Property / Construction

Building a new standard

by Ada Ng

Philco Wong
chief operating officer
Gammon Construction Limited
Photo: Edde Ngan

Established construction firm breaks traditional moulds in the pursuit of sustainable growth

From the backbones of Hong Kong's transport infrastructure such as Chek Lap Kok Airport and the MTR lines, to the city's iconic buildings and latest redevelopment projects, Gammon Construction has helped build many of the pillars upon which Hong Kong stands.

Philco Wong, chief operating officer, Gammon Construction Limited, says the company is looking to initiate significant changes to lead the industry with a new business model as the company enters its 50th year of service in Hong Kong. "Breaking the status quo is inevitably the biggest challenge when looking for growth and improvement in process management", Mr Wong notes.

Streamlined ideology

A typical construction process involves many phases — from the initial design and budgeting, to procurement and the actual construction work, most of these are handled by different parties.

Project delays and curtailments are frequent due to conflicting expectations and disputes between the various parties. Such inefficiencies are reasons why Mr Wong considers the traditional model outdated, especially in a fast-paced city such as Hong Kong.

"As an industry leader, we want to break away from this tradition by using our business advantage to drive a more integrated approach to sustain growth with cost efficiency," Mr Wong says. As such, the company has increasingly employed a "design and build" method for its latest projects, hoping to create a competitive edge over its industry counterparts.

"The fundamental principle of the design and build process is to increase our early involvement in a construction project from conceptual design to the procurement process," Mr Wong explains, adding that clients can benefit by having a single point of contact throughout the entire process.

"This ultimately ensures continuity from initial design all the way to the execution of the construction work for on-schedule and on-budget project delivery," he stresses.

Gammon's recent Castle Peak Road improvement project, which involves the widening of a 1.1-kilometre section of the road between Ka Loon Tsuen and Tai Lam Kok from a single three-lane carriageway to a dual two-lane carriageway, was an example of the design and build approach.

"We're heavily involved in the pre-construction process and this early involvement contributed not only to on-schedule completion but also keeping costs well below the government budget," he adds.

Mr Wong believes that accumulating a strong portfolio of projects using this integrated approach will help convince industry players and clients. One such project to add to Gammon's portfolio is the refurbishment of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel.

"We worked in parallel with the hotel's design team and other parties involved to ensure minimal interference with the hotel's operation," he says.

"The pre-construction planning and project management work that we did on this particular project showed that this non-traditional approach works well in terms of enhancing a smooth project flow. It is a matter of time for this cost effective model to become an industry standard."

Aside from business model reform, Mr Wong says the company has been working to encourage innovation in an attempt to bring good practice to the industry. "We hold an internal innovation contest every year and some of the winning ideas are piloted in our projects," he says.

One example is high strength concrete mix. The technology reduces the need for raw materials by 30 per cent as compared with the traditional concrete, bringing notable cost benefits to projects such as the One Island East commercial building in Quarry Bay.

Growing workforce

The construction industry is highly labour intensive, so continuous efforts must be made to maintain a safe workplace and a stable workforce.

"Our turnover rate is considered low in the industry; most of the staff in the middle rank stay for six to 12 years," Mr Wong remarks.

He expects a growth in workforce, with new positions such as on-site managers and senior supervisors being available in the coming months. "Aside from the fundamental academic training, we expect candidates to be well-rounded with a great sense of integrity and loyalty to their work," he says.

While the recent economic downturn has led many companies to take a more cautious approach to business expansion, Mr Wong is confident that the local construction industry will be able to sustain growth.

"In times of economic downturn, the government will focus on infrastructure projects to alleviate the slowdown in the private sector," he enthuses.


Taken from Career Times 13 February 2009, p. B6
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