Brian Kerman established Kerman Contracting in 1981 at the sprightly age of 52 having worked across Western Australia’s construction sector for a number of years. The company initially picked up work from Brian’s traditional base around structural mechanical piping, where he undertook minor maintenance and repair work. The business then grew progressively based on strong support from a couple of key customers, notably Wesfarmers. By the early 2000s, Kerman was under the leadership of Brian’s son Chris and had moved into the resources sector after sensing opportunities around non-process infrastructure, following a successful job with mining giant Rio Tinto. Over the ensuing decade, Kerman consolidated its reputation in WA’s resources sector before re-strategising the business around three years ago in a quest to diversify.
With such a long history working in WA’s industrial services sector, Kerman has a strong claim to be one of the state’s most experienced design and construction contractors, and what sets Kerman aside from competitors is its commitment to fostering relationships with clients.
“Over the years we have been able to build strong relationships with our clients. We always try to communicate with them and articulate what our value proposition is, so then they understand what we can offer,” says James Rowdon, business development director at Kerman.
“Management has always stuck by what it’s said it would do. Everybody is very much involved, all the directors are hands-on and contactable by the clients, so if there are any issues they can deal with them directly and resolve them.
“Kerman has never walked away from a job. We make sure that every job is delivered to the quality of the client’s expectations. In fact, probably 60-70% of our work is repeat business,” he reveals.
These values are wholly embodied by the people who make up the company, from the top down to the bottom, and Rowdon is quick to emphasise that Kerman’s people are its most important asset.
“Our staff feel like part of the family and rest easy knowing that they can be part of the decision making and part of a team. It’s a very open place to work and everyone enjoys the spoils of success together, along with the lessons learnt from challenging situations.”
Kerman provides fully integrated design and construction expertise to a wide array of industrial facilities including non-process infrastructure, processing plants, bulk storage facilities and even accommodation villages. Often this kind of work is conducted in remote locations, such as mine sites.
Therefore, mining is an industry that Kerman is very closely aligned with, in terms of its experience and current capabilities. “We entered the industry very early on and were doing mineral sands from almost since day one,” says Rowdon.
“Then we moved into the iron ore sector and now we are doing a lot with the new commodities such as lithium, graphite, nickel, cobalt which are all centred around battery storage and construction. We have been fortunate to play in multiple commodities down the years, from gold, uranium, vanadium and more.”
However, mining is not the only sector that Kerman is highly proficient in, following the company’s decision to diversify out of resources in order to reduce exposure to a single market. For instance, Kerman has been involved in the agricultural sector from the 1990’s and has been able to successfully apply its wide-ranging skillset to a number of industrial facilities at agricultural sites.
The company is currently working with CBH Group – Australia’s largest exporter of grain – and was recently handed a significant contract for the design and construction of four circular grain storage cells at CBH’s existing Chadwick receival site in Esperance, WA.
Kerman’s agriculture workbook is currently stacked to the brim with similar jobs and it has been this diversification that has been the company’s saviour in recent years according to Rowdon, particularly as WA’s mining industry is only just recovering from the downturn which peaked in 2016.
“If we hadn’t diversified we would have died a slow death, which would have been a crying shame after over 30 years in the business. But because we had that transferable skillset and identified the need to branch out early enough, we were able to move into other sectors smoothly,” he says.
Nonetheless, the resources sector remains a key area of business for Kerman and with WA’s mining industry beginning to pick up once again, driven by large-scale iron ore replenishment projects and greater investment in ‘new commodity’ projects like lithium, Kerman has significantly benefitted from the sector’s resurgence.
“Because we are quite well known in the resource sector, as soon as those opportunities started popping up again, we were often contacted early which allowed us to secure the work. We’ve definitely benefitted from an improved market but the big positive for us is that we weren’t wholly reliant on the resource sector anyway.”
Health and safety
Contracting within the resources industry demands an all-encompassing commitment to upholding the highest health and safety standards, and Kerman’s impeccable safety record is a testament to its culture of looking out for one another. This company culture has been fostered through a safety programme called Save 4 Life.
“Save 4 Life is a behaviour-based programme that expects everyone to look after themselves but also their mates and all the people around them. This could mean alerting someone to a potential hazard and then explaining the controls in place to stop that. We try and instil these safety and design solutions in our staff very early on.”
Furthermore, as part of its diversification process Kerman has been able to bring these health and safety ethos into other sectors which are not as robust from a safety perspective as the mining sector, for instance the agricultural sector.
“Our safety processes have been through the rigours of independent audits, we have achieved federal safety accreditation which represents our ability to service any job around the country in a safe manner, being recognised by the Federal Government. That a feather in our cap.”
Kerman also places a lot of emphasis on corporate social responsibility across a number of areas, and this permeates down from the company founder and chairman Brian Kerman, who is a keen philanthropist and has set up a trust which donates considerable sums to worthy causes across WA.
In terms of employment, local and indigenous participation has been a key driver for Kerman down the years and continues to do so even in the company’s business outside of WA. “[Local and indigenous employment] is part of our license to operate, part of the reason we are in business and why people want to work for us as well,” explains Rowdon.
“We are currently doing a job in Newcastle over in New South Wales and there we are sourcing at least 40% of the workforce from the local industry. This is local contractors who are supporting their local communities.
“In the past we have donated to sporting organisations and introduced training programmes for locals to engage with the local community. We have had projects where we are very close to residential areas and so we have had to have stakeholder engagement to minimise dust and things like that. Its always about keeping the community informed.”
The near-term prospects of Kerman Contracting look secure when you take a glance at the firm’s current order books, which includes the design and construct of a ship unloader at the Port of Newcastle.
Kerman is also providing structural mechanical piping services to Talison Lithium’s crushing circuit down in Greenbushes, WA and is close to completing some non-process infrastructure work for Chinese mining firm Tianqi Lithium at its lithium hydroxide facility in Kwinana, WA.
“In the second half of the financial year we will be looking to finish some of this work while looking for other jobs and there is quite a pipeline of opportunities showing up as the market keeps improving.”