Curious Design: Mark Campbell
DBM Vircon CEO Mark Campbell is using his natural curiosity to drive himself and the company to new levels of excellence in its construction modelling projects around the world.
Like virtually every other business with tentacles around the world, DBM Vircon, a construction modelling, detailing and digital engineering company, had to make drastic changes to its operating model in record time to keep its many projects on track during the pandemic. In October 2020, mid-pandemic, Mark Campbell took on the role of CEO and, although it was a difficult time to take on the leadership of such a complex business, he has no regrets about his decision.
"Some would say joining the company at the time was a bit foolish," Mark tells The CEO Magazine. "It’s been a challenge, and I think the old cliché of ‘the only constant is change’ has been very true. Some of the biggest challenges have been making sure our technology works hard for us and that we can continue to deliver for our clients."
Mark is a civil engineer with vast experience in diverse industries, including transportation, water, construction, the built environment and asset management. He began his career in the Royal Navy in 1995, eventually becoming Senior Pilot and Executive Officer of 815 Naval Air Squadron, before taking on various management roles in the business world.
With an engineering degree and Master of Business Administration under his belt, he was well qualified to take the helm at DBM Vircon. DBM Vircon is the sum of three very different companies, which were acquired in 2016-17 – PDC Group in Perth, BDS Vircon in Brisbane and Candraft in Vancouver, Canada. The merged companies all come under the DBM Vircon umbrella.
We have a very diverse workforce, and we need to respect and value one another.
"We have a workforce of close to 900 people spread across the globe, with many located in India, the Philippines and Malaysia," Mark says. "They’re all working in trying conditions and subject to natural disasters, such as typhoons in India and the Philippines. It’s really a testament to their amazing grit and determination that they continued to deliver excellent work for us during a pandemic."
There’s no other company like DBM Vircon, he adds, explaining that it sits uniquely between a traditional engineering role, the contractor and the fabricator. "We’re the intermediary that helps make projects come to life, bringing the design to the contractor in a meaningful way," he explains.
"I see us more as a technology business, and one of our challenges is making sure that we can use technology to make our clients’ projects a reality." Mark places real importance on curiosity and says that businesses must have inquisitiveness right through its ranks to question what it does and how it can be done better.
DBM Vircon has new opportunities in machine learning, augmented reality and artificial intelligence, and Mark believes a curious mindset is necessary to putting some of these technologies to use to improve clients’ projects. But curiosity doesn’t solve everything, he admits. "You have to realise that not everything’s going to work, so you have to be prepared to fail," Mark says.
"But, hopefully, you learn the lessons, you pick up quickly and try the next thing. In business, you probably do learn more from your failures. We don’t want to fail; nobody does. But I think it’s about how we learn from that and make sure we make the right decisions moving forward.
"In a leadership position, you must realise that you don’t have all the answers – far from it," he says. "You should be able to absorb opinions, listen to people and make the best decision you can with the information you have at hand and realise that sometimes that decision might be wrong, but not being afraid to put your hand up anyway.
"We’re always trying to challenge ourselves, to figure out how to succeed and how to do things better. But I think that’s part of the culture and the value set that I’ve tried to instil in the business."
Growing the footprint
Mark is also proud of the company’s diversified business divisions and geographical spread, spanning from Manila to Chennai, Perth to Brisbane and the US to Canada, tackling everything from large industrial projects to iconic stadiums and Digital Twins to asset information management. That’s not all though; he has expansion plans for a European presence too.
"We really provide a depth of experience in so many industries," he says. "We have a great commercial business, delivering fantastic projects in North America. We have a bridge-focused business in Vancouver. Our Brisbane and Perth offices deliver monumental industrial and commercial projects. And we’re growing our digital engineering business beyond being Australian focused in the US and the UK. Ultimately, we can deliver on any kind of complex construction project, anywhere in the entire world."
The value proposition
Mark bases his business ethos on acting with the highest standards of integrity and honesty. That distinction, he insists, is key as the company strives for excellence in delivering innovative solutions. Curiosity, a word he mentions several times, is integral in his approach to achieve this.
"We’re always looking for better ways to do things and we’re determined to succeed in those actions with collaboration – we have offices in eight countries with hundreds of staff, and we really do have to collaborate, not only with each other, but also with our clients. "And show respect," he adds.
"Across those eight countries, we have varying cultures. We have a very diverse workforce, and we need to respect and value one another, making sure that we’re being inclusive in our behaviour and actions. We must inspire and help each other to grow and succeed. Lastly, I think what’s really important is empathy – that we understand, look after and serve one another."
Bridging the gap
DBM Vircon specialises in complex projects and uses technology to its advantage. Indeed, it has enjoyed great success by ensuring that the right technology works for each job, such as the Queen’s Wharf precinct in Brisbane and the Chase Center arena in San Francisco. "It’s really about blending technology with a traditional detailing mindset, and I think that’s what sets us apart from others," Mark says.
We work with the software vendors very closely to ensure a positive outcome. We’re partnering with a number of unique suppliers, as well as developing world-class applications and systems in-house with our own very clever developers. And we see a lot of opportunities in the digital engineering space when it comes to partnering with software companies. But one of our key differentiators is that we’re software agnostic, and we’ll work with what the client’s preferred software is to find the solution for them."
Boasting business operations in eight countries across four continents and with more than 55 years of experience, DBM Vircon has become one of the world’s most comprehensive and sophisticated 3D modelling, detailing and digital engineering companies.
Mark believes the construction industry is traditionally slow to adopt changes in technology, and so is driving DBM Vircon to push hard in that direction as a point of difference. By utilising technology to improve processes and bridge the gap from design into constructability, he sees the company sitting uniquely between the two in helping clients and stakeholders get projects built more efficiently.
"I’m a big believer in building trusted relationships with our clients, as opposed to just hitting them up when you hear that there’s a project on the horizon," Mark says. "I really think building those trusted relationships is the key to longevity and success."
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