Construction cost consultants Kwanto didn't cool
their jets during the recession - and now they're ramping up to
take advantage of new opportunities.
That addition to your house ended up costing you double? It's
not surprising, really. Building project budgets have a tendency to
spiral out of control, especially when you keep making little
changes. This is where a good quantity surveyor can make a huge
difference, says James White, who set up Kwanto in 2006 to raise
the profile of the profession and put the spotlight on the vital
role quantity surveyors play in building projects. Ironically, this
means throwing out the "quantity surveyor" label.
"The term 'construction cost consultants' more clearly describes
what we do," says White. "We don't just count nails. Everything
that happens on a construction site is cost-related.
"At Kwanto we think beyond the dots and digits to build strong
relationships with the construction team, often acting as the agent
between the client, the architect and the builder. We constantly
look for ways to add value to the project team, by keeping things
transparent and ensuring the clients' resources are used to their
best advantage. The profession has been muted for far too long. If
we don't blow our own trumpet, we risk being forgotten and we have
a lot to add."
White works closely with the New Zealand Institute of Quantity
Surveyors (NZIQS), pioneering its rebranding to help raise the
profession's profile. Kwanto was launched, with no clients and a
65m2 office, when he moved from Wellington to Auckland. Now the
company has 12 staff and offices in Auckland, Tauranga and
Wellington. It was scary initially, but a big project early on got
him going and it's grown from there.
"We're all about combining innovation with the traditional
face-to-face, relationship-building way of doing business. When you
set out with those values, you soon get recognised as something
different and you become busy. As we grow, it's important that we
retain that boutique, client-focused flavour."
Another unique selling point for Kwanto is the type of jobs it
specialises in. While other companies target the more lucrative
commercial building projects, Kwanto has focused on residential
projects, remedial work and dispute resolution. Leaky building
issues and events such as the Canterbury quakes have provided
steady work in these niche areas.
"We've done around 4,500 remedial estimates over the past five
years. We'll soon be doing a large amount of remedial work in
Christchurch and helping with the city's rebuild."
That said, much of Kwanto's work is high-end residential new
builds and renovations, where achieving time, quality and budget
expectations is crucial and comes down to careful project
management and transparency.
Specialising in the tricky areas of leaking building projects
and dispute resolution has helped Kwanto through the recession. A
large amount of White's work involves giving expert evidence in
construction dispute cases.
"That type of work has been fairly constant, but when things
started to cool off we didn't sit back and mull over what could've
been; we started to invest in the future, continued to grow the
team and ramped up our marketing. When the industry comes out of
recession, we want to be ready to take advantage of the
opportunities that are waiting."
It's a business strategy accounting firm Hayes Knight strongly
advocates. Around 18 months ago, the two companies began working
together. White says Hayes Knight is an innovative company taking a
fresh approach, similar to theirs.
"They're looking at accounting from a business opportunity
perspective. That's where we get the most bang for our buck and
derive the most benefit from working with senior business
improvement manager Mike Atkinson."
Atkinson has a lot of admiration for White and the company he
and his wife, Maria, have created. "Kwanto has a great team of
professionals who focus on developing great relationships. They
have an edgy approach and are always looking for new opportunities
- whether that's growth or new markets."
Hayes Knight began with a strategic planning session with
Kwanto, which Atkinson likens to doing a jigsaw puzzle: get the
frame in place so you have your sights set on what you need to do
to complete the picture. It's also helped Kwanto improve its
taxation planning, develop a tactical marketing plan and reduce the
business's exposure to any financial risk. To propel Kwanto along
its growth trajectory, Hayes Knight has also prepared cash flow
forecasts, optimised the company structure and introduced KPI
reporting to keep it on track.
Introducing a governance framework to the business, and regular
development meetings, helps to monitor performance and keep them
accountable and focused on the plan, says Atkinson. White values
the meetings, which offer the chance to learn from the past and
prepare for the future. Their conversations have been a valuable
sounding board, and reassurance that he's taking Kwanto in the