A Rich History

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-By Aleisha Parr

With a history stretching back over ninety years, Bateman Engineering has become a global force in the mineral and metals engineering technology industries, offering services including process engineering, niche technologies specialist engineering, equipment supply and related services, procurement, financial and commercial facilitation, contracting, and project management. With a total annual revenue of approximately five hundred million dollars, Bateman’s extensive network of permanent international offices are located in South Africa, India, Russia, Chile and of course, Australia. Each of these offices works together, building on each region’s unique area of speciality or skill.

“Here in Australia we have a good track record in gold, nickel and iron ore,” explains John Riordan, Managing Director of Bateman Australia. “Historically we’ve been very active in the coal industry in NSW and QLD, and that’s an area we’re redeveloping and getting back into. We would also certainly see ourselves as leaders in the rare earth market and developing rare earth processing – we’re second to none in this space.”

Mr Riordan goes on to say that the relationship Bateman Australia has with its sister organisations is quite close, enabling each of the offices to share resources, skills and work in a way that he describes as “win-win-win.”

“We share personnel and marketing intelligence. There really is a significant interaction, and I think with electronic media and the ease with which you can communicate these days makes developing and maintaining a relationship with the other offices very easy.

“At present, we have a substantial number of Australian clients who are building elsewhere in the world, particularly Africa, and are therefore happy for us to take a lead in those projects out of our Australian offices.

“We do the initial design work, and then we pass that over to the lower cost execution centre in South Africa and it’s sort of a win-win-win, because it’s a win for the client, it’s a win for us because we get the work, and then a large portion of that work gets executed by the South African office, so that’s a win for them too.”

This ability to share skills – and resources – globally offers Bateman a truly unique opportunity, especially in today’s tight post-GFC market where engineer salaries are topping out well above any other country due to the mining boom, but at the same time Australian companies are looking to cut costs wherever possible in order to stay competitive. “We are uniquely able to service Australian clients with both local and overseas projects,” says Mr Riordan. “We can source cost-effective solutions, whether they’re equipment or engineering services, out of places like India or South Africa – both of which are substantially cheaper than Australia. Having offices right across the world also means we can effectively work twenty-four hours a day on a project if that project has been shared across the offices.”

At the same time, being able to service the needs of such a wide and varied client base can be difficult for even the best of companies. “It is certainly challenging,” admits Mr Riordan. “Our client base is such that it is incredibly varied. It can mean that we deal with anyone from junior mining companies with ten or fifteen people to the large Tier One mining companies with tens of thousands of people within them. Tailoring our approach to each of them is our challenge but I think it is one that we rise to and meet.”

“The industry goes through peaks and troughs,” says Mr Riordan, “and as a result the entropy levels rise and fall, but I’m proud to say that over recent years and since the depths of the global financial crisis, the entropy levels have declined dramatically in all the Bateman offices around the world.

“It goes back to Edward L Bateman having a vision for the company ninety years ago that was built on a foundation of reliable and innovative equipment. At the time he was just representing other manufacturers, but he was very confident and hired technically skilled people to sell that equipment. Bateman hired a very solid team of guys in the 1920s in South Africa who employed other good guys who continued to employ great people down through the ages and so I think we’re the legacy of that today.

“The values that EL Bateman used to establish the company are still very present today; I think when you’ve got a long history like Bateman does you don’t lose that quickly. We’ve maintained a very high staff retention rate over the years and that has helped to strengthen our corporate culture.”

In fact, the company – both internationally and here at home – has an exceedingly loyal and skilled workforce, testament to the company’s commitment to those values. It is also an incredibly diverse company, with a broad range of employees from various countries around the world. “I think that’s representative of Australia as a whole,” says Mr Riordan.

“That diversity extends to age; we have recent graduates in their early twenties up to people well past retirement age. Many of the older guys working here are well-off enough to head off in a caravan around the country. But they’ve worked here for the better part of their life and I think so long as they continue to enjoy working here, they’ll stay. And having that depth and broad range of experience with the older segment of the workforce plays a significant part and contribution to our coaching and mentoring program of the younger people in the organisation as well.”

Along with its internal growth, Mr Riordan says the company is planning for continued growth in Australia, on the back of the current success of the mining industry.

“We will grow to meet the needs of that industry, locally and globally,” he says. “The challenge for us is to get the right people into the organisation. We won’t be looking to grow too fast, but I think it will be organic, managed growth. And I think the first ninety years of the company has built a solid foundation that we’ll certainly build on for the next ninety.”

On 13 December, 2011, Tenova announced its acquisition of Bateman Engineering. Tenova is an Italian based, family owned and operated supplier of advanced technologies and equipment for the resources sector; as such, it shares many core values with Bateman Engineering. Although Mr Riordan was unable to discuss the details of this transaction which is still in progress, he did share that on behalf of the entire Bateman Team, he was eager to see this come to pass.”

Strategic Resources

There are 17 classified rare earth elements, many of which have strategic purposes. Rare in name only, these elements are anything but scarce as they are found all over the world. The challenge rare earth elements pose is during extraction, as they exist in low concentrations and are difficult to separate from one another.

February 27, 2020, 2:39 AM AEDT

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