THERE comes a moment in every entrepreneur’s career when the company becomes too large to micromanage.

With operations managers now set up across various sub-sector specialties, founder and managing director of UHK Theodore Vairaktaris, says his role at painting contractors Usher and Sons has ‘become easier’ with expansion.

“I remember when we had 20 staff it was a major headache. Now with more than 150 my role is actually getting easier,” says Vairaktaris.

“We have the right structure in place to now handle further expansion quite easily and could easily run up to 300 staff if we had to. I’ve got specialist managers handling large commercial, light commercial, residential, solid plastering, signage, decorating and so on. I don’t know of any other painting company in the industry that has diversified as much as we have.”

He may be the first to admit he is less ‘hands on’ than a couple of years ago, but having boosted Usher and Sons’ holding company UHK by more than $3 million, Vairaktaris paints a vivid portrayal of success.

Over the last 12 months Usher and Sons has completed work for Southport’s Victorian Towers, Chermside’s Wheller On The Park, the Ecovillage at Currumbin and the next stage of the Broadwater Parklands redevelopment.

Vairaktaris says the company’s business model ‘has been the secret’ to its growth.

“The industry has been calling for professionalism for quite some time and our continued combination of quality work and on-site management diligence has seen work come and find us,” he says.

“We have a brand promise that we’re partners in construction. We don’t turn up; do the painting job at our leisure and leave. We make sure we work exactly to the construction company’s delivery deadline and ensure we do all we can to help them achieve that.

“We conduct fortnightly meetings with the entire management team and review all the jobs to be certain that the values and ethics our brand is built on are being upheld in every division of the company.”

The 33-year-old is also immensely proud of Usher and Sons’ industry leading staff retention rate.

Recruitment experts are tipping a potential shortage in new qualified tradesmen caused by low apprentice numbers during the building sector’s down turn.

Vairaktaris has implemented a staff training program to not only boost the skills of his current employees and contractors, but to attract a new breed of painters for the future.

“The average age of today’s qualified painter is between 50 and 55 years old. If we don’t look to the long-term and try to combat the skills shortage now we could have a serious problem on our hands,” he says.

“We’ve almost created our own niche in the way we run our business and provide our services and now we’re looking to be an industry leader in staff development. Already tradesmen want to work with us because they know we will put the investment into refining and improving the skills sets of our people.

“It’s the same with young guys looking for apprenticeships. We strive to be the best at developing the skills of young tradesmen and the company will be in a better position into the future because of it.”

In an industry that’s been on its back for the last two years and is expected to take some time to recover, Usher and Sons is growing. Now the plan is to have headquarters set up in each state and territory.

“We’ve initiated Melbourne, Sydney and Townsville but the market conditions particularly down south are still very cut-throat at the moment,” he says.

“The initial plan was to have these offices fully operational by January 2011, but this has been momentarily postponed. We don’t want to enter a local market flooded with people undercutting each other for work just to pay their employees.

“We’re happy with the growth occurring in South-East Queensland and interstate expansion will come when the time is right.”

Young Entrepreneur Profile

Theodore Vairaktaris
UHK/Usher and Sons
Age: 33
Business Est: 2003
Staff: 150 (inc contractors)
Growth: 63 per cent
Turnover: $8.5 million

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