New Australian firm Roberts Co bids for failed Probuild’s Melbourne projects

Probuild won won National High-Rise Apartment Building of the Year with its The Towers and Ritz Carlton at Perth’s Elizabeth Quay (Probuild)

Sydney-based private contractor Roberts Co has concluded an agreement in principle to buy most of failed developer Probuild’s projects in Melbourne, it was announced on Monday.

The agreement with Deloitte Turnaround & Restructuring, Probuild’s administrator, is subject to the successful completion of due diligence. If the deal is approved, control of the sites and 786 workers will be transferred this month, giving Roberts Co a presence in the state of Victoria.

Probuild entered administration last week after its parent company, South Africa’s Wilson Bayly Holmes-Ovcon, decided its position was not recoverable. The company’s 19 Australian projects were more than US$10m in the red, and it owed an undisclosed amount to some 2,300 suppliers.

Roberts Co was established in 2017 by Andrew Roberts, the son of Multiplex founder John Roberts. It began as a joint venture with Italian contractor Impresa Pizzatori, until Roberts bought the whole company at the beginning of 2021. It now employs around 140 staff, and builds high-density residential as well as commercial and social infrastructure projects in New South Wales.

Although small in size, the company captured national attention in Australia by pioneering a five-day working week, giving all project personnel a weekend for the first time in an industry that traditionally works six days a week. An independent study of the pilot found that Roberts Co staff, subcontractors and workers’ families all reported decreased fatigue and improved family relationships as a result of the extra day off. It has been credited with boosting Roberts Co’s proportion of female employees to around 40%.

“Just over a week into the administration and while due diligence is still to be completed, this is an excellent outcome for these parts of the Group’s operations in terms of employment and certainty for sub-contractors, suppliers and other stakeholders,” said Sal Algeri, Deloitte Turnaround & Restructuring’s national leader.

Roberts Co chief executive Alison Mirams said: “It’s not often the right opportunities present themselves under such challenging circumstances. This one aligns with our growth plans into Victoria following a successful launch in NSW over the past five years.

“We look forward to regaining the trust of the clients, staff and subcontractors as we continue to build a better way.”

Earlier this year, the Australian government intervened to halt an attempt by China State Construction Engineering Corporation to buy Probuild, citing national security concerns (see further reading).

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