Major Projects & Infrastructure, Track & Civil Construction

The value of staying local: The story behind Martinus Rail remaining locally-owned

Martinus Rail

As Martinus Rail has experienced tremendous growth, a constant remains its local ownership and investment.

In September 2020, market research firm IBISWorld released its Railway Track Construction in Australia – Market Research Report. Forecasting healthy growth for the sector due to federal, state and territory government stimulus, the report listed the top seven players in the market. All bar one are foreign-owned entities. The only exception? Martinus Rail.

For Treaven Martinus, CEO and managing director of the privately held and rail- dedicated company, inclusion on the list was a milestone for the young company.

Over the past 15 years, Martinus has grown from a product supply business to a full-service rail contractor and is currently delivering major projects such as the Carmichael Rail Network and the tracklaying and overhead wiring component of the Forrestfield-Airport Link. Throughout this time, and as the company has rapidly expanded, ownership has remained Australian.

In 2019, the company explored a joint ownership structure with Malaysian contractor Gamuda, however both parties ultimately decided to not go down this path.

“We mutually agreed that Gamuda would not formally become part of the business,” said Martinus. “However, we continue to explore opportunities as Joint Venture partners for targeted major projects.”

Martinus changed their tactic and wanted to ensure the company remained in Australian hands in order to deliver on current projects and the projected rail pipeline.

“It became very apparent to us that it was prudent to maintain the current ownership structure in order for us to continue to deliver projects under our self-performing delivery model.”

From the onset, Martinus embedded a unique company culture and management structure which were key drivers to bringing the company to where it is today.

“The leadership team and I are very passionate about our company culture,” said Martinus. “It has been our success throughout this period of amazing growth, and in order to maintain our culture, it’s essential that we hire the right people who fit the growth mentality and we do this by empowering them, providing autonomy, authority accountability to deliver.”

Five years ago, senior leaders in the company sat down and defined what it meant to work at Martinus. High expectations alongside flexibility was the blueprint.

Today, Martinus has a 91 per cent referral rate for new hires, and James Brunsdon, recruitment and resources manager said this is partly what has helped the company through a period of significant growth.

“The Martinus mentality is; we employ subject matter experts and empower them by giving them the space and autonomy to drive, implement and deliver. Within 18 months, we’ve managed to expand the team to more than 600 direct employees. Significant company growth brings with it many challenges – particularly when it comes to keeping our unique selling point and the way that the company works.”

As Martinus outlines, the company had to use the challenges in front of them to stay ahead and with that mindset the challenges presented many opportunities.

“Our delegated level of authority is quite substantial compared to our competitors. As we’re relatively the new kids on the block so we always have to keep pushing ourselves to do things differently.”

James Brunsdon, Recruitment/Resources Manager with Sarah Wisley, Resource Coordinator at the Gladstone Engineering Alliance (GEA) Supply Chain Expo in Queensland.

The fact that Martinus is an Australian-owned company not only influences the way that the company operates internally, but also how it engages with the rest of the rail industry. With the team spread around Australia, as well as a presence in New Zealand and Chile, the company is closely attuned to what is happening in each of the markets it operates in and is committed to maintaining an ongoing local presence.

“The fact that we’re Australian owned in the Australian railway construction market means that we’re here, we’re local, and we understand the ebbs and flows of the market. We can make very clear strategic decisions for the long term because we know where the market is going. Five years ago, we started strategically investing in our people and it’s paying dividends now. From there, we expanded investment strategy towards plant and systems to ensure we had everything in place to support projects which were coming to the market,” said Martinus.

“It’s a booming infrastructure construction market at the moment, so we’ve definitely positioned ourselves and grown to meet the demand.”

On each of the projects that Martinus is involved with, it brings in national experts to work alongside teams sourced from local communities. On the Carmichael Rail Network project in Central Queensland, Brundson is connecting with local communities to ensure the project has a lasting impact.

“Today, we are continuing our recruitment drive here in Rockhampton, we were in Townsville last week, and Gladstone the week before. Not only have we had interest on the recruitment-front – we’ve also had many sub-contractors and suppliers from Rockhampton greater Queensland regions wanting to get involved in the project.”

Already Brunsdon is seeing the impact that Martinus’ presence is having on the local community.

Other local businesses from the supermarket to general stores and cafes have been reinvigorated through the roots that Martinus has put down.

“By engaging with the local community and tapping into the existing skills we are contributing to the local economy and we have seen first-hand how much excitement this has already generated in the local communities,” said Brunsdon.

So far, 70 per cent of the spending for the project has been in the local economy. Just under 10 per cent of the project workforce are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“We’ve made sure that we’ve embraced the local community and are tapping into the local offering in terms of workforce and supply,” said Brunsdon.

Being Australian-owned has also led to investments in Australian manufacturing. Martinus’ recent $40 million investment in plant and equipment has included the purchase of two continuous track lifters that are being manufactured in Brisbane. The ongoing commitment to the local market has also seen the establishment of workshop facilities in Rocklea, a suburb of Brisbane, along with employing apprentices to work at that site. This will enable Martinus to overhaul machinery from one project to next, ensuring skills, investment, and knowledge remain in Australia.

The company’s success has been expanding in-house capabilities, providing pathways for training, apprenticeships and working with universities to provide work experience. They have hired people from adjacent industries including hospitality and tourism, then provide the right support and training to ensure the person succeeds.

“Our response to growth had a large focus on recruitment and from the onset we had a plan in place and saw it out, hence why we haven’t seen or experienced a skills shortage across the business,” said Martinus. “For years, we have invested in recruitment, training and upskilling our staff and now we have the skills, expertise from Australia and don’t need to recruit from overseas.”

Work on the Carmichael Rail Network will provide benefits to local suppliers and communities.

As governments around Australia look to infrastructure as a way to stimulate the country’s economy out of the COVID-19 induced recession, Martinus highlights that the ongoing benefits will be felt if projects are delivered by a network of locally owned businesses.

“Traditionally the project value and the risk profile has been getting bigger, particularly the billion-dollar projects that have been coming to market. Now we are seeing a change where there are more opportunities for mid-tier Australian owned contractors to deliver these projects. A great example of that is Inland Rail have announced their procurement strategy and the next two major construction packages the rail corridor track package is suitable for a mid-tier rail contractor as well as the civil works program of packages.”

“It takes the leadership of the delivery authorities to know that instead of just contracting the risk out to a contractor they’ve got to take ownership in the delivery of the project. We have some amazing Australian owned contractors who are capable and willing to collaborate with other mid-tier companies to deliver significant projects across Australia.”

For less dispersed projects that require a global tier-one contractor to be involved, Martinus outlines that this does not preclude local involvement.

“We continue to lobby every rail delivery authority to ensure two things; either that the package and risk profile is suitable for Australian owned contractors, or they stipulate that a local company must be in the top box as one of the principle contractors in the joint venture or the consortium. That way it increases the skill base, the knowledge, and the capability of the Australian companies.”

Having recently joined the Australian Owned Contractors grouping, Martinus is clear that if governments wish to ensure benefits are felt in the long term, local companies must be involved.

“If mid-tier, Australian-owned contractors can deliver these works then we will continue to invest in our team, our systems, the local market, which creates sustainability for the industry.”