Why this top property exec vows to never miss another Burning Man festival

Why this top property exec vows to never miss another Burning Man festival


August 2022
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Why this top property exec vows to never miss another Burning Man festival

Scott Hutchinson - Chairman, Hutchinson Builders

Scott Hutchinson loves to celebrate. Celebrate life, music, and the people around him. Many others in his position who turn over around $3 billion a year would be splurging on yachts, jets, and horses but he much prefers a characteristic pinball machine, some good music and a festival or two…or more. 

“Most people in my situation tend to go for status interests, however mine are different. All my interests involve crowds and celebrations so there are many people that can share in it. But if you buy a boat or a plane it's just for one or a few people.” 

BUILDING FORTITUDE MUSIC HALL

Scott also spent $46 million on building Brisbane’s renowned Fortitude Music Hall, and although it is now only valued at $27 million, this does not appear to bother him.  

“In 2003, Festival Hall which was my temple, got knocked down for high rise residential, which is the highest and best commercial use of a block in the inner city. Somebody had to do something to get music back into the centre so I built Fortitude Music Hall. Someone had to lose money so I thought it may as well be me.” He says with a chuckle. 

However, for what Scott supposedly ‘lost’ or gave away, he has gained 10-fold in satisfaction and enjoyment, whilst giving to so many people, especially those in the music industry. Shows continue to sell out and people now flock to the area which has increased tourism, economic activity and most importantly, reactivated the Brisbane nightlife and entertainment scene, something that was slowly dwindling away. 

The impressive state-of-the-art Fortitude Music Hall was a team effort with Paul Pittico and John Collins and is now an iconic venue that acts from around the globe seek out. The Triffid, another one of Mr. Hutchinson’s philanthropic ventures was also brought to life with the same ‘A-Team’ and is a characteristic, converted commercial hangar that now houses some of the best gigs in town. Scott also gives his time as Patron of QMusic which is part of the Australian music conference, BIGSOUND. QMusic helps start-ups in the music industry including young bands and also helps to bring music to the regional areas of Queensland.

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Fortitude Music Hall - 312-318 Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley, QLD

What Scott Hutchinson has ‘given’ to the community purely for the love of music and celebration, is clearly invaluable not only for those who enjoy it but also for those that depend on it for their livelihood.

BURNING MAN FESTIVAL

However, one of the most prominent festivals that he himself enjoys most, and loyally attends every year is Burning Man - a week of radical self-expression in Nevada, USA where everyone interacts on a non-commercialised level, sharing ‘stuff’, ideas, food, drink, art and more. 

“It’s like camping with 80,000 mates” he states.

“There are big mad max type vehicles or ‘art carts’ that drive around the festival, strangers get on and off and have a chat and a drink. You just do whatever you feel to.

“The people who started it are born in the 40’s and are now 80-year-old hippies. It’s also close to Silicon Valley so tech people and executives go, so my financial situation is not unusual there. But no one can tell anyway. People do not ask you anything about yourself, no one asks what you do for a living or if you have children; they even used to have false names at one stage. You could have been Zuzu Galactic or Sparkle Pony or whatever you want. It is a week of freedom and break from reality and just gives you a chance to live as somebody else for a week. Youre not who you are in Australia.”

 This is Scott Hutchinson’s 11th festival, and he is adamant that it will not be his last. 

“I more than enjoy it, it makes me live in the present. I tend to romanticise the past or worry about the future and Burning Man stops that. A festival takes you away for a day or 2 but this festival takes you to another planet. People who go to Burning Man call the real world the default world. They live for a week and the rest is just ‘existing’. Everybody has grown out of it but I haven’t and I’m not going to feel pressured to grow out of it.”

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'Burning Man' (image courtesy of www.reuters.com)

And nor should he. The joy of festivals, celebration and music does not stop here for Scott Hutchinson. Each year he aims to take every Hutchies office to a festival; Melbourne does The Laneway, Townsville, Groovin’ the Moo, Sydney the ‘big bands’ such as U2 and Red Hot Chili Peppers, Adelaide the Fringe Festival and Brisbane to Fortitude Hall and Triffid events. 

“The favourite part of my job is to look after the ceremonial part, taking clients and employees out. You keep in touch with people, and everyone enjoys themselves.” 

This bright social attitude together with great management and an incredibly clever team seems to be working a treat for ‘Hutchies’ as his company is affectionately known. They have a low average staff turnover of 16 years and are currently turning over almost $3 billion a year. But this did not happen overnight; this quality business has been in the making for over a century. 

It was established in 1912 by Scott Hutchinson’s great grandfather and expanded rapidly in the 20’s and 30’s. “My grandfather always said our business performed best in the 1930’s around the depression. This is because in a recession, you get fixed prices, and everyone is desperate for work, so you get materials cheaper. It is so much better for quality builders. But in a boom, builders have their fixed prices, but suppliers and sub-contractors increase their pricing because of the boom. Not many can see how turnover and profit are inversely proportional.”

GROWING AN EMPIRE

In the 1960’s his father took over the business, consolidated it and successfully drove it forward into the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s at which time Scott then came on board, and grew it from $6 million in turnover to over $70 million. 

“In the 80’s and 90’s I was lending money to young developer mates to start, and if you’re lending them money they can’t borrow, they give you the building work at negotiated market rates. So that grew the business a lot and in 20 years I never lost a cent. 

“There was also a flat management structure that Dad always used but I just formalised it after I did my MBA. It is about empowering your employees. There is no middle management just the people who are doing the jobs, the managing director, and a bit of support. The people on the ground are making the decisions. It can get you hung sometimes but also gives you a very dynamic organisation.” 

Despite his successes, Scott Hutchinson gives an abundance of credit to his Managing Director Greg Quinn who, in the last 21 years has taken the business from $70 million to $3 billion and helped to make Hutchies a tier-one, National construction business with over 1,500 direct staff.

“Greg Quinn has 10 times the capacity I have and has built the business into what it is today.”

And although extremely proud of the company for what it is, Scott expresses his concern about the expedited growth over the last 5 years. 

“It would be preferable to be 2/3rds of the size we are now, because when you grow too quickly you become less efficient however were stabilising at $3 billion turnover now. Also, it’s hard to go back. Our only KPI’s are to stay alive and do good work. When we do good work, we get great opportunities and have a good balance sheet and when this happens, the place grows organically. But I just don’t see the point of growing any further. I used to know all the names, wives, and children of everyone in Hutchies, now I struggle with so many people and that worries me a bit. But overall, we work well and if we finish on time, on budget with a happy client, I dont need anything bigger or smaller than that at any level”

CREATING A LEGACY

Just when we thought there was nothing more that this successful, life-loving businessman could do, we find out more. The ‘1-percenters. On the rooftop of every Hutchies office are beehives, Hutchies being the only company in Australia to promote this initiative on a national scale.

“It’s just a no brainer” says Scott. “The honey is great, it’s good for the environment, we share the honey and everyone enjoys it.” 

 “We have always done the right thing because we wanted to, not because we had to. Everything we give or do, is done with no tokenism. We also have diversity inclusion and ESG policies however this is nothing new for us either.  

It is evident that good ethics and environmental governance is in the Hutchies DNA. However, the many layers discovered in this interview about Hutchies and Scott Hutchinson himself, was beyond admirable. Who would have known that a building company could offer so much more depth and diversity than just big cranes and fat profits?

When I asked Scott in conclusion what’s ahead, his answer was clear. 

“Just to enjoy myself and make sure Hutchies keeps doing good work to allow me to keep going to festivals and share in celebrations with other people. That’s about it. And let’s all go to Burning Man.”

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 The Triffid - 7/9 Stratton St, Newstead QLD

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