Building a legacy: How Jack Hutchinson is keeping a Brisbane family tradition alive

Jack Hutchinson is just your average thirty-something guy from Brisbane. He’s a young father; he’s a fiend on the pinball machines at Netherworld; he enjoys a night out at the Fortitude Music Hall; and he’s the heir to a $3.5 billion dollar business empire. Wait, what? 

Okay, so maybe Jack has a little more on his shoulders than the average 32-year-old. As a company director and the heir apparent of Hutchinson Builders, Australia’s largest privately-owned construction company, Jack’s set to become the custodian of a legacy dating back five generations. 

Hutchinson Builders – or Hutchies, as it’s affectionately known by most – was founded by Jack’s great, great grandfather 112 years ago. Since then, the Brisbane business has become a national brand with 1,900 staff, turning over roughly $3.5 billion in annual revenue. 

Unlike most businesses of its size and stature, Hutchies has never flirted with going public. The Toowong-based business has always remained firmly in the family’s control – and, speaking at the Brisbane Business Hub’s most recent On The Couch event, Jack said that’s the way he’d like it to remain. 

“We don’t want to cash out and sit on the beach,” he said. “We want to keep Hutchies family-owned, and we want to keep it going. 

“Being a fifth-generation family business allows us to think long-term about the purpose of the business – and that purpose is to stay alive and keep this thing going for as many generations as possible.” 

Crowd smiling at the stage at the On The Couch With Jack Hutchinson event

Earning his stripes 

It’s no secret that Jack has always been destined for big things – but he didn’t walk straight into his role at Hutchies. 

After graduating with a Bachelor of Property (majoring in Quantity Surveying and Construction Management) from Bond University, he took a job at a Sydney-based quantity surveying firm for several years. Later, he completed an MBA at London Business School while working for a builder in the UK. 

It was a career path his father, Scott Hutchinson – the Chairman of Hutchinson Builders – urged him to follow. 

“My father was always keen for me to work outside the business, before I came back into the business,” Jack explained. 

“He took that route himself – he worked as an engineer before he came back to Hutchies. My grandfather did the same thing; he worked as a quantity surveyor before he got into the family business. I saw what building a career outside of Hutchies did for them, in terms of giving them the confidence that even if they didn’t have this opportunity, they’d always be capable of making a living.

“As well as developing that self-respect, it’s also about establishing your credibility, and earning the confidence of your peers. It’s important for the people I work with to know I have that experience, both within Hutchies and externally, and I think it’s prepared me to be a steward of Hutchies.” 

Jack was ultimately appointed as a director at Hutchies in 2022, with an eye to eventually taking over his father’s role as Chairman of the Board. 

“I was always groomed for the chairmanship, but never to be the CEO, or the Managing Director, as we call that role at Hutchies,” Jack said. “My father’s view has been that it’s all well and good to want to keep a company within the family, but you still need to pick the right people for the right jobs.”

In fact, Jack is quick to credit Greg Quinn as the most influential figure in the company’s rapid rise over the last two decades. The first non-Hutchinson family member to hold the position of Managing Director, Quinn was appointed in 2001, when Scott stepped aside from the position and moved into the Chairman role. Quinn remained at the helm until his retirement in 2022; his successor as Managing Director, Russell Fryer, also comes from outside the Hutchinson family. 

“It was the Greg Quinn era that saw Hutchies expand from a Queensland business to a truly national one,” Jack said. “He was the one who expanded the business into places like Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart, and he grew the business from a turnover of $130 million per annum, with a balance sheet of $13 million, to a turnover of $2.7 billion and a debt-free balance sheet of $388 million by the time he retired.

“My father still chairs the Board, and he’s still very happy doing that, but when he eventually decides to hang up the boots, the plan is for me to move into that role, and be the steward of the business for another generation.” 

In the meantime, Jack has been developing his own leadership style in his current role as a company director.

“When I was younger, I was more self-conscious about ticking certain boxes, as far as what I thought good leadership was,” he said. “But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve realised it’s just about making good decisions; being able to communicate why you’ve made those decisions; and being a decent person. 

“I think being comfortable with yourself is the most important thing, because people gravitate towards that. If you’re being inauthentic, if you’re feeling self-conscious and you’re a nervous wreck, I think most people can tell. And most people don’t want to follow someone who’s trying to be something they’re not.”

Crowd networking before the On The Couch With Jack Hutchinson event

A port in the storm

Jack’s time at Hutchies has been something of a trial by fire so far, with the construction industry facing significant challenges that have led to some high-profile insolvencies. 

“I think there are a few reasons why we’ve seen so many builders and subcontractors get into strife over the last few years,” Jack said. “COVID, and the post-COVID economy, has led to particularly heavy inflation within the construction industry – roughly 20 per cent per annum. And because the industry tends to run on fixed price contracts, when you’re in an inflationary environment, you get caught out on contracts with rising costs. 

“We’ve also had some terrible weather, which has led to an unusual amount of rain delays all down the east coast of Australia. And we’ve also seen a trend towards lower productivity, in general, since COVID, which I think has been the result of people reprioritising what’s important to them in their lives.”

Despite these challenges, Jack said he remains confident that Hutchies’ fiscal prudence has put the company in a strong position to weather the storm. 

“This year’s profits will be modest, because of the headwinds the industry is facing, but we’ll be fine,” he said. “Our fiscal strategy has always been that Hutchies comes first. If we make a lot of money, we leave it in the business for a rainy day. That means we always have capital within the company, which allows us to take a hit. 

“We’ve grown the company on the back of retained earnings, as opposed to borrowing money or taking on equity investors from outside. So we’re essentially debt-free, and we’ve got plenty of cash on our balance sheet. And in this industry, sometimes you need cash. Whether it’s because a client’s in trouble or a subcontractor’s in trouble, having cash gives you the agility you need to make the decisions you want to make. 

“A lot of builders don’t have that cash in the bank, and that’s a big part of the reason why some of them go broke.” 

Aside from having plenty of cash at their disposal, another advantage for Hutchies is the company’s much-vaunted culture, which has helped them to retain key talent. 

Jack told the crowd at the Brisbane Business Hub that while part of this culture can be attributed to simply “throwing good parties” and “having a sense of humour”, the company’s unusual flat-line management structure also plays a role. 

“We have a decentralised structure,” he explained. “We have 25 construction team leaders who report directly to our Managing Director, and each of those leaders is charged with a lot of responsibility. They hire their own people, they have their own relationships with subcontractors and suppliers, they’re given a lot of room to make their own decisions, and they’re held accountable for those decisions. 

“So it’s a little different to how most organisations of this size are run, in that there’s less of a hierarchy. But even though it’s unorthodox, we’ve found it works for us. It means talented people stay within Hutchies, because they can run their teams the way they want to.” 

Jack Hutchinson laughing out towards the crowd at the On The Couch With event

Building the future 

Looking into his crystal ball, Jack said his vision for the future of Hutchies is one of evolution, not revolution. 

“I’m not driven by ego, so I don’t want to make change for the sake of change,” he said. “I don’t feel that desire to ‘make my mark’ as the next generation of the business. I think some family businesses probably do fall into that trap, where the new generation wants to prove themselves to the market, and they want to prove that they’re as good or even better than their mother or father, but I’m not driven by that. 

“My goal is to keep Hutchies going for another generation. I’m grateful for what I stand to inherit, which is a successful business with money in the bank, a great reputation, and great people. And that’s what I want to pass down when the time comes.” 

Jack made no bones of the fact that he wants to see Hutchies become a sixth-generation family business – if his kids choose to accept the mantle. 

“The future of Hutchies will be up to them,” he said. “I’ll give first shot at it to our eldest, which has always been the way in our family. My daughter’s only one year old, and my wife is still pregnant with my son, so this is all a long way away. But I hope they’ll have the values I have, and I hope they’ll want to take over the business and keep this thing going.”

If Jack’s daughter does pick up the baton one day, she could become the first woman to chair the Board at Hutchies. This goes hand-in-hand with the company’s efforts to promote gender equality in the construction industry. 

“We’ve been getting into schools and partnering with organisations like UNIQ You, who are promoting non-traditional industries like construction to young girls,” Jack said. “At the moment, there is a shortage of women in the industry, so even if you introduced a gender quota today, we simply wouldn’t have the women to fill all of those roles. Hopefully, programs like this will lead to a bigger talent pool for us to draw from in the long term, so we can promote more women within our own business.” 

Ultimately, there’s one thing Jack is certain of when it comes to the future of Hutchies – it’ll be based in Brisbane. 

“Brisbane’s our home,” he said. “Even now that we’re operating nationally, around half of our work is in South East Queensland, and a big chunk of that is in Brisbane itself. Brisbane is a great place to do business, it’s where most of our senior people are located, and while we’ll continue to operate nationally, I don’t see a reason to ever move anywhere else. 

“We’ve always been headquartered in Brisbane, and we always will be.”

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