Farrell Coyne Projects is into project management. According to director Robert Farrell, “we don’t build, we don’t design, we just manage.” That means the company is capable of managing everything within a project – even the client. The company becomes the hub, he explains, with everything revolving round it as it becomes a true client representative.

Independence from builders is a central feature of the Farrell Coyne product offer. The company does not align itself with anyone in terms of builders, consultants, or subcontractors. “When a client comes to us they can be sure we have a wide range of experience.” The best aspect of the business, says Robert, is that “with building in general, you never do the same project twice, so it’s very hard to get any non-independent alliance going.” There are so many varied and different jobs that it’s a case of ‘horses for courses’ – look at the company’s website, he says, and you’ll see the wide variety of projects undertaken, that proves there are no alliances or any dependence or preference for any one partner.

There are two reasons for this preference for independence, Robert explains. First, it’s because he and fellow director Terry Coyne set the business up in this format and, secondly, “because the jobs that we do are so different. The next time we do a job, the person we used on the last job or the one before will not be appropriate.”

Current work is typical of the variety. There is a residential development, student accommodation development, an irrigation modernisation scheme, school work and club fitout work. Robert believes there is no single builder that would be ideal for all those projects so in each case there is a call for a different set of consultants and builders. The company is comfortable in many areas including: multi storey residential, commercial, hospitality, wineries, cinemas, student housing, education, aged care, streetscaping, and infrastructure.

This was the Farrell Coyne model when project management started to become popular about 20-25 years ago, but many other companies have since moved into more of a full services role. Robert says both he and Terry resisted. They were both in contracting at the time they set up the company and saw a gap in the industry that had been left open by the architects, who had done that work (i.e. managing the project) previously. Architects can be in a tricky position, with a potential conflict of interest with administration if they are assessing claims for cost and time borne by shortcomings in design documentation, not least because their skills generally lean more towards design than managing projects.

Robert adds that there are small projects on which Farrell Coyne will construction manage as well – hotel fitouts at under three million dollars, as an example – where the initial approach was for a project manager only but the scale of the project leads to a ‘doubling up’ of the role. It is not practical, he says, to design something like the refurbishment of a 100-year-old pub to such a level that you can get a lump-sum price. In such a case they are happier to break it down into trade packages and run on that basis for the client. However, “mostly we operate in the $10-50 million dollar bracket and in that area we have stayed well away from doing any contracting at all.”

Instead, the company has a large list of preferred consultants to do certain types of work – particular architects to do school work, hospitality and club work, residential, student accommodation, etc – around four or five in each category. With many clients, if the architect has not already been selected by the client, Robert will suggest “a bit of a design competition.”

It is a frequent moan from project managers up and down the length of Australia – why don’t clients get the message that the earlier you get them involved in the project, the more value they can add. Robert is no exception. “Some do. But what many miss is that they can get our experience for free if they get us in really early because we have seen certain problems before.” He says he was “lucky enough” to work in his early career for a company that sent him to numerous places around Asia which gave him a good grounding and experience to cope with a large construction company.

Farrell Coyne is happy with residential projects and has a lot of experience in flat building and residential development on a large scale, though not individual houses unless very large ones. Recent clients have featured a number of well known names including the likes of Symond Residence, Ferrari Maserati, Darling Harbour Authority, Hoyts, IMAX and Coles, not to mention the prestigious 8 Kent Road development (please see sidebar for more details).

Among current projects the Trangie Nevertire irrigation system is really interesting, says Robert, because it’s different – dealing with farmers and with a cooperative rather than a single client brings an unusual management challenge. Trangie Nevertire is a Commonwealth funded project which Farrell Coyne won in open competition against over 30 companies. Terry Coyne says “we were chosen not for our irrigation or rural experience but our ability to manage the commercial risks and give certainty to the delivery process.”

But one of Robert’s proudest projects has been the St John’s College restoration (please see sidebar for more details). He attended the college as a student, was aware of the way the property had become run down and was able to be part of the project that turned it all round. “Projects like that give you great satisfaction,” he comments with feeling.

By John Boley

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