Pat O’Sullivan left school at age 14 and immediately went to work for his father’s asphalting company.
Later he started his own modest company at just 21, borrowing his father’s Ford F100 ute to carry a few tools and some asphalt.
“School just didn’t work for me,” says Pat. “By the time my mates had finished school I could quote up jobs and I had started a business. I’d fix a few potholes here and there with a wheelbarrow and a shovel.”
The fledgling business grew to the point that in in 2004 Pat purchased his first truck, a 1979 Isuzu tipper.
Pat had that $8,000 truck for about five years and it helped him obtain contract work with a construction company working on footpaths in the Melbourne area.
That company was Guy Road Constructions and Pat credits Scott Guy with instilling the work and business ethics he has carried through on the journey of growing his own company.
“Scott became a bit of a mentor for me,” says Pat. “He said ‘Pat, if you do the right things and make some smart moves you can do all right out of this job’. He was awesome, a ripper bloke.”
Pat’s operation kept growing with an additional truck followed by another, and then a bobcat. In times when he had no work of his won for the trucks and bobcat, Pat would do labour hire on someone else’s asphalt crew, mostly constructing driveways.
“Sometimes I forget the start of the journey because I’m so caught up with where I am now,” says Pat.
“When I first bought the truck and bobcat I would just do whatever I could, doing quotes and picking up little driveway jobs here and there. I actually remember my first job that I got myself. I put an ad in a local paper for around 400 bucks a month, and someone rang me to do a footpath to their clothes line. I was stoked! I remember ringing my dad and said ‘Hey, someone’s rung me!’ It was $1500 and I was over the moon.”
Less than 20 years later, the one man-one truck operation Pat founded is now known as Prestige Civil Group. There is 150 people on the books and the business has diversified into other associated areas.
“I’ve always looked at opportunities that complemented the other things I was already doing,” he notes. “I had contracts with councils and I was buying concrete through the major suppliers and the service was pretty poor to us little guys. We obviously didn’t mean much to them.”
Always on the lookout for a way to provide a better service, and to save money, Pat began looking at getting his own concrete plant, despite the negative attitude of his then, current supplier.
“I didn’t even think about mixing concrete and I had no idea to be honest. I just thought I’m going to do this to show them I could,” he recalls.
“Their plant was only 50 metres up from me and the day the silo came they started ringing me. It was a case of ‘Ah, you want to talk to me now.’”
Pat was only planning on servicing his own operation in order to supply the modest council contracts which were starting to come through.
Upon hearing other civil contractors were also dissatisfied with the services available, Pat reached out to a few that he knew and asked if they wanted to buy some concrete mix.
This area of business has grown to now include 15 agitator trucks of varying brands including a number of twin-steer Mack Tridents and a couple of mini-mixers. Once the concrete plant was established Pat looked at carrying the sand and aggregate components for the concrete mix and added a couple of tipper and dog combinations to service his own requirements and also those of several other contractors.
The Prestige Civil Group fleet is being progressively standardised across the Volvo Group brands such as Mack and more recently UD Trucks.
“We used to have an old UD and it was bulletproof,” says Pat. “I bought a couple of the UD Quons for my livebottom semi-trailers and once I got into the Quons and the UD Croners I haven’t looked back.”
He adds, “Those UDs are the comfiest trucks I’ve driven and we run them all through the business now in all avenues like our civil side.”
The UDs are, by no means, coddled on site according to Pat.
“We give them a hard time and we’re filling them up with asphalt and concrete and they stand up to the test,” he says.
“They might be a little bit slower in some circumstances and might take five minutes longer to do a particular job, but we’ve probably saved 50 litres of fuel.”
What began as a one-man operation performing modest road repair services has grown to be a respected provider of civil and road maintenance services to small and large corporate entities as well as state and local government bodies.
Traffic management and line marking services are now included in the suite of offerings with more than 20 specially equipped utes on call to handle the traffic management around construction zones. Vehicles and equipment are serviced in the company workshop.
Much of the work comes as the result of preparing and submitting a successful tender and Prestige Civil Group has its own estimating department where the people have the experience and expertise required to navigate through the complexities found particularly when dealing with local governments where a job may come from one particular department of a council, then other work from a different division.
“Getting work has never really been the issue but now we’re trying to grow into bigger jobs and chasing that work is a little bit harder and it seems to be very competitive these days,” Pat says.
“I’ve always looked at opportunities to complement the business. Because I’ve got a concrete business, I think about what else goes with concrete such as reinforcement steel. I knew I can sell steel to the guys who buy concrete.”
The expanding transport division provides bulk cartage services of products such as crushed rock for both clients and other suppliers.
“I built a soil recycling department, because we ripped out so many nature strips doing footpaths, I thought we could recycle this soil and re-sell it,” explains Pat.
“We’re always looking to grow and now we’re trying to push the transport side of the business. We’ve got trucks in with Downer carting their raw materials to their plants and we also cart raw materials to sleeper manufacturers.”
From being a high school dropout Pat O’Sullivan has built a successful and vertically integrated business which features a senior management team including a CEO, CFO, Human Resources and, importantly, a health and safety division.
Pat places a high value on his staff and runs an incentive program in appreciation of their efforts.
“I’m proud that I’m giving back, and I really do care about my people. This industry is like any other, there are some bad operators out there, but that shouldn’t ruin it for the rest of us,” says Pat.
“I just want my company to be respected. I want it to be looked at the way I looked at and admired certain other companies on my journey.”