Industry Insights

Race To The Top: Tobco & Isuzu A Winning Formula

When trained civil engineers, Glen O’Brien and business partner, Sam Turnbull, decided to seek new opportunities in the electrical engineering space, they never expected their business would be featured in the Australian Financial Review’s Fast 100 List.

What started as an unknown quantity was later lauded as Australia’s third fastest growing private company in 2016, just three short years after the establishment of TOBCO Civil and Electrical Infrastructure (TOBCO).

Under Glen and Sam’s watch, TOBCO has scaled successful new heights with a current turnover of $25 million per annum — a testament to their hard work and business savvy.

Today, TOBCO is truly a high-flying operation with 100 employees augmented by a busy and highly specialised fleet of 20 trucks, including the Isuzu NLR 200, NPR 45-155, FTR 900, FTS 750, FRR 500, FYX 1500 and a recently purchased FYX 350.

Inspired by dreams of kick-starting their own business, Glen and Sam first purchased the private company, Tirawley, in 2013, operating out of a residential bedroom in Sydney.

Tirawley – eventually renamed Turnbull O’Brien Contracting and then officially renamed TOBCO – evolved at lightning pace to soon be registered as an Accredited Service Provider (ASP) Level 1 Contractor.

The accreditation meant they were able to access and bid for ASP Level One contracts working with developers, councils and government authorities through the NSW Electricity Distribution Network, made up of Ausgrid, Endeavour Energy and Essential Energy.

Since inception, TOBCO has had a hand in a broad range of impressive infrastructure projects across multiple states, including New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria.

“Over the past five years, we have completed over 300 projects ranging from $10,000 to $10 million,” said Glen, TOBCO joint Managing Director.

“We’ve worked on the NorthConnex, WestConnex, Northern Beaches hospital upgrades as well as Metro and B-LINE projects — many of which include distribution power work such as utility relocation and the installation of high voltage feeder cables.”

When asked about his business philosophy and the secrets of TOBCO’s success, Glen said, “We work with a ‘can-do’ attitude. We operate on a self-perform model and are very hands on — so we don’t subcontract a lot of our work. We invest in specialised equipment and try to employ our own, highly skilled workforce and we like to deliver a lot of our projects in that manner.”

One such specialised piece of kit includes TOBCO’s Isuzu FYX 350, affectionately known as ‘Big Freddie,’ nicknamed after Glen’s son.

Fitted with a carefully specced 395-6S Effer Crane (by body builder Obieco Industries), Big Freddie is the jewel in the TOBCO crown and is set up as a multi-application truck.

“The crane has been set up with specialised hydraulics, which allows us to pluck and place power poles in existing power lines. We can also attach augur equipment to the crane, so we can drill holes with the crane itself.”

At 40-tonnes, the Effer 395-6S + JIB 4S has an impressive lifting capacity range of 111,260 kg at 3m and still 510kg at an impressive 27m horizontal reach., The fly jib attachment allows reach to those tricky places, particularly the 30m vertical reach capacity.

“The beauty of this truck is that Big Freddie is not only capable of acting like a normal crane truck, it has the ability to undertake powerline lifter borer work at impressive distances.  It’s a multi-use truck.”

Another one of Glen’s favourites is their smart looking Isuzu FTR 900 that has been built as a hook-bin truck.

“This is a great truck and it is probably one of the mostly highly used vehicles in the company,” said Glen.

As the TOBCO crew routinely work in urban CBD areas, access is forever a challenge.

The FTR 900 is great as it can easily get into tight spaces to deliver excavators or multiple bins to and from a site, which is perfect for the sort of work we do.”

Glen also believes the Isuzu product to be robust and price competitive – a huge factor in any procurement process.

“Isuzu Trucks never disappoint when it comes to getting the basic features right, which is highly necessary for the work we do. They are good, robust trucks that are fit for purpose for the work we do.”

For a business that operates 24 hours, 7 days a week, downtime is a big factor in project management too.

“It is crucial choosing a reliable truck for the business. My personal strategy is to buy the little trucks brand new and turn them around every four to five years, given they have such a good price point. The bigger trucks also last for a good five to ten-year stretch.

“Reliability is critical for us.”

And as with any purchase, the quality of the trucks only makes up part of the equation as Glen explained, “We’ve had a good relationship with the Suttons Dealership in Sydney. They give great service and great after sales support, too.”

When asked if they’ve had the need to use Isuzu’s Roadside Assist and aftersales support offerings, Glen laughingly replied, “I haven’t had to use roadside assist too much because they haven’t been breaking down!”