Building lighthouses for the future
In an industry plagued by frequent industrial conflict, Dick built his company around the value of recognising the community of interest between shareholders, workers, management, clients and community. This philosophy of finding or creating a common interest also found expression in his contributions to issues of community concern and public policy over the years.
Dick came to Australia from the Netherlands in 1951 with £10,000 and a handful of Dutch workers on a contract to build 200 houses for the Snowy Mountains Authority at Cooma.
In 1957 he founded Civil and Civic, and that year won the contract to build the first stage of the Sydney Opera House while completing Sydney’s first concrete-framed skyscraper – Caltex House. The Sydney Opera House brought huge prestige, along with the equally huge challenges of building a unique and difficult structure on a point of reclaimed land.
In 1958 the Lend Lease Corporation was publicly launched; an innovative corporate vehicle to fund Civil and Civic projects. The paid up capital of the company in that year was £100,000.
For the next 30 years Dick Dusseldorp built Lend Lease Corporation into one of Australia’s most successful construction, real estate, and financial services companies.
He was a builder – in more than one sense of the word.
Fostering innovation in architectural design, new construction techniques, and advanced materials technology, Dick left his mark on Australia’s urban landscape through the construction of some of the country’s landmark buildings including Australia Square with its distinctive round shape and unprecedented public forecourt space, the MLC Centre, Brisbane’s Riverside Centre, and Canberra’s Academy of Sciences.
Above top: Dick Dusseldorp and the foundations of Australia Square. Left to right: Dick Dusseldorp with Sir Robert Menzies and Dame Pattie Menzies; onsite. Australia Square; Constructing the Sydney Opera House’s first stage opened doors for Civic & Civic; Caltex House was completed three months ahead of schedule amid fractious industrial relations of 1957.
Consistently decades ahead of his time, Dick negotiated the first productivity agreement with the NSW building trades unions in the 1950s, extended superannuation and a range of other employment benefits to blue-collar workers in the 1960s, and pioneered the indenturing of apprenticeships through Group Training Companies.
He introduced profit-sharing via employee share ownership in the 1970s, and championed a range of initiatives to promote the skills formation of young people in the 1980s and beyond.
When he retired as group Chairman in 1988, the capitalised value of Lend Lease Corporation stood at $1.4 billion, and its employees numbered 6,000.
In recognition of his service to industry and commerce, Dick was awarded an A.O. (Hon.) on Australia Day in that Bicentennial Year. To mark the occasion of his retirement, Lend Lease employees and shareholders voted to establish an independent foundation in his name; the Dusseldorp Skills Forum was formed “to benefit the Australian community by stimulating innovation and educational developments.”
With his seafaring background, Dick chose an apt metaphor for the Forum’s work; “We are about building lighthouses,” he said. “Establishing a beacon that people can see – that people can use to steer by”.
Dick respected the dignity of workers. He gave us continuity of work, and then shared the productivity gains. He created a unique culture of dignity and respect in Australia.”
Caring and sharing
Dick Dusseldorp was the inaugural Chair of the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, which remains a testament to his vision. Tjerk Dusseldorp, Dick’s son and Chairman of the Forum, said in his eulogy to his father in 2000: “During the time we worked together at the Forum, I grew to understand my father’s approach, to turning what appeared to be insurmountable obstacles into opportunities and innovative solutions. He had long mastered the art of creative thinking: the rare combination of knowledge, obsession and daring.”
Dick Dusseldorp once said: “‘Caring’ and ‘sharing’ are concepts that attract minimal interest among many managers, who tend to see people as workers rather than workers as people…Yet I have found that such concepts, practiced in good faith, are powerful in their impact, particularly when productivity gain is seen not as a goal in itself but as a means to enhance life for all.”
Dick Dusseldorp was inducted into the Property Council of Australia Hall of Fame in 2012 alongside Frank Lowy and Ray Powys.
Read more about how Dick Dusseldorp’s inspired a generation in this Australian Financial Review article from Dec 2021.
‘Finding a Common Interest: The story of Dick Dusseldorp and Lend Lease’, Cambridge University Press, 2002 by Lindie Clark can be purchased by emailing email@example.com. $45 plus postage.