There is an old Caterpillar D4 Bulldozer on display outside the office at the 6-Mile headquarters of Hebou Constructions in Port Moresby. It was purchased by George (later Sir George) Constantinou when he started his first business in 1956 and symbolizes the humble beginnings of one of PNG’s most successful business ventures.
After emigrating to Australia from Cypress in the early 1950’s and hearing about good work opportunities in Papua New Guinea, Constantinou moved to Port Moresby in 1952 and began work as a fabricator/metal worker for the Steamships Corporation. After moving on from Steamships, he bought the dozer along with a few trucks and other equipment at a second-hand auction at the Department of Works. And so, Papuan Transport & Contractors was born. This name eventually changed to Hebou Constructions in 1969, and the company has thrived since then forming the nucleus of the Constantinou Group of companies. The Group has developed a formidable array of products and services that include earth moving and civil construction, asphalt and bitumen, equipment hire and real estate and property development.
Hebou means ‘Together’ in the Motu language (a common language of the southern region of PNG) and it’s this ethos that attracted Sir George to the name. Early on, and in the absence of a stock exchange in PNG at that time, he offered all staff a share in the company, bringing them together in joint ownership and participation before re-acquiring the company from its many owners years later. The idea of ‘Hebou’ as a group working together still rings true today.
Staff were housed and looked after beyond just wages from the very beginning. ‘If you want to retain your staff then get them good housing…looking after your staff has always been the case’, says Kostas Constantinou (the eldest son of Sir George Constantinou). Hebou would also provide assistance with school fees and other family issues that was also an important part of retaining good staff.
Loyalty is a common trait amongst Hebou staff and there is no better example than its General Manager Operations, Mitch Lutschini, who embodies the idea of Hebou. ‘We work together as one as a team… and it’s turned into a juggernaut since then’, he says.
During the 1970’s, competition was fierce for contracts. ‘We would enter contracts at a low margin just trying to exist’, says Kostas, who would recall days starting at 5am and finishing at 10pm and where jobs were done at almost cost price. It was this tight market and high cost of materials that began the process of diversification in the Constantinou Group. For instance, the then Hebou Constructions had a building maintenance team. Its need for concrete led to a concrete plant and the need for asphalt and bitumen led to the creation of the quarries in Port Moresby and the birth of Central Sand Suppliers.
Kostas recalls that the Airways development arose after a particularly difficult construction job on the Hiritano Highway (20km of road north of Port Moresby). A major flood caused large delays in the reconstruction work, and the project was one of the most difficult times for the company. It was at this point (in the interests of business diversification) that the Contantinous entered Real Estate and Serviced Apartments, and the Airways Hotel success story began.
‘I learned how to run a business at Hebou I have some (great) memories but they were tough years’, he recalls.
Hebou Constructions has worked all over Papua New Guinea but now focuses mainly on Port Moresby and the National Capital District. Mitch remembers Williams Road, Kokopo and rebuilding the town roads after the volcano disaster in 1994 as the larger projects, and notes that Hebou has worked on a large variety of projects from airport works with AusAID, sub-divisions, driveways and carparks through to major civil constructions.
Hebou has involved itself in the community being the chief supporter of Cricket PNG, but also provides financial and in-kind support for local churches and medical centres never forgetting the notion of togetherness that Hebou’s name suggests, and its name enjoys a strong reputation. Mitch thinks the name is great mainly because ‘…the money’s not taken overseas. It’s left here and put back into PNG. 99.5% of what we make stays and is reinvested in PNG’. With Hebou, it has been this way since 1969.