Finding A Common Interest
The story of Dick Dusseldorp, founder of the Dusseldorp Skills Forum
Cambridge University Press
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GJ (Dick) DUSSELDORP
2 December 1918 - 22 April 2000
"Caring - of itself desirable - also pays."
It was only fitting that this phenomenon should feature in GJ (Dick) Dusseldorp's final address as Chairman to Lend Lease shareholders at the 1988 AGM. For Dick's achievements are characterized by his determination not simply to succeed but to also share the benefits of that success.
In an industry characterised by frequent industrial and political conflict, G J Dusseldorp built his company around the value of recognising the community of interest between shareholders, employees, and management. 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.
G J Dusseldorp came to Australia 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. Civil & Civic Contractors -the fledgling Dutch joint venture company established to undertake this work- soon won other construction projects in the mountains and also in the newly developing national capital. Civil and residential contracts in Canberra were followed by new work in Sydney in the mid-1950s. A gatehouse for the Commonwealth Oil Refinery -the first Design & Construct job; the development of the Harbour Heights Estate at Middle Cove; and the building of Sydney's first concrete-framed skyscraper - Caltex House.
In 1958 Lend Lease Corporation Limited was publicly launched as an innovative corporate vehicle to fund Civil & Civic projects: the paid up capital of the company in that year was £100,000. For the next thirty years Dick Dusseldorp built Lend Lease Corporation into one of Australia's most successful construction, real estate, and financial services companies.
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 most outstanding buildings including Stage One of the Sydney Opera House, Australia Square, the MLC Centre, Brisbane's Riverside Centre, and Canberra's Academy of Sciences.
His contributions to employee relations and public policy were just as ground-breaking.
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, introduced profit-sharing via employee share ownership in the 1970s, and championed a whole range of initiatives to promote skills formation amongst young people in the 1980s and beyond.
In the public policy sphere, Dick pioneered the concept of developer contributions to infrastructure in the development of Middle Cove and Campbelltown. He worked with the community, heritage interests and public sector planners on urban development and redevelopment issues long before it was fashionable to do so. He played a key role in State and Federal government land tenure reforms in the 1960s and 1970s -leading the push for the introduction of strata title in NSW and serving on the Whitlam Government's Inquiry into Land Tenure in 1973. He brought business and the education sector together in a host of projects designed to help young people make a successful transition from school to work.
When he retired as group Chairman in 1988, the capitalised value of the 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.
Lend Lease employees and shareholders marked the occasion in manner befitting Dick's own wishes. The Dusseldorp Skills Forum, a non-profit association, was established with a brief to stimulate and promote continuing investment in Australia's workforce, with a particular focus on developing the skills and personal effectiveness of young people.
G J Dusseldorp 'retired' for a grand total of two weeks in 1988. Over the next 12 years he maintained an active working life, chairing investment companies in the US and the UK. His self-described 'last project' in the latter country involved the development of new corporate vehicles for the securitisation of property assets for an ageing population. Meanwhile Dick continued his active engagement with projects focused on developing the skills and personal effectiveness of young people, supporting and promoting such projects in Australia, Africa, the US and the UK.
He was the Dusseldorp Skills Forum's inaugural Chair and remained its Patron till his death. He always retained a personal and active interest in its affairs. The Forum remains a living testament to Dick's vision.
In delivering the 1991 Copland Memorial Address, Dick returned to his lifelong themes. He spoke of Lend Lease as being his "practice ground" for testing many initiatives directed at developing economic democracy. He spoke of "higher goals" which must at times override short-term productivity gains. He challenged and perhaps inspired his audience.
It seems right that this brief tribute to the life and the enduring legacy of GJ Dusseldorp should finish with his own words:
"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."