Ausdrill keeps focus on growth after transformative year

Ausdrill at work in the Pilbara.

To call the past year a period of change at Ausdrill would be an understatement.

Rewind to the 2018 Diggers and Dealers Mining Forum and the seeds of the mining services company’s future had already been planted with the retirement of founder and managing director Ron Sayers.

Ausdrill was also just a week away from announcing plans to acquire underground contractor Barminco.

As a number of ensuing opportunities surfaced, particularly in Africa, Ausdrill turned those changes into a transformation, something backed up by the company numbers revealed at the 2019 event in Kalgoorlie-Boulder.

Since August last year, Ausdrill has doubled its revenues, increased its employee base by a third, added three countries to its project portfolio, and boosted its order book by 191 per cent and pipeline by 78 per cent.

Ausdrill’s acquisition of Barminco, with its track record in Africa and Australia, has been a decisive part of this growth.

Barminco, for example, secured an $800 million contract at the Khoemacau copper project in Botswana in June, giving Ausdrill a presence in the southern African country for the first time.

Ausdrill managing director and chief executive Mark Norwell, who started in the role in September 2018, conceded that the company’s development over the past year was an “out of the ordinary growth projection.”

However, Norwell said Ausdrill still had growth opportunities that could strengthen this platform further.

“(We have) just the one contract in Botswana at the moment. With our pipeline we do have other opportunities beyond Khoemacau in Botswana,” Norwell told Australian Mining on the sidelines at Diggers and Dealers.

“So, we are keen on those in time. Certainly, the current countries we operate in we will also keep the presence there.

“We are going to be quite selective, there will be countries we won’t go to for various reasons. We need to make sure we can operate safely for our people from a security perspective.”

Norwell hinted that Ausdrill would pursue opportunities in additional African countries like Namibia and Zambia through its two contractors focused on the continent, as long as the timing was right.

North America, which has been linked to Ausdrill’s growth plans in the past, also remains on the company’s radar.

Ausdrill is also open to adding new services to its already broad capabilities in exploration, mine development, surface mining and underground mining.

But again, Norwell expressed caution in the approach Ausdrill would take before making any significant moves.

“We will look at complementary services only if our core capabilities bring value to bear. We are not going to race out and do something left field if we don’t have capabilities, it is going to be within our mining capability,” Norwell said.

The services would possibly feed off the development of Ausdrill’s technology capabilities, another focus for the company Norwell believes reflects the direction the market is moving.

He said Ausdrill planned to initially develop from a technology perspective to improve the current operating businesses it has.

“An approach through technology would be to make them safer, more productive and to drive the cost bases down. But beyond that we are not going to go and become a new R&D company per se – it is about the application of the technology,” Norwell concluded.

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