It’s hard to believe that it’s less than a year since we announced our new Australian HQ. Since then, the local business has gone from strength to strength – with several industry veterans joining the team and a host of prestigious projects under their belt. David Watt took up his position as Director Australia & New Zealand in October. Four months into his Soben journey, we caught up with him to chat about how things are going, learn more about the local business, and hear his plans for the future.
Why did you choose to join Soben?
DW: From the moment I spoke to Andy Murie (CEO APAC) and Scott Smyth (Founder and CEO), I knew Soben was something special. Scott’s vision for growth is clear. For a lot of start-ups the focus is on growing to a certain size and then moving on. Soben is different – we’re focused on disrupting the market, for the better. It’s already clear that we’re on a course to join the ranks of the other legacy companies currently serving the industry. But not at the expense of our entrepreneurial spirit, unique identity and exceptional senior management expertise. In a decade, Soben will be recognised as part of the fabric of the industry. To join in the early days of this journey was a very exciting prospect – and something I instantly wanted to be a part of.
Tell us about Soben Australia & New Zealand
DW: We’re here to fill a gap in the market. Soben provides a comprehensive suite of Quantity Surveying services. As well as our award-winning Bills of Quantities, clients can draw on the expertise of a group of highly specialized individuals, who know the local market inside-out. Soben offers something different – combining best-in-class consultancy with practical experience of managing commercial projects. All of our senior staff have hands-on commercial experience working on major construction programmes – in the Australian market.
Why is Soben different?
DW: A lot of larger clients are still relying on the old, institutionalised Quantity Surveying firms that they have used for many years. On the other side, smaller organisations are turning to one-man bands, where turnaround is quicker, but the quality is just not there. Once they try Soben, there’s no going back. We bring the agility of a smaller organisation, with the quality guarantee and industry credentials of the established names. The feedback we’re getting from tier 1 contractors who trust us over their incumbents has been phenomenal.
Historically, in Australia, Quantity Surveyor wasn’t a real profession. We had people training as Construction Managers, and then trying to deliver quantity surveying services. I’m delighted to see this change – the influx of people with formal training in quantity surveying is transforming the market. Soben is a traditional, fully certified consultancy, backed by both the RICS and AIQS. We’re committed to bringing the best of the profession to our clients. That rigour and commitment to systems of measurement is rare, and well worth the investment to ensure return on your investment.
What have your first few months at Soben been like?
DW: Fast-paced! We’re growing rapidly. The market is hungry for our fresh approach – and the phones have been ringing off the hook! First and foremost, we’ve been focused on getting the right team in place. Having the best local talent available for our clients is non-negotiable, so we’ve been focused on hiring the best of the best – hand-picking industry experts, like Kevin Carr, who are already well-known, and highly-respected, in the local market.
Soben is well-known internationally for our Bills of Quantities, a vital element to get right in the early stages of any project, so naturally, this is where we began. From here we are bringing value throughout our clients’ projects, both pre- and post-contract, through general commercial advice, cost planning, cost management and myriad other quantity surveying services. Sustainability is a growing area of focus, so Soben’s Carbon Cost Management service is particularly valuable to our clients. We’re combining industry-leading carbon insights with experienced cost management, and local knowledge, to help our clients better understand the cost of embodied carbon in their assets, and map an affordable journey to net zero. We’ve also been able to bring our claims and expert services to a number of contractors in region, assisting a range of clients in claims and dispute analysis and resolution, escalation quantum and entitlement, and forensic planning and program advisory services.
On the Gold Coast, we recently announced our new Financier Services business – headed up by industry heavy-hitter, Kevin Carr. He’s barely been with us a month and already we’re working on several feasibility studies and providing advisory services for a number of developers and financiers locally. We’re already starting to expand this business into Sydney and Melbourne.
How is Soben putting down roots locally?
DW: Our business is very much a local one first – we are committed to putting down strong roots in the Australian market – hence hiring exceptional local talent. As part of this commitment, we’re also taking the time to offer our support and expertise to local associations and membership bodies to further the success of the profession in region.
As members of the Infrastructure Association of Queensland (IAQ), we’re committed to working with other members to create strong infrastructure for Queensland – Soben’s home in Australia. There is a significant amount of infrastructure development on the horizon in Australia, with billions to be spent in healthcare, rail, education, power and defence – all areas where Soben has deep expertise. As traditional Quantity Surveyors, we’re committed to promoting best practices and contributing to the future of our profession through our memberships of the Australian Institute of Quantity Surveyors (AIQS) and Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS).
Which projects are you particularly proud of?
DW: We’re already working on a number of major projects in Australia, building relationships with many of the tier 1 and tier 2 contractors. I’m particularly proud of our work with John Holland on the AU$2BN Brisbane Waterfront Development, where we’re providing bills of quantities and quantity surveying services. We’re also bringing our utilities experience to the local market. We’re working on a AU$1BN water pipeline for the Gladstone Area Water Board, as well as assisting Sunwater in various Contractual Advisory scopes, including claim evaluation and forensic program analysis and advice. I’m also thrilled that we can work alongside a range of smaller, but rapidly growing, building and civil contractors, where we are providing a broad range of QS services, from escalation analysis and entitlement advice; to full front end services including cost control service and Bills of Quantities and gap analysis. We really feel we are making a difference in these sectors.
What’s your vision for 2023?
DW: We’re creating the premier QS consultancy in the region. It’s really important to us that we are recognised as a local organization – with first class local people and experience – and commitment to improving the built environment in Australia. We are lucky to be able to have the backing of a leading international construction consultancy to support this vision. We are also looking forward to building strong collaborative relationships with like-minded organisations in Australia. There is so much work already underway, and on the horizon, in Australia. The industry must work together to be able to deliver it all. These relationships range from collaborating with similar (and larger) peer companies, where we have definite synergies and offer a multiplier effectiveness when delivering specific projects; to working with smaller groups where we can bring together the best people in the industry under our banner, and provide a service that is second to none.
And we’ve only just begun. The opportunity for a disrupter like Soben in the market is huge. Right now, we’re focused on letting people know we’re here – an alternative to the status quo. We’re concentrating on high quality delivery of the small number of projects we’re currently involved with. From there we will expand in to the rest of Australia. By the end of this year, we’re on track to be five times the size we were in January. We’ve got enquiries coming in daily, but that’s a challenge in itself – at present we are being selective, not taking on too much so that we can guarantee quality on every project. I won’t allow us to over-promise and under-deliver. We won’t let our clients down.
This year, I’m focused on building our reputation in the region. Personally, the aim for me is to walk into any client’s office and for them to know who we are – and why we’re different.
Contact [email protected] to find out more about how Soben can support your business.