
Dean says it might seem like an overnight success to people but it’s been a lot of lessons and a lot of mistakes along the way.
“We record our learnings so the data is there as well, and the transitions as we grow are going to get easier and easier. I know where I’ll be in five years’ time because I’m doing the work now. You’ve got to be willing to put the work in.”
And that’s the advice he has for people considering a career in infrastructure.
“There’s no secret to it, just work hard, turn up on time, listen and never be scared to ask any questions at all. That’s all you need to do to get started in this business.
“It takes a long time to learn what we know, and we’re still learning.”