Darwin-based building company PTM Group was established 40 years ago by Peter Papadakis and is now operated by his sons, Tony and Michael. NAB speaks to Tony about the evolution of the family firm, from small cabinetmaking business to $30m market leader.

Spending school holidays working in his father’s cabinetmaking and building company, there was no doubt in Tony Papadakis’s mind that he’d one day continue the family business.

But it’s a very different operation today under his (and his brother Michael’s) management as they’ve steered it to meet challenges and grab opportunities in a shifting marketplace.

The small business Peter Papadakis began 40 years ago after migrating from Greece has evolved into a $30 million commercial and residential construction and building management company, with the moniker on the door – PTM Group – an amalgam of the founder and sons’ names.

PTM has been with NAB for 22 years. “We’re proud to work with them,” says banker Matthew Tybell. “They’ve moved from being a one-man developer into a diversified construction and investment business.”

The company has received numerous Housing Industry Association and Master Builders Association awards as it has continued to grow and diversify. The past couple of years included expansion for the first time outside the Northern Territory, plus winning one of Darwin’s highest-profile public projects, rejuvenating the CBD with a shade structure spanning one of the city’s main streets.

From father to sons

The first of the brothers to join the business (then trading under Peter’s name), Tony studied to become a quantity surveyor before officially coming on board with his vision to take the business to “another level”.

“In school holidays we’d help out Dad, and building became a passion for me and my brother,” he says.

“Dad was a cabinetmaker, but he’d also slowly been doing more homebuilding. We were a small company, but I could see the opportunities to grow.”

A key step in Tony’s strategy was persuading his brother – a trained drafter – to join him. “Michael wasn’t so keen at first. He was getting experience working for a commercial building company,” Tony explains.

But in 1998, Michael did join the business, which became PTM. “From then we never looked back,” Tony says. “Michael focused on the sites and I looked after the office; we were a great team. And Dad kept his eye on things.”

The big moments

Being open to diversifying to take advantage of opportunities and respond to market changes has been one of the foundations of PTM’s success.

The first big turning point came in 1996 when the company won a major maintenance contract for Defence Housing Australia, establishing a valuable relationship that continues to this day.

“That was our first decent-sized project, the contract to maintain all Defence Housing’s properties in Darwin and Palmerston,” Tony says. “It opened the floodgates; from there we picked up more contracts for the NT Government.”

Later, winning its first Defence Housing contract to build new homes added another arm to PTM, driving a strong growth period in which annual turnover grew to $20 million.

Shifting to focus on commercial projects was a strategic move that Tony says helped give strong direction to the company. In 2010 it made its first foray into commercial property management, building and leasing back a property for a leading serviced apartment operator.

In 2018 PTM broadened its horizons once again, winning a Defence Housing contract in Canberra, with plans to use the project’s success to win more interstate business.

NAB has been part of that journey, Tybell says, supporting PTM’s growth into a complex organisation.

Strength in family

The brothers have always focused on the strength of their relationship and structured the business to foster harmony and protect against the possible pitfalls of working closely in a family business.

From the outset they committed to weekly ‘toolbox’ meetings to discuss the business and its direction. “If we feel we’re on the wrong track, we focus on bringing it back to where we need to be,” Tony says.

“And we have Dad’s experience. He’s not involved day to day, but we bounce things off him and he gives his views. That’s important to us.”

“It’s been a privilege to see them go through their diversification and succession process,” Tybell adds, “particularly as we aligned our capabilities with their changing requirements, which is today for their sons and their respective families into the future.”

Building foundations for success

While there have been many challenges – from periods of high interest rates to property market fluctuations – Tony says the keys to PTM’s strength have been an unwavering focus on delivering quality and building strong relationships with clients, staff and more than 100 subcontractors.

“Large-scale construction is a complex business,” he says. “Subcontractors play a large part in delivering the end product, and one of the keys to our success is the relationships we’ve built with ours.”

Tony says PTM’s focus on its staff has also been instrumental in establishing its reputation with customers.

“One of the biggest challenges in the Northern Territory is retaining great staff who are passionate about their work,” he says. “We have 25 staff, and they’ve been with us an average of five years. Lots of factors go into retention, but we just try to make them feel at home.”

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