Jonathan Nitschke is the CEO of JND, a Hahndorf based, family owned drilling company that was established in 1962 by his father John Nitschke.
With drilling contracts across Australia with some of the world’s largest mining companies and demand for drilling rigs exceeding supply, JND is in a period of tremendous growth.
Can you tell us about your career and how it led to becoming CEO at JND?
After finishing year 12, I deferred my tertiary studies and worked for 12 months in the family drilling business as a Driller’s Assistant. I aspired to manage the family’s rural business interests in the state’s south east so I studied Farm Management at Roseworthy Agriculture College. However, on completing my studies the rural industry was in recession, so I decided to put my farming career on hold and go drilling to earn some money.
Starting as a drillers assistant I worked under my father who taught me my trade. Having grown up around drilling rigs I was soon promoted to being a driller in charge of my own rig at the age of 21. Over the years I worked in a variety of roles within the organisation and as the company grew, my knowledge and experience grew with it. I continued to work with the family to expand the business and later became the Operations Manager, General Manager and now CEO.
Briefly, what does your role involve?
As the leader of this company it is my role to ensure we get the best outcomes for our clients and also for the organisation. Some of my key responsibilities include contract management and compliance, business development, and strategic planning and ensuring the safe operation of all JND personnel and activities. We have a Visible Felt Leadership philosophy within JND, meaning that employees need to hear and see their leaders living safe practices everyday and taking an active interest in the performance and environments of the workforce.
I regularly visit our sites to see our people and clients so I know what is going on. I am also part of a team that undertakes problem solving and advises on technical drilling issues. Respect in this industry works best with both staff and clients if you can not only talk the talk, but actually walk the walk.
What are the most rewarding aspects of your job?
It has been rewarding to be able to build a small business with only a handful of employees into a much larger one that has become a contractor of choice and an employer of choice to Australia’s mining industry. We are well respected within the Australian drilling industry and have the people, equipment and expertise to undertake technically challenging projects. It takes years to build a good reputation and only a day to destroy it, so you have to work on it every day.
What are some of the challenges facing JND?
A unique feature of our company is that all of our drilling rigs and almost 90% of our workforce are based outside of South Australia. This poses a number of challenges for us in terms of staffing and maintaining equipment, but it is the nature of our work. Drilling rigs are in short supply across Australia and we are always being asked if we can provide more rigs. We have 15 rigs currently in operation and are awaiting delivery of another two in early 2012.
However, drilling rigs don’t operate without a workforce, so recruiting and retaining the right people in a competitive market is always a challenge for any company.
What are some of the company’s recent successes?
Recent contract wins have seen JND providing drilling rigs to Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton for iron ore exploration near Newman, WA, and with Arrow Energy for coal seam gas exploration in Dalby, QLD. Billiton Mitsubishi Alliance also signed a long term contract with JND in December 2010 in Moranbah, QLD as part of a major coal exploration program. This increased demand is reflected in the dramatic increase in annual turnover for the company, rising from $29 million in 2010/11 to an expected $50 million this year and $100 million in five years.
In line with this, we recently purchased a 5,000 square metre site in Moranbah, approximately two hours’ drive south west of Mackay, which will be set up as our Queensland branch. We also have a 6,000 square metre site in Newman, 450 kilometres south of Port Hedland in Western Australia. These facilities provide a base for our operations in these key mining areas, enabling maintenance and operational facilities to be established. Research and development of equipment and techniques is always a key focus for JND, and each year we dedicate over $2 million towards improving our operations.
What major changes have occurred in your industry in recent years?
The recent growth in mining exploration has provided tremendous opportunities for growth for JND. We have always been a very safety conscious company, but our industry requires a high level of compliance to strict safety standards. It is pleasing to see the general standards improving, but with an increased demand for workers, quality training and inductions are becoming essential.
What have been the highlights of your career to date?
In terms of growing the company, the highlight so far was becoming long-term contract partners with BHP Billiton and Rio Tinto, two of the largest and most compliant mining companies in the world. To achieve this indicates the quality of the business we have established. I am also very proud of the way our company has grown and developed. The opportunity to lead a great team of drilling professionals while creating a positive company culture that strives for excellence is a great feeling.
What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
My favourite ways to relax are spending time with family and friends, enjoying good food and wine and travelling. If I get the chance to combine these three together, then it’s been a pretty good day!