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Managing Director Hickinbotham Group
Building a house is meant to be one of the greatest tests of relationship management. After all, any form of construction takes many differently skilled individuals, all united under the talent of a good project manager.
For Hickinbotham – South Australia’s number one builder with a record 35,000 homes and more than 50 community estates – this relationship management is a reflection of its family heritage, and the basis of its incredible success.
The company was founded by Chairman Alan Hickinbotham, with his father Alan R. Hickinbotham in 1954. Even at those earliest of days, there were defined roles that played to individual strengths, with Alan holding the finance and sales responsibilities while his father organised the construction side of the business. Fundamental values were also established in the early days, which have carried through the ages.
Roughly 20 years ago, Alan’s son, Michael, left the Melbourne office of law firm Blake Dawson Waldron, where he was practicing corporate law, to join the family business. He is now the managing director of Hickinbotham; ensuring that the family lines continue.
Through that time, Michael has overseen massive growth in the company, building on the solid foundations of the generations before him – and always respecting the family ideals.
“I really see it as a privilege to have the opportunity to build on the work of those who’ve come before me,” explains Michael. “I look to continue the good work they’ve done and improve the lives of those people and businesses that we touch and engage with.”
His background in law is something that Michael firmly believes has helped his understanding and drive. He credits his mentor in commercial law with a great amount of his knowledge along with a remarkable work ethic – both of which he carries with him today.
“That was a terrific experience, and it gave me a fantastic grounding for the world of business. They demanded that you do good work and have high standards – but that was because they cared enough to demand it.”
The decision to come on board the family business was at a delicate time. With the collapse of a number of state banks, the housing market was in trouble nationally and Hickinbotham was not in the best shape.
“It took us almost a decade of really hard work, with a huge amount of stress and personal sacrifice, to turn the whole thing around,” says Michael.
“At the time we had operations in Queensland that needed to be shut down. We sold assets and repaid the debt. The whole period really knocked the wind out of the South Australian economy.”
While many businesses may focus on survival mode in that sort of time, Michael also kept an eye on improving products and innovation to remain competitive in the marketplace.
“I actually believe that innovation has been in our DNA for the last 60 years. In that time we’ve pioneered a whole lot of firsts, such as the invention of the Grillage Raft Footing System which is now an industry standard nationwide. Equally, we were the first builder in South Australia to utilise underground power and cable telephones for a housing estate in the 1960s.”
This innovation extends beyond the physical construction, with strong sustainable practices now a cornerstone of the company values. Again, Michael says it is a philosophy that runs back through the generations.
“This way of thinking was something that my father was very passionate about,” he says. “We look at these sort of structural challenges as opportunities to learn how we can improve the way things are done, and to create a more attractive living environment.”
These are core values that have been passed through the generations, even as business grew from small builder to large scale land developer.
“At the moment we’re experimenting. We’re taking a residential community off the power grid using solar PV cells, and micro gas generators. So if we’re able to do that, that would be a complete revolution in the way development occurs. At the same time, we’ll be reclaiming and reusing all the storm water. It’s our path towards a truly sustainable development.”
Within a short time of talking to Michael, you begin to see a consistent pattern. While each generation has the opportunity to stamp their legacy on the business, there are fundamental beliefs and ethics that run through the family and underpin the direction and approach of the company.
At the heart of it all, he says, is “relationships built on trust”.
“We’re very lucky because we have terrific relationships with our suppliers and with our clients, many of whom are now in their second generation. These people and families have been with us for a long time. I think people are really proud of that within the organisation too; it’s the spirit of partnership.”
Naturally, it can be very hard managing a large number of suppliers and contractors, particularly in an industry which is known for peaks and troughs. While Michael is quick to add that Hickinbotham has remained very consistent in work flow and so has an enviable name in the industry, he also notes that they make every effort to keep regular communication with all their partners, including staff.
“Communication is the absolute key. We have catch ups; we send information out on a regular basis; and we have a really good system to keep our staff informed about what’s going on. We’re also rolling out that process to all of our subcontractors, so they are better informed about what new projects are coming up, what the company is doing, and how they can be involved.”
Arguably, the greatest work in relationship building has been through Hickinbotham’s well-known community engagement.
Early in 2014, to celebrate the company’s 60th anniversary, Hickinbotham joined forces with Nova 919 Radio Station to create the 60 Random Acts of Kindness campaign, offering help and kind gestures to individuals who were having a bad time, or deserved recognition for services to the community. It was a campaign that genuinely resonated with the local community.
This form of community engagement – utilising a media partner – helps spread the goodwill to more people. However – as you would expect – it is not a new concept for the company, but rather a value that has carried through the generations.
For example, when the cash strapped South Australian government of the early 1980s could not provide a much-needed school for the community at Woodend, to the south of Adelaide, Hickinbotham built a school and leased it back to the government.
This desire to embrace the community into the business model is important to Michael. While he freely acknowledges that it existed well before he took on his current role, he knows that he can put his own stamp on how it evolves – a perfect symbolism of the company’s evolution as a whole.
“I’d like to keep making a contribution to my community,” he says. “I really love this notion of family, and families being involved in the business, because for me, it makes us a solid business. It creates a new and better way of doing things, with the warmth and the heart of family. For me that’s a fantastic combination.”
It is a rarity to see a company evolve and develop with the times, yet remain so fundamentally true to its beliefs. Perhaps it is the strength of family, but Hickinbotham is managing it perfectly.
5:30pm - 8:00pm - Bodyline Bar, Level 2, Western Stand, Adelaide Oval
Parking on & off street available around Pennington Terrace and Wilsons Northern Car Park. Wilson Parking Book A Bay discounted parking is available on the night, CLICK HERE for further details and make sure you select Adelaide Oval North Car Park!
|5:30pm for 6:00pm Event starts|
|6:00pm - 6:30pm Guest interview|
|6:30pm - 8:00pm Networking - food served from 6:30pm to 7:30pm|
|8:00pm Event end|
As a professional business event we ask that you take any calls outside the Bodyline bar.
Like Minds is an initiative of Rotary Adelaide.
During the year Rotary Adelaide engages in a number of projects, events and activities, to fundraise and assist in areas of need. So that we may do good things in local or international communities.
|Event Date||03-03-2020 5:30 pm|
|Event End Date||03-03-2020 8:00 pm|
|Cut off date||03-03-2020 6:00 pm|
|Location||Adelaide Oval - Bodyline Bar|