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40 Under 40 winner of the day: Callan Cox

People

Callan Cox began working in the family business before he finished primary school. Almost two decades later and still in his 20s, Cox is the managing director of Mykra, which is part of the Cox Group.

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The building and construction company’s projects include Stirling Library, Salisbury McDonald’s and the new Adelaide Airport water feature.

Cox became managing director in 2016 and has helped increase staff numbers from 30 to 65 and almost double turnover to $32 million a year.

He was this month named a winner in the inaugural InDaily 40 Under 40 Awards.

The Cox Group includes Mykra and Cox Constructions.

The 29-year-old began working for Cox Constructions part-time in 2000 as an office clerk and site labourer until he finished high school in 2006. He studied a Bachelor of the Built Environment while working part-time as a construction estimator and moved into a full-time role as a contract administrator in 2008.

Cox progressed to contracts manager and was promoted to the position of general manager of Cox Constructions and Mykra in 2014.

Fresh from his 40 Under 40 recognition, we asked Cox some more about doing business in South Australia.

What do you believe are the strengths of doing business in South Australia?

Business in SA is very personal – everyone knows someone who can be a reference for how you go about things. If you provide a great product or service then word of mouth is a real strength and can be a big advantage.

Our product is out in the community. We have projects and sites across the state so commuting and travel in Adelaide is so much easier than interstate. We can easily get out to our clients and project sites at the drop of a hat.

We see many job applications from families returning to Adelaide to raise their children. We can leverage the skills and knowledge these families have gained interstate or overseas in our own business without the cost of developing this talent. While we may miss out on some benefits of the energetic youth, we can really maximize the skills of middle-aged workers who place a higher value on things like job security and a fun place to work.

What do you believe are the weak points of conducting business in South Australia?

While the personal nature of our market is a big strength, it also means that you can pay dearly for your oversights or mistakes. The market can be very unforgiving and it can take years to overcome issues or mistakes from the past.

It also takes a lot of effort to build enough momentum to make a difference in Adelaide. We seem to be stuck in our ways and struggle to get enough support to implement new ideas and try new ways of doing things. This also might be a side effect of the fact that relationships are so important here; it can take a lot to break into those environments where relationships fall across both business and social circles.

Sometimes SA can be too keen to allow interstate or national operators enter our market. It can be hard to compete against these companies who have fantastic resumes from their interstate offices where there is more activity and revenue to build those resumes. In SA, there is only so much work to go around and it can get very frustrating watching contracts in our backyard go to interstate companies.

Do you see your future in South Australia?

My future is certainly in SA – I love South Australia and I love the business my family has created here. The work, lifestyle and family balance that SA supports is what will keep me here. I love how easily I can create a lifestyle that suits the way I work and socialise. That will forever keep me calling Adelaide home. I think that as our business grows we might expand into other states, but our primary focus and base of operations will always be in Adelaide.

When interstate friends visit they love how easy it is in Adelaide to ‘duck off’ to a wine region, a river or a beach for a day. However, whenever I travel interstate I always look forward to coming home and getting out of the congested capitals. What keeps me here, is what attracts others and perhaps we need to focus on marketing this better to our own youth.

There is a lot of talk about SA being a ‘Nanny State’ and while there is evidence to support this, I believe we are starting to see a shift in leadership across local and state governments that wants to change this perspective. Adelaide City is leading the charge here with optimistic goals and a vision for the CBD that resonates with how the world is changing and how Adelaide should be in the future if we want to keep up. If the State Government supports this vision with the right infrastructure and capital projects then our future looks great.

How can the state encourage more of its young leaders to stay?

SA has so much to offer – affordable housing, low commute times, vibrant culture and fantastic weather. Sometimes we get too caught up in the hype of the interstate or overseas lifestyles and we end up taking SA for granted. What we seem to be missing is a way to promote all of that to our own population. We also need to change the mindset of interstaters who have spent their whole lives thinking of us as a country town.

I would love to see relationships between similar SA-based and interstate businesses that would implement staff exchange programs. This would allow our youth to experience other states and what they’re like, with the flexibility to return to their original employer. We often find our youth leaving Adelaide and saying: “I’d regret it if I didn’t go and give it a try.” Rather than resist this, how great would it be if we could find a way to support and embrace it?

My friends living interstate and overseas always want to come home to have a family: they don’t see their future interstate – they only see short-term career development. If we want to improve our state’s retention of young talent, we need to either improve the ‘big’ career opportunities in SA or offer something that far outweighs the long-term benefits of the career experience interstate.

We’re starting to see some of that reluctance to try new ideas disappear in SA. I think a lot of this has been driven by the fact we are more aware of losing young talent overseas or interstate and that if we don’t get on board with today’s fast-paced world we are going to lose everyone! SA needs to keep up this momentum (maybe even by securing a tech giant like Google!) and focus on providing opportunities that harness skills, drive and passion so our youth will stay.

I’ve been extremely lucky that my circumstances have allowed me to be trained and progress in my career while remaining in Adelaide. Not everyone has the same opportunity to progress so quickly, or the finances to set up a business like ours from scratch. If we want to keep young people here, we need to give them more opportunity faster and should be looking to support and mentor them rather than telling them to simply ‘be patient’.

More about 40 Under 40

An assessment panel representing the South Australian business community judged hundreds of nominees for the inaugural 40 Under 40 awards, which aim to identify and promote a new generation of local leaders under the age of 40.

The final 40 includes a hugely varied collection of South Australian talents, who are making a mark in fields such as health, technology, the media, property, social innovation, agriculture, finance, the law, and much more.

For the full list of 40 Under 40 winners go here.

40 Under 40 is an InDaily initiative supported by the following partners:

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