By Andrew Hobbs
AS THE founder of Papua New Guinea’s first locally established engineering firm, Sir Frank Kramer knows better than most what it takes to succeed in business.
On the occasion of PNG Resources’ 25th anniversary, Sir Frank spent some time recalling what it took to establish Cameron McNamara Kramer in 1978, setting up an engineering firm in what was then an emerging economy, only three years after independence.
Sir Frank had returned to PNG in 1974, the year before independence was officially declared, working first as a consultant, then in construction, with a newly minted engineering degree in hand after completing studies in PNG, Australia and Canada.
“I have always considered myself to be someone who was destined for the private sector,” he said.
“I think, feel and act as an entrepreneur.”
Establishing a business four years out from university was a bold move, but was a common one in the emerging economy of the time, he said.
Sir Frank said this was supported by the friendly and professional nature of the engineering consulting fraternity of the late 1970s through to the 1990s.
“[They} were essentially founded on the Australian engineering consulting culture and the prominent or leading members of that industry sector were honourable professional people,” he said.
“I would single out two engineers, Bob Frame and Ian Harvey – both were fierce competitors but I fondly remember both as true gentlemen.”
Successful businessmen like SP Brewery boss Bruce Flynn, Brian Bell Group of Companies founder Sir Brian Bell and Sir Albert Maori Kiki, the father of Credit Corporation, were also influences, he said.
If there was pressure in setting up in these early days, Sir Frank said it was only a pressure not to fail – to know where the next pay cheque was coming from.
“There was no real external pressure because I was so insignificant in the marketplace and my peers, who were all overseas contractors or companies, really did not know me or the fact that I had set up my business,” he said.
“As time went on and I started to win some significant work and win market share off my competitors, then they started to sit up and take note of me and my company.”
Further to this, Sir Frank said the moral and nationalistic support given to the company in the mid-1980s from then-prime minister Grand Chief Sir Michael Somare was instrumental in putting Cameron McNamara Kramer on the map.
“Over Papua New Guinea’s decade of growth, an engineering firm has grown with us,” Sir Michael wrote. “It is our very own, very first truly Papua New Guinea engineering practice, bringing together the old traditions with the new.”
“Previous governments, my government now and future governments have and will establish our own developmental policies, but our Papua New Guinea firms like Cameron McNamara Kramer, with their achievements in engineering excellence, will engineer these policies.”
True to his word, many of Cameron McNamara Kramer’s early projects were for the national government, including the design for the upgrade and sealing of the road from Togoba, in the Western Highlands, to Wabag in Enga province.
The design and construction of the Rouna four hydroelectric project and a feasibility study of the Madang to Simbai road for the World Bank were also early projects.
That work continued into 1991 when the company, then known as Kinhill Kramer, was just beginning to secure significant work in the resources sector, Sir Frank said.
Coinciding with the launch of PNG Resources was the beginning of a significant period of growth for the company’s mining work – notably for Rio Tinto in establishing the Lihir gold mine – as well as work on the Jackson’s Airport international and domestic terminal buildings and the Poreporena freeway project.
“However, the 90s decade ended with a significant economic downturn when the Kina was devalued substantially and economic activities dried up,” Sir Frank said.
Nonetheless, the company continued a focus on resources and construction projects, including working on the Hides gas project and on the Revenue Haus, Morauta Haus, Vulupindi Haus, Windward apartments and the Deloitte tower to name a few in PNG.
When business picked up again, the company also extended its work across the Pacific, to open offices in Solomon Islands, Vanuatu, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Queensland.
Kramer merged with Australian engineering firm Ausenco in 2010, helping it to continue to work with the PNG Liquefied Natural Gas project.
Today, Sir Frank says that continuous professional development is central to the work of Kramer Ausenco, across all its operations,
“The company provides training in a variety of ways from the basic graduate development programs leading to chartered engineer status through to identification and development of future management potential, but I take a particular interest in leadership, ethical and character building aspects of professional development,” he said.
“Like all other aspects of human development, success will follow if we begin at a young age.”