Wal King pays tribute to Geoff Shadforth
AUSTRALIAN construction industry giant Wal King admits that when he sat down to write the inaugural Geoff Shadforth Memorial Lecture which he presented to an audience of more than 300 at the University of the Sunshine Coast last night that he felt a sense of the opportunity that lay before the 35-year-old whose life was tragically lost in a motor cycle accident last year.
Geoff Shadforth died last year preparing for a charity bike ride across Cambodia just after he had taken the reins as co-director of the family business.
Mr King who worked for Leighton Holdings for more than 40 years working his way through to head a company that grew from a $17m turnover to $24bn with 64,000 employees globally, said he fully understood the expectations Geoff may have had for his future.
"I have a lot of requests to speak, but I realised the value of this event," he said.
The Geoff Shadforth Memorial Lecture will be held annually, with proceeds eventually endowing research and scholarships to the University of the Sunshine Coast.
His father Peter who returned from semi-retirement to the Shadforths Civil Contractors business after his son's death said he was delighted the annual address to the region's construction industry would continue his son's work.
"Geoff was really interested in innovation around road stabilisation," he said. "He was building a great relationship with the University and we are proud to keep that going, firstly through this lecture and later on through some research."
Mr King remains Deputy Chairman of Ausdrill Limited, a Director of Coca-Cola Amatil Limited, Kimberley Foundation Australia Limited and Garvan Research Foundation Limited, and a senior adviser to CITIC Pacific Limited.
He is also Honorary Fellow of the Institution of Engineers Australia, a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Institute of Company Directors, and a Fellow of the Australian Institute of Management, the Australian Institute of Building and the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering.
Speaking to the Daily ahead of his address Mr King said globalisation and competition were exposing the high cost of doing business in Australia but the required adjustments remained politically unacceptable.
He said the future presented a difficult course to navigate, saying the economy had been distorted by the Gillard-Rudd GFC expenditure of $150bn most of which was unnecessary in the midst of a huge construction and mining boom.
Corrections to that distortion would be painful over time.
Engineering costs had grown 50% in five years with the cost of doing things in construction accelerating quicker than the standard of living.
Describing the construction industry as brutally competitive Mr King said survival was dependent on management and ensuring the business remained well funded and well managed.
Australian business could best strive in technologically-based niches and said our future was best assured by remaining population positive in terms of growth.
However he acknowledged that no-one understood what would happen when populations began to diminish along with resources, describing those as the unanswered questions.
Mr King said the essential ingredients for successful companies were stability, planning, strategy and people.
"In my time at Leightons we never lost anyone we didn't want to lose,'' he said. "We were a preferred employer."
He said everyone made mistakes in business and that should be accepted.
"One is not life threatening, but you can't keep making them.''