Resilience in the time of COVID: Lessons from Citywide

Citywide kickstarted its new Energy and Utilities division last year at the peak of the pandemic.
Citywide kickstarted its new Energy and Utilities division last year at the peak of the pandemic.

As businesses in the roads and infrastructure sector set themselves up for a post-lockdown recovery, Roads & Infrastructure speaks to the team at Citywide Service Solutions about how they’ve navigated the challenges and come out the other side stronger.

The peak of a pandemic might not be the best time to consider adding an entirely new service division to a multi-disciplinary business. But, then again, it might just be the right one if you’ve already envisioned the growth trajectory and set yourself up strategically and operationally.

That was exactly what Citywide, an integrated service solutions company active in the eastern seaboard, did. Late in October 2020, when most of the country was going through strict lockdowns, Citywide kickstarted its Energy and Utilities division by acquiring Victoria’s leading electrical services company, the Gordon McKay Group and its Tasmanian subsidiary, Frontline Electrical.

This was followed by the acquisition of the NSW-based utilities and infrastructure specialist service provider Ultegra in March this year, broadening Citywide’s presence in the New South Wales market and particularly the energy and utilities service sector.

Together, the three strategic acquisitions helped to establish Citywide Utilities, which adds to the long list of service divisions within the Group, including Civil Services and Traffic Management, LGA Capital Works, Arboriculture and Trees, Commercial Waste, Horticulture and Open Space.

Looking back at the decision, Andrew O’Neill, Citywide’s General Manager for Strategy and Growth, says the acquisitions were well aligned with Citywide’s Vision 2025 strategy for growth.

“We have a clear vision of where we want to be as a company and setting ourselves up as a successful business in the energy and utilities sector has been part of that vision,” he says. “All three acquisitions fit very well into that business model as these businesses have themselves been very successful in their respective regions and they bring a significant electrical engineering design and construction capabilities to the mix.”

Citywide acquired NSW-based utilities and infrastructure specialist service provider Ultegra in March this year.
Citywide acquired NSW-based utilities and infrastructure specialist service provider Ultegra in March this year.

The integrations have so far proven to be very successful operationally, O’Neill says, with Citywide’s broader service portfolio complementing the new service offering.

“When paired with our 25-year heritage and experience in delivering civil works programs, it has enabled us to develop a compelling end-to-end utilities and energy service offering,” he says.

“Pole-to-Pit is a typical example: in essence, Citywide as an integrated services provider now provides a unique offering in the market with a truly end-to-end service by combining our newly acquired utilities and infrastructure capability with the experienced civil reinstatements capability, including permanent restorations, road works and traffic management offerings.”

Citywide’s Culture and People

O’Neill, however, notes that a successful acquisition, as part of a sound growth strategy, is not just about acquiring a new brand entity: it is acquiring the vast experience and expertise of a team who are already delivering such services.

“From an operational perspective, having the right people and skillsets in place to successfully establish and expand our Utilities and Energy offerings has been a big contributing factor,” says O’Neill.

“We’ve also been very conscious that as a new business comes onboard, we should not be eroding the existing relationships and accountabilities that these businesses have maintained with their clients over the years. So, the biggest thing for us has been to maintain that ownership of the service delivery through the business managers and then to integrate that cautiously with our own values as a business.”

Looking more broadly, Simon Mossman, Citywide’s Manager, Group Corporate Communications believes that a focus on ‘Culture and People’ as one of the company’s key strategic pillars has helped Citywide better weather the economic storms created by the pandemic.

An example of this was demonstrated in the way the company approached the development of a COVID vaccination policy. Following its ‘Protect a Mate – Vaccinate’ campaign to encourage its 1,300-strong workforce to get vaccinated, Citywide then consulted with its staff in the process of developing a final vaccination policy.

“Employee engagement is core to our culture and our shared values,” says Mossman.

“Our people are our brand and our reputation is built on the good work they do every day for their communities. This level of engagement – maintaining genuine dialogue with our people and nurturing a caring, collaborative culture – is a hallmark of how we roll at Citywide.”

Citywide encouraged its 1,300-strong workforce to get vaccinated by launching the ‘Protect a Mate - Vaccinate’ campaign.
Citywide encouraged its 1,300-strong workforce to get vaccinated by launching the ‘Protect a Mate – Vaccinate’ campaign.

Mossman says the approach has been very successful in ensuring maximum employee engagement.

“The majority of our employees were quick to get behind this. As well as conducting a comprehensive risk assessment to help shape our draft policy, an anonymous staff survey showed strong endorsement for vaccination, with 80 per cent of staff surveyed already either fully or partially vaccinated,” he says.

“Notably, our civil works team members in Victoria demonstrated a genuine willingness to get the jab, knowing what that state government’s mandate for the construction sector meant and recognising the benefits for them.”

 Passing on the lessons

Mindful that the COVID storm clouds have yet to clear and that the pandemic will influence the market for some time to come, Mossman says Citywide’s proactive crisis management played a big part in maintaining stability and a strong people focus through the ongoing public health crisis.

“Comprehensive crisis and issues management planning, even before the pandemic reached Australia, meant staff welfare and customer service continuity remained our priority. This in turn has helped us stay on track, to keep servicing our customers across the board, including through the lockdowns, while also continuing provision of employee assistance programs and other health and safety benefits to our staff in a timely manner,” he says.

Now, amid optimism that the economy will start to gradually recover from the impacts of the pandemic and encouraging signs that the crippling lockdowns might be behind us, Citywide continues to position itself for further growth and transformation.

Within the energy and utilities sector, O’Neill says the team is already engaged on some major projects, leveraging the successful track record of both Citywide and its newly acquired businesses. The team is also looking for growth opportunities and potentially more acquisitions over the coming years.

“There is certainly plenty of growth potential nationally in the civil infrastructure space, allied to the energy and utilities sector, which – through the Citywide Utilities division – we are well positioned to exploit,” says O’Neill. “For example, there is significant investment in the power transmission network with a lot of associated civil infrastructure works anticipated over the next decade and beyond.

“Having a clear, sound business growth strategy has underpinned our success this past year, laying the foundations for us to scale up new service offerings as a Principal and EPC contractor, especially in the utilities and energy sectors. With ‘Growth and Transformation’ as one of five key pillars of the Group’s Vision 2025 business strategy, it remains the big priority for us as we move into 2022.

This article was originally published in the December edition of our magazine. To read the magazine, click here.

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