Bendigo Business Stories: McCullochs Hydraulic Engineers and Bendigo Bank15 June 2022
Investing in people and a ‘can do’ attitude leads to business success in Bendigo
For Ken McCulloch and the team at McCullochs Hydraulic Engineers in Bendigo the secret behind their 77-year success is family and relationships.
The company has grown from humble beginnings. In 1945 Ken’s father and grandfather converted two small bulldozers into rice harvesters, over time transforming their business from farm contractors to agricultural engineers. Today it employs 68 people and works on million dollar contracts.
In fact, McCullochs have been so successful that for the past two decades, it has supplied components for the production of Australia’s world-famous Bushmaster and later Hawkei armoured vehicles. The vehicles are built in Bendigo by French-owned defence company Thales.
Recently, Australia promised 20 Bushmasters to Kyiv in response to a personal request from Ukraine’s Prime Minister Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
McCullochs maintains a strong customer focus, gives back to its community, is part of an international supply chain and has strong working relationships with larger businesses, especially Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.
Both organisations have worked together for more than three decades and Ken’s son, Steve McCulloch, describes the bank as “part of our business’’.
“It’s not something off to the side. Without the Bank, we couldn’t have done it. They were prepared to give us a go,’’ he said.
As Steve pointed out, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank is the only financial institution of its size to maintain a head office in the city; a fact that played a pivotal role in McCullochs’ decision to work together.
“As a regionally headquartered company, our Bank is proud to call Bendigo home. Our location is an important statement that speaks volumes about our investment in, and commitment to, rural and regional Australia,” said Marnie Baker, CEO and Managing Director, Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.
“We are the only regionally headquartered ASX listed financial institution, while more than half our branches are situated in rural or regional settings.
“And not only does our Bank have its roots in regional Australia, we also exist at the very epicentre of hundreds of rural and regional communities.
“Like our Bank, McCullochs has a strong customer focus, gives back to its community and has proven business success need not be contingent on geographical location,” Ms Baker concluded.
Ms Baker will take part in a Strong Australia business lunch and panel at Bendigo’s All Seasons Hotel and Resort on Friday 17 June from 12pm.
Sky News chief news anchor Kieran Gilbert will moderate the panel which will also include Business Council of Australia chief executive Jennifer Westacott AO and the chief reputation officer at Woolworths, Christian Bennett.
The Strong Australia panel will explore the opportunities in the region as Australia emerges from the pandemic, including the role local businesses like McCullochs will play in the recovery.
Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott says our regions are made stronger by successful partnerships like McCulloch’s and Bendigo and Adelaide Bank.
“Businesses like McCullochs are the backbone of Australia and provide tremendous opportunities in our regions by creating highly skilled local jobs and contributing to nationally significant defence projects.
“To realise our full potential as a nation, we must realise the full potential of our regions. I’m looking forward to discussing these opportunities with the McCullochs team and the Bendigo community.”
Ken said McCullochs was able to keep expanding because it has always looked “for opportunities to diversify into other areas’’.
“Our staff are flexible so we can move quite quickly. We have ‘can do’ people so we can evolve, take on challenges and we’ll do stuff we haven’t done before,’’ Ken said.
Ken insists being located in regional Victoria has really paid off.
“I think you get a more skilled and loyal workforce here than perhaps you might in a capital city,” Ken said. “We train a lot of apprentices because they then fill the gaps when people decide to move on.”
When operating 24/7, 365 days per year, a skilled and committed workforce is essential. In the past it was normal for McCullochs to train up to eight apprentices at a time; staff who have gone on to join the management team and are now viewed as the future of the company.
In more recent years, however, the supply of trainees has dwindled.
The team at McCullochs has had to become more creative in their recruitment activities; developing stronger ties with TAFE Bendigo and La Trobe University to ensure young people hear about the benefits of working in the manufacturing and hydraulics industry. They now are attracting women into what was previously a male only trade based workforce.
“The careers teachers don't see our industry as a career that they would encourage kids to look at. There’s more of an eye towards tech and academics,” Steve said.
“All our trades apprentices and some of our admin staff do their training at TAFE.”
The company – originally managed by Bill and Ron (Snr) McCulloch, then Ron (Jnr) and Ken McCulloch – is now headed up by Jeffrey, Stephen and Rodney McCulloch who are fourth generation McCullochs.
“Our best asset through all of this will always be our staff … It isn't the land and the buildings and the machines,” Ken said. “Our biggest single asset is our staff and the skills that they've got and their ability to be able to take on challenges and pull them off.
“If a big storm went through here and knocked all the buildings over, we could rent a place around the corner, and we'd be up and going in some form or another within weeks. If all our staff left and we had to go and source staff and train them up to the standard we’ve got here, we’d be 15 or 20 years before we got back to where we are now.”
Ken has no qualms about retiring, stating: “The boys have got the skills to keep going. And it's up to them now.”
Turning to the future, Steve was confident: “We are always looking for opportunity and there's so much work out there. With the skill set that we've got here, the sky's the limit. The future's bright for the company.”
The Strong Australia Network was created by the Business Council of Australia to highlight the work of industry leaders, small business owners, employees and suppliers in our regions. To learn more about the network visit: https://www.strongaustralia.net/get-involved