The Infrastructure People

Celebrating 20 years of delivering trusted community infrastructure.

Our Journey
The beginning

In keeping with the origins of most small businesses, Pensar’s first office was a spare bedroom, a pretty small one at that, tucked away in the back of Karl and Louise Yunker’s apartment at Kangaroo point.

Ben Hoare, Louise’s entrepreneurial father had a land development arm – he engaged his son-in-law to help him with a project at Meadowbrook, on Brisbane’s southern outskirts. Ben offered Karl the boardroom of his building, it was nothing more than a space sheeted up with ply, but the price was perfect – rent free – stay as long as you like.

While working down at Meadowbrook, Pensar won its first open tender, the construction of Powerlink’s H22 Substation, just down the road from the Trussmasters’ head office. The job, led by foreman Ross Heathwood, the company’s first official employee, involved the removal of 2000m3 of earth.

A good portion of Pensar’s early work was for residential builder Joe Fiteni, who had only recently set up shop on the southside of Brisbane. Karl had worked with Fiteni’s consulting engineer, Ross Campbell on the H22 Substation project – Campbell invited him to tender on some subdivision projects around Capalaba. More jobs were won, and a fruitful working relationship forged.

2000 – Pensar’s Urban Division Established

2000
Finding our feet

In late 2002, Michael Bissett, a one time colleague of Karl Yunker’s at Leighton, joined the fledgling business, as did Nic Cull, another younger ‘Leighton-ite’. More jobs, more people, the growth continued as Pensar rode the subdivision boom in South-East Queensland in the early 2000s.

“In 2002, we are working on one subdivision at Forest Lake, a year later we’ve got 10 on the go at the same time, courtesy of people like David Keir, a project manager at Delfin at the time, and Jim Campbell, an old colleague from Leighton. They both provided us with plenty of opportunities, and because of the volume of work, the margins were good, particularly with our low overhead structure. We were in the right place, at the right time.” says Karl.

2004 – Pensar’s Civil Division Established

2002
Establishing Pensar as a real player

In early 2005, Pensar found new premises in Donkin Street, West End. Pensar had only been in the Donkin Street office a matter of months when Karl received confirmation the business had won a substantial civil works contract at Springfield, on the south western outskirts of the city.

Maha Sinnathamby’s bold vision to design, build and develop Australia’s largest master planned community, had created all sorts of opportunities since 1997, when he was finally granted state government approval to proceed with stage one of the project.

Pensar had helped Springfield Land Corporation out with some subdivision work around the Brookwater Golf Course, but nothing like this. The civil works project was a whole new level.

“The business owes a lot to those four guys – Maha, Bob Sharpless, Andrew Whitson and David Henry,” Karl says. “They were the ones who took a punt on us to deliver a civil works project that was far bigger than anything we’d ever undertaken. That’s what put us on the map. Fortunately, their trust was rewarded – we did a great job and that contract then rolled into another huge project, the duplication of Augusta Parkway. In those three years – 2005 to 2008, on the back of the work out at Springfield, we were really able to establish ourselves in the civil infrastructure space. Straight after Springfield came a $20 million project out at Amberley, and then another massive piece of work at the Brisbane Airport. It was the start of a golden era.”

2006 – Pensar’s Structures Division Established

2005
The rise of utilities

In 2011 Pensar introduced the Utilities arm of the business with David Brown heading up the Power Division and Patrick Newell the Water Division. Utilities are a competitive space with high barriers to entry and even higher margins.

One of the reasons for the growth and profitability of Pensar’s Water and Power Divisions is the technical nature of the work. Pensar are one of the few providers who have genuine credibility in the delivery of water and power related infrastructure.

“Our utilities focus is highly scalable and for the right clients, highly attractive,” Karl said. “We already have a rare range of specialist skills in-house and we will continue to develop this knowledge base over the coming decades. Our future rests in the technical skills and talents of our people”

With the business’ core capabilities going from strength to strength, Karl’s initial concerns that Pensar would have excess space at Donkin Street quickly proved a fallacy. Within four years, staff numbers had passed 100.

The congestion problem was solved when in the middle of 2012, Karl discovered the Hockings Street office. The building was twice the size of Donkin Street, with parking for 40 cars – Karl deemed it to be an opportunity Pensar could ill afford to pass up.

2011 – Pensar’s Utilities Division Established

2011
A specialised approach

In 2018, the business launched two specialised niche services, to complement existing capability and help create a point of difference in the highly competitive infrastructure market place. Simon Griffin was appointed to head up a new Subsurface Utility Engineering Division (SUE), while Craig McPhillips, working with Structures Director Tim Down, developed a new division specialising in concrete rehabilitation.

The establishment of the two new workstreams not only resulted in greater agility in servicing existing Pensar clients, but triggered a reduction in the amount of work the business outsourced. The other upside is the quality of the work – the ‘in house’ capability provides strong assurance that works will be carried out by skilled operatives, as opposed to contracted ‘subbies’ who may or may not be fully committed. Concrete rehabilitation in particular is seen as a massive longer-term opportunity, not just in Queensland but right across Australia. Concrete structures deteriorate over time, and without the financial resources to rebuild or replace them, the owner operators have no choice but to undertake extensive maintenance programs with skilled operatives.

Over the past 12 months, the concrete rehabilitation team has worked on dam walls, bridges, and in water towers and reservoirs across Australia. In a similar sense, Simon Griffin’s SUE offering is also subject to ambitious growth targets in both the short and medium term. Through the use of state-of-the-art equipment and technologies, the SUE team has already helped many project owners, managers, engineers, designers and utility providers mitigate risk and avoid unnecessary and costly utility relocation. The end result for clients has been a faster turnaround on projects, and the avoidance of unforeseen and incremental costs. While the specialty SUE capability currently sits within Dave Brown’s Power Division, the longer-term plan is to streamline the offering across all divisions.

2018 – Pensar’s Concrete Rehabilitation Capability Established

2018 – Pensar’s Subsurface Utility Engineering Capability Established

2018
Onwards & upwards

Karl’s vision is to build a team of technical experts whose skills are not only sought after by clients but are much harder to replace.

“One of the real tests for any business is how much you would be missed if for some reason, you closed the doors,” Karl says. “In other words, how unique is your service offering? How easily could a rival business step in and fill the void? If the answer is ‘very easily’, in my view the business model – or at least the strategy – is largely flawed. We want to get to the point where our clients depend on us. We want to be irreplaceable, and the best way we can do that is to employ and develop technical experts – people who are the leaders in their field. We need the top 5% of people in the industry in our business. That will be our edge. The only intellectual property we can have in the infrastructure game is in our people.”

To help deliver the company’s ambitious 10 year plan, Karl also points to a broadening geographical focus, with the percentage of work outside South-East Queensland swelling from the current mark of 30 percent to 70 percent by 2030. This involves, in the mid-term, pursing opportunities in New South Wales, Victoria and Tasmania, whilst in the longer term, Western Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific Islands in particular, will become focal points by 2025, as will specific industry sectors.

Pensar’s future focus will be quality ahead of quantity.

2020

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Celebrating 20 Years – A Conversation with Karl