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From Irish Backpacker to CEO of a $35M company in 5 years

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From Irish Backpacker to CEO of a $35M company in 5 years

Mid-Market Awards 2013 | Best Mid-Market Rising Star: Monford Group

The rise of Declan White shows what’s on offer when a smart entrepreneur seizes a key moment in time.

As a 24-year-old Irish backpacker on a working holiday visa, White arrived in Australia in 2008. He took a job laying concrete before setting up Monford Group two years later to provide construction services to resources companies in Western Australia.

His timing was perfect. Western Australia’s resources boom was hotting up and White’s business grew quickly. Monford made $5.5 million in its first year, before lifting revenue to $13.7 million last year. In 2013, the business has 181 staff and is expecting to turn over $30 million.

For White, who is yet to turn 30, the decision to set up Monford has been highly lucrative. It has been profitable since the beginning and is most likely worth upwards of $10 million. White remains the sole shareholder.

Few 29-year-olds have ever had so much success so quickly.

Looking back, White says it has been an exciting ride.

“I love it,” he says. “Every day is a challenge; you don’t know what you will come up against.”

The biggest challenge he faced came in Monford’s earliest days. Before he could hire staff (he had as many as 30 within the first six months) he had to win work for them to do.

Having spent two years in the local construction industry, White had built a healthy group of contacts. He knew where to find good workers but had trouble winning the confidence of big companies he spoke to in the hope of securing his first big deal.

“I was a 26-year-old who went in looking for multimillion-dollar civil contracts,” White says.

The secret, he says, is that there are no secrets in getting people to take a leap of faith. “I just kept persevering.”

His first big win was a contract to provide construction services to an oil and gas plant in Karratha. It was a $2 million deal.

Plan for growing pains

Ramping up staff numbers was expensive. After completing some of the work, White was able to negotiate shorter payment terms with the client. He got paid every two weeks, which allowed him to pay his growing staff base.

Many fast-growing companies struggle with cash flow and it is something White has watched closely.

“We’ve perfected it to a fine art. We know how much each job will be and how much money will come in.


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