Case studies

Case study

Hawkins Project Manager, Rodney Verhoeven, assisting Spotless with some essential construction work at Palmerston North Hospital during New Zealand’s Stage 4 lockdown.

Leading during a crisis in New Zealand

Downer’s New Zealand business has extensive experience dealing with crises, including many natural disasters and the 2019 terrorist attack in Christchurch. This meant the team was well placed to respond as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded.

There was only 48 hours’ notice to move from Alert Level 2 to Alert Level 4 (full nation-wide lockdown during which Downer was only able to provide about 30 per cent of its usual services) so the team needed to respond quickly – and they did.

A dedicated crisis management team led Downer’s response, engaging with employees, industry groups and also competitors. Operational leaders managed the commercial impact, including the shutdown of sites and projects across the country, while New Zealand CEO, Steve Killeen, ensured our 12,000 New Zealand employees were kept informed and felt connected. There was a focus on uniting the Downer, Spotless and Hawkins businesses through clear communication that helped them to navigate the uncertainty with empathy.

The New Zealand leadership team met daily by video conference and representatives were assigned to the key government and industry bodies helping to shape the national response. This resulted in Downer having a clear voice at the table with government and industry as all parties worked together to prioritise initiatives and work safely.

Downer employees earning over $50,000 per annum were asked to voluntarily contribute 20 per cent of their salary to keep as many people employed during this time as possible. The response was overwhelming with 98 per cent of employees electing to make this contribution.

“I have been working for Downer for around 30 years now,” said one employee, who wished to remain anonymous. “I have had many proud moments during this time ... yesterday eclipsed that feeling of [pride] when I read Downer’s response to the crisis and how the company is looking after its employees and, for me especially, how the company is looking after the low-waged to keep them at 100 per cent. Well done.”

Customers also welcomed the clear and transparent engagement process with them. “Corporate reputations will either be enhanced or blown during these times,” one said. “This sounds like enhanced.”

Strong and empathetic leadership supported by clear communication resulted in effective engagement with our people, customers, subcontractors and the government.

The New Zealand business was able to return to regular business operations seven weeks after entering full lockdown.