Setting the standards for road construction and maintenance keeps NA Group on track for success

na roads, the venture magazineWhile Kerouac may get the credit for writing “the road is life,” that awakening dawned shortly after we humans first stood upright. For Nick Argyropoulos, the road is both his life and livelihood: he’s in the driver’s seat of one of Australia’s most prestigious road construction enterprises, NA Group.

Being an industry leader in roadwork is nothing new for his eponymous firm, which reached the quarter-century mark in 2018. From its headquarters in Padstow, NSW, the company is a presence anywhere a road needs to be created, maintained, or repaired, and it’s a mission for Argyropoulos, a career construction expert.

“I'm very passionate about the road maintenance industry and my business. That shows with the level of success that we've achieved,” he recently told VENTURE. “We like to be known as the market leader in road maintenance and delivering safer, better, outcomes for customers through innovation and safety.”

With a core staff of 120, the award-winning group distinguishes itself from the competition by offering true end-to-end project services, and demonstrating a proven track record for completing time-critical civil and road maintenance, repair, and restoration projects. “We are basically that one-stop shop for anything road maintenance. The ability to make that one phone call and have things happen sets us apart from everybody else,” Argyropoulos pointed out.

A reputation for superior quality and on-time, on-budget project delivery cements NA Group as the contractor of choice for an impressive cadre of clients, including Downer Infrastructure, Boral Asphalt, WestConnex (CPB, Samsung, John Holland JV), NSW Roads and Maritime Services, Ausgrid, Ventia, and many others, including a host of local councils and governments.

“One of the biggest challenges we face is an industry trying to come up with more innovative ways to minimise inconvenience to the motoring public,” he opined. “We can go in overnight and get the job done so they can drive on a new road first thing in the morning. That's where our company is a lot different than others.

“Once we’re awarded a project, we manage it from start to finish. That includes applying for licenses to be on the road, community consultations, right through planning to the delivery of the project. We manage that whole process, which makes us very different from a lot of other companies.”

The approach delivers a slew of benefits, including relieving government agencies of the burden of choosing multiple firms to handle different aspects of a project. Because NA Group does 97 per cent of project work in-house — from bid through to delivery — governments can get on with the business of governing without having to herd contractors who often compete against each other and assign blame when jobs go off the rails. “When we take on the whole project there's none of that blame culture. It’s started, just let's get on with it and deliver it.”

Argyropoulos stressed another compelling reason. “When you're getting different contractors on a project, they may have a different philosophy of their safety and quality delivery that we can't control as much. That’s why we do the majority of our work in-house.”

Innovating the roadwork journey

na roads, the venture magazineAs Executive Director, Argyropoulos travels the globe to find state-of-the-art project delivery methods. Keeping the firm on the forefront of innovation is a vital component of the company’s culture, evidenced by its commitment to investing in the most current technologies. “We are the leader in Australia in terms of our paperless mobile management system,” he said.

“Our on-site crews get live updates on any changes: the scope of work, job plans, specifications — anything like that is live. That's been a big game-changer for us.” Crews can view situations in real time, to judge conditions and anticipate issues before they occur. GPS tracking on all vehicles in their fleet add critical visibility at each point in a project.

These investments enable NA Group to operate a robust, agile workforce throughout the continuum, from the tender process through health and safety and project completion. Tech also enables a superior level of transparency, keeping clients in the loop at every stage of the process, giving them a clear window into their quality assurance and efficiency methodologies.

“We hold meetings every week with all of our ground crews and get a bit of feedback from them to see what we can do better. We communicate, and I think that's the key that sets us apart. We've got a very good open communication culture within our business that we constantly use with our people,” he added. “Listening to our workers is a big bonus that helps us deliver some of these big complex projects.”

Before crews get down to the business of building or repair, division managers perform site inspections to judge the climate, conditions, and other issues that may hamper the progression of a job. “You can't overplan a job, but you can definitely underplan one. Taking the time to actually go out in the field and understand what conditions you’re facing, if you can plan for them then you have an advantage. It's the unplanned things that tend to hurt people and bring you grief.” That effort is an important part of NA Group’s safety-driven culture.

Dedicated safety officers in each individual crew monitor and mentor workers on a daily basis.

“Safety is our No. 1 driver in the business. All of our managers have KPIs (key performance indicators) around safety as well; one of our biggest jobs is to keep people safe,” Argyropoulos said. A cornerstone of the “zero harm” culture can be found in NA Group’s hiring philosophy.

na roads, the venture magazine“When we employ people, we consider their mindset first, as opposed to ability, because ability can be trained. A way of thinking, and whether or not someone takes safety seriously can't be trained. That's very personal. … We basically employ people's characters as well as their ability.”

Argyropoulos takes the highest road of all: leading by example. “Our company culture is very unique. We take a very big family values approach, we're very supportive of that across the entire company, and we lead by example. If it comes all the way through myself and senior management, that drives culture throughout the business,” he concluded.