Ask Tony Pantano the secret to building a successful plumbing business and he’ll smile and tell you it is simple: make a commitment to deliver the best job possible.
Tony’s talking about O’Neill & Brown Plumbing, a family-owned company established in Queanbeyan 50 years ago. From modest beginnings, O’Neill & Brown Plumbing has now evolved into one of Canberra’s largest plumbing companies, taking on some of the biggest projects in Canberra’s history while still looking after Canberra homes and businesses.
What does it take to keep a multi-generational Canberra business thriving for 50 years? Genevieve Jacobs caught up with the team at O'Neill & Brown Plumbing Service to take a look back at the firm's rich history, chat about what makes the business stand out, hear about their plans for the future, and take a look at a quirky toilet fountain.
Posted by The RiotACT on Sunday, 15 March 2020
Originally started by plumbers Pat O’Neill and Tom Brown, Tony joined the business in 1963, forming O’Neill & Brown Plumbing in 1969. He says even in the early days, the company decided to step up and try to get the best jobs possible.
“It was a big commitment but we chased the prime jobs. Our first big job was Parliament House in 1981. That was a huge step up for us but it was definitely the start of bigger things. We then went on to work on many other significant buildings including the National Gallery, Canberra Hospital and the AIS.
“The prime jobs meant we could offer job security for our employees. Our employees and their families are our people, our family, and our staff are as important as our clients,” Tony said.
Tony says throughout the years, O’Neill & Brown has been passionate about skills development. To date, the company has trained over 300 apprentices.
“The start is important. We like to give young people a job and then train them up to the highest standards. We want all our apprentices to enjoy working for us while they are with us. If they decide later on that they want to go to work for themselves, that is OK. We support them no matter what they want to do.
“Some people never leave us. We have generations working for us. Fathers and sons,” Tony added.
Tony says keeping work for their employees in the inevitable downturns in the building cycle is important.
“Some companies, they say to their employees, there are no more jobs so we can’t give you any work. That’s very hard for people who depend on that money for their families. At O’Neill & Brown Plumbing, we have always tried our best to make sure everyone has secure employment,” Tony said.
“I give a lot of credit to our local Canberra developers. Our city has benefited from their vision and foresight and the belief that this city will grow. Importantly, the developers made sure they used local contractors for the big jobs. This meant the other businesses in the city have grown along with them. If they used contractors from elsewhere, things would be much different.”
Tony says the biggest change he has seen in 50 years is the size of the work. “The jobs have got bigger for sure.”
Tony’s son Robert took over as managing director 10 years ago and has grown the plumbing business from 60 employees to now over 350. No matter the company’s size, Robert says the family-focus of the business has not changed.
“Our culture is still to look after our people and do the best job possible.”
Robert’s professional background is in engineering and project management and says joining the business was both a privilege and an opportunity.
“Looking to the future, we want to build on our strengths – our solid business principles and our great people. We hope to continue to grow with and support Canberra while at the same time, test out the market at a national level when opportunities present themselves.”
To learn more, visit O’Neill & Brown Plumbing.