The outgoing chief executive of Nelmac says the council-owned company is in the best position it has ever been, but he is looking forward to a new challenge.
Lee Babe has been the head of the environmental management company for the past seven years. In that time he has overseen an increase in turnover from $14million to just under $32million and created 110 extra jobs.
“A chief executive is a different sort of a role,” Lee says. “Unless you’ve done it you don’t fully realise what it requires. But it is a great opportunity for learning.”
Nelmac manages everything from the region’s parks and the city’s waste water plant, to having landscape architectural and ecological projects.
Lee was brought up in Nelson before getting into contracting and says the company has had a long journey in turning it into something that can compete with the best commercial organisations.
“We are an environmental management company. When I arrived there was still a perception that we were just a council-owned contractor. The fact that Nelson city owns us is a by-product. They happen to, but we are competitive and relevant company in our own right.”
Lee says he is proud to have led the company on its “safety journey”. “The cultural shift is big. It’s a given now. Safety is not a thing you bolt on – it’s how we work.”
He is also happy to have implemented a leadership development programme.
“That’s one of the things that gets you out of bed – when you see people with good potential and talent get opportunities.”
However, there have been some lowlights. There have been some serious harm incidents at Nelmac and Lee says the industry as a whole is in some difficulty.
“There has been a general decline in the contracting industry and it’s under real pressure – margins are very slim and there is a war for talent.”
Lee says Nelmac is not immune to that but it has remained stable.
He is moving on for a role with Smart Environmental, which has a private equity stake and is looking at growth.
“I don’t want to get stale, I want to move on and learn new things.”
Lee will be the company’s South Island manager. “It’s exciting times for me. But whoever gets the role next has got a great journey ahead for them. We have all the building blocks here. That’s hard to leave, but you have to.”