Carl Saywell is the Managing Director and founder of MS Civil Construction, a Waikato-based company that specialises in earthworks, development, drainage, surfacing and more. Carl has steered MS Civil through sustained and accelerated growth after starting the business in late 2017, and has built a team of highly-skilled and experienced project specialists.
Location: Te Awamutu, Waikato
Business Type: Building and Construction
Number of Employees: 23
Current Business Situation: Experiencing impressive year-on-year growth and relatively softly impacted by COVID-19
The Icehouse Business Coach: Derek Young
‘Carl has given me a lot of support and encouragement being new to this type of role and industry. I really enjoy working in the mechanical (fleet maintenance) part of the business, and given there is such a wide variety of task, it’s hard to be bored.’ - Rebecca Steiner, Administrator at MS Civil Construction
Tell us about yourself and why you decided to become an entrepreneur?
I’ve been building things for as long as I can remember. I got my Diploma in Civil Engineering at WINTEC (the Waikato Institute of Technology) in 2010, which was the closest qualification available at the time to enable me to drive diggers and trucks! I then worked at Fulton Hogan, but after working in the corporate world it got to a point where I felt I didn’t have any control of my work life and decided it can’t be that hard to go it alone.
Why did you choose your type of business?
Starting the business was a real no brainer as it’s my passion and where my qualifications lie. I had some background support and was lucky enough to get a $20,000 loan off mum and dad. The opportunities came in, I bought some equipment, hired two people, and was able to pay back my parents within six months and invest more capital into the business and take on a more project management role. Day one, we had two diggers and a team of two, including me and, by month three, we had close to ten staff running four trucks and two diggers.
How have you and your business been impacted by COVID-19?
We learnt a lot in 2019. We went from revenue of $2million a year to just under $4million, so we’re seeing tremendous growth – which put us on a good footing for 2020. Even during the first wave of COVID-19 there was a need for our services. We were shut down from all physical works, but our planning continued through. Naturally, some of our jobs were put on hold, but we were also in consultation across several large contracts, which meant we were still able to project plan and negotiate. It helps that our team is so highly diverse – no one has the same sort of skill set – so we are able to keep bouncing off each other and push through various projects.
What kind of support have you received from The Icehouse and are you looking to keep working with them?
In early 2018, I spoke to my BNZ bank manager in a little bit of a panic and said, ‘Look you’ve just given me $700,000 loan which is great, but do you have a business development person or a coach I can partner with?’
They put me in touch with The Icehouse and, after some introductions, interviews and vetting, decided that Derek Young was the best fit for me and my current business situation. Within four months Derek was on board and the business settled into a rhythm.
Derek’s also on my advisory board and very involved in my business. I can also work one-on-one with Derek for a day or so each month, and he’s incredible. He knows what buttons need to be pressed, is really invested in my success and has great intuition. He’s been amazing.
One day Derek asked me, ‘What does success look like to you, bud? How far can you take this?’ It was a real eye-opener because it got me questioning whether I was thinking too small. That one comment changed everything.
He mentioned how the Owner Manager Programme (OMP) would be beneficial, and I am so glad I did it. I finished my OMP just before lockdown, and also completed the two-day Building Sales Structure & Skills workshop in mid-2020 – which was coincidentally facilitated by Derek. So it’s safe to say I’m a bit of an Icehouse advocate.
How have things changed since working with The Icehouse?
The Icehouse programmes are collaborative and fast-paced, and have taught me there’s no rulebook in business. You have to be keen and passionate and believe in what you’re trying to do.
Some other training courses will try to teach you how to make money. What I’ve taken out of the Icehouse training is that ‘you know how to make money – you were doing that before engaging’.
The Icehouse gives you a network you never had before, and helps prepare you for the next stage in business – the real growth. You pull levers faster because you gain confidence and you have a wider network to flesh out ideas, for example – it’s holistic business learning!
I found that The Icehouse helps you understand that you’re directly responsible for your own success. But they are there to give you as much help as you need along the way, and are so amazingly connected to so many cool and talented people that can help and assist you.
I found as soon as you make yourself accountable for your own success, and then leverage the people that The Icehouse are connected to, as well as the training they offer, everything starts to shift – that’s when you start making progress not just motion.
MS Civil is all about relationships, and we’re trying to change how we do business in our industry. I now have a ten-year plan on the page and plenty of clarity around what I want to achieve. MS Civil is my baby and I have direction about where I’m heading.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs who are struggling/looking for help?
Business would be a lot harder without The Icehouse. It’s an ‘amazing facilitation network’. Going on programmes like OMP, thinking you’re going to learn everything you need in the course content is not the right attitude. When people make that transition in their head, it all comes together. It’s largely about the relationships you establish.
It pays to get out of your comfort zone and jump in. You get some really cool stuff, you get some tips and tricks, and you get some structures to put you in a good position.
You also learn just as much from the other 24 people in your OMP group as you do through the facilitated classrooms. Through the business planning part of the OMP programme I was able to get one of the more worldly and senior businessmen, who is now on my board.
As alumni, we all try to meet up regularly now the programme is over. We’re all on the journey together – an incredible support network that shares ideas and experiences.
Follow this link for more information about MS Civil Construction, its extensive range of services and world-class project work.