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Building capacity

Murray & Roberts Construction is overcoming a number of historic challenges to gear up for new opportunities as the growth trend in fixed investment gathers momentum

Two decades of decline in an industry competing for limited opportunities compounded by internal problems experienced by Murray & Roberts in the late 1990s, have taken their toll on the performance of Murray & Roberts Construction over the past few years. In recent years, Murray & Roberts Construction steadily consolidated its southern African provincial and regional building and civil construction operations in an effort to deliver better value and develop the critical mass required to engage anticipated market opportunities.

Now, as major new opportunities start to materialise, the business, like the industry, faces the challenge of having to build new capacity virtually overnight.

In the past year, the Group has introduced a number of critical measures, including the appointment of a new top leadership team and a special focus on 2010 projects under separate executive
management, to develop sustainable capacity in the local engineering and construction sector and ensure the successful delivery of major projects awarded in recent months.

MD Gordon Taylor was appointed in April 2006 and he has identified three key strategic themes that he will drive within the business as it engages an era of unprecedented opportunity.


This involves getting the basics right – consistently, including market development, choice of client and quality of project. Targeted projects will undergo a stringent process of evaluation to mitigate risk and the highest levels of attention to detail will be given to contract negotiation, project costing and understanding of specifications.

“The ability to accurately forecast the outcome of a project in the dimensions of quality, time and cost is a hallmark of top performance in project companies and will form the core of our project reviews,” says Gordon.


Murray & Roberts Construction has invested in technical capacity to complement its investment in people and this will help to differentiate its business.

Project Photograph

The Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) project, which is being implemented in all of the Murray & Roberts contracting businesses to strengthen project delivery, is an important component of this investment and the construction business will be able learn from the implementation efforts of other Group companies, such as Concor, Cementation and Engineering Solutions.

In an environment of skills shortages, where demand exceeds supply in project managers and other key personnel, Murray & Roberts Construction will have to work smarter and harder to maintain superior technological capability. This will involve redeveloping a competence in engineering and project services within the business and building on previous successes in the Group’s core competencies of design-build and industrial design.

“The reputation of our Group is built on some of the construction icons of our time. We have done it successfully before and we will succeed again,” says Gordon.


A growth environment brings exciting new challenges. Over the past few years the greatest challenge has been to find work and secure it against fierce competition.

More often than not this meant pricing below sustainable levels.

“In the future, we foresee an environment where there will be more than enough work. Our challenge will be to understand which work to say no to and how we are going to retain key skills. If we get it right, we will increasingly take on work that has been negotiated instead of tendered, for clients that we anticipate will provide ongoing opportunity. The projects will align well with our capabilities and will be completed at sound margins with lower levels of risk.



The acquisition of Concor has been approved by the Competition Tribunal and Murray & Roberts has embarked on a plan to position the business as a major player in the South African
infrastructure sector.

Concor will be managed as an independent business and will retain its own identity as the market segment it serves is different from that of Murray & Roberts Construction.

Cobus Bester will retain his position as MD of Concor, while Murray & Roberts executive director, Keith Smith, has been appointed chairman of both Concor and Murray & Roberts Construction to ensure that each business remains focused on its target markets, with an integration of resources where necessary.

A number of specific plans have already been initiated and should be implemented by August. These include:

  • The relocation of the roads and earthworks business from Murray & Roberts Construction to Concor which has a reputable roads business under the leadership of Frik Venter;
  • he closure of Concor’s marginal underground mining business and the relocation of its resource base to Murray & Roberts Cementation, a leading underground mining contractor;
  • The relocation of Toll Road Concessionaires (Tolcon) to Concor, where Tolcon MD Jerome Arendse and his team will become involved in the management of Concor’s Chapman’s Peak and Cape Point facilities and the Tsitsikama CTROM contract;
  • The relocation of concession investments held by Concor to the Murray & Roberts concession investment portfolio;
  • Support for Concor Technicrete to ensure that its significant potential is converted into higher levels of profitability. With its focus on public sector

infrastructure, Concor complements the existing construction business of Murray & Roberts and offers considerable new capacity at a time of significant growth in infrastructure investment.


Murray & Roberts assumed responsibility for newly acquired Oconbrick in September 2005 and, in spite of inclement weather conditions earlier this year which impacted the curing of bricks and mining of clay, the business is delivering good results.

Oconbrick is the third largest supplier of clay bricks and, together with Harvey Roofing, forms the core of the Murray & Roberts strategy to serve the developing affordable housing market.

A new production line is being installed at Oconbrick’s plant in Gauteng to expand capacity to 400 million bricks per annum. The business has a sound order book of 16 weeks.

Willem Pienaar, son of Oconbrick’s founding family which retains 20% equity in the business, continues in his role as MD.

“To achieve this, we will have to align more closely with the business objectives of our key clients and focus on areas where we can create value for clients and shareholders.”