Four years ago global conglomerate Transfield Services had no community partnership strategy; however the company has worked hard to turn things around. Dr John Prince charts the journey of a corporate in transition.

Four years ago global conglomerate Transfield Services had no community partnership strategy; however the company has worked hard to turn things around. Dr John Prince charts the journey of a corporate in transition.
In the beginning ….

Until as recently as 2002 the terms corporate social responsibility (CSR) and corporate citizenship were unfamiliar to the global diversified services company Transfield Services Services.

Partnering with the community was limited – and consisted mostly of ad hoc sponsorships with a small number of nonprofit organisations.

Despite this, some of the company’s staff had an appreciation of the impact the company had on the communities it operated in.

“I remember in the 80s, I saw that wherever we went we affected communities. For example, we went to Barry’s Beach in Gippsland and we employed many farmers. For the period we were there, there was lots of purchasing – there was lots of activity. As soon as the project finished and we went away, the community activities slowed. It was amazing. I knew then that we could have a big effect on the communities in which we operated.” Joseph Sadatmehr, former chief operating officer, Transfield Services.

Furthermore, many of Transfield Service’s clients were increasingly enquiring about how the company could add value to CSR activities and initiatives.

Time for a Change

Within the company, awareness and understanding grew of the impacts of its activities, and that it could play a much stronger role in supporting communities. In 2002 the decision was made to develop a strategy for community engagement taking into account the uniqueness of the business and the communities it worked in.

Given the size and scale of the business, formulating a formal approach to building long-term relationships and partnerships seemed daunting. Transfield Services also recognised its own limits and capacity to deliver, and where necessary, expert advice was sought to ensure successful development and implementation of community engagement strategies.

An important first step was taken by engaging the Corporate Citizenship Research Unit (CCRU) at Deakin University to assist in putting together a community engagement program. Over the next four years this relationship proved to be a great catalyst in setting Transfield Services along a new and fruitful direction.

Another important step was the appointment, in 2003, of a managerial position dedicated to community engagement.

A Pilot Program – Puckapunyal

In March 2003 the Puckapunyal community was chosen as the first site to model and pilot a community engagement program. This regional town is situated in Victoria about 100 km north of Melbourne and is well-known for its local army base. In fact Transfield Services had been providing maintenance, hospitality and security services to the Department of Defence there for a number of years.

From 2003-2006 Transfield Services partnered with community groups including: the Puckapunyal and Districts Neighbourhood Centre to establish an environmental trail; the childcare centre to establish environmental learning programs; local primary and secondary schools to provide formal and informal vocational training and structured workplace learning programs; and local agencies to provide traineeships.

Lessons Learned

A huge amount of knowledge was acquired through the Puckapunyal pilot, and some very important lessons were learned:

LESSON 1 – know your stakeholders! The coordinator of the Puckapunyal and Districts Neighborhood Centre was a close friend of the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Defence and the local Federal member.

Initial stakeholder dialogue highlighted that the coordinator had a poor view of Transfield Service’s levels of engagement with the Puckapunyal community – particularly when measured against the previous incumbent. This view had been shared with the Parliamentary Secretary.

LESSON 2large financial investments not necessary. Small, low cost programs involving donations of time and other resources delivered high reputational benefits to the company and made a big difference to the community.

LESSON 3 – program goals required. Partnerships were most successful when workshops were used at an early stage to help clearly define individual program objectives and partner commitments. Shared visions and values and organisational divergences were also explored.

LESSON 4 – synergies a must. Partnering took place only on those initiatives where success could not be achieved by a single partner – shared benefits and the building of synergies were a pre-requisite.

LESSON 5 – establish a community reference group (CRG). This was a key factor in the success of the partnership and brought together key community stakeholders (schools, employment agencies, the defence community and neighbourhood centre) with the aim of monitoring and evaluating the programs, and, more importantly, providing stakeholder input and local knowledge to Transfield Services.


The Puckupunyal pilot program has succeeded both in enabling Transfield Services to become a valued supporter of the local community, and in helping the community achieve a range of benefits that would not have been possible otherwise.

An independent review of the partnership by Professor David Birch from the Corporate Citizenship Research Unit at Deakin University said that significant cross-sector activities had helped create sustainable outcomes for both business and the community, “… a very thorough and comprehensive set of programs … all of which have received wide acceptance both in the immediate community and beyond.”

In isolated areas like Puckapunyal where opportunity is limited, the contributions of Transfield Services are no small matter, something acknowledged by local stakeholders:

“My first thoughts about Transfield Services were that they wouldn’t give a sausage for a sausage sizzle. Since that time we have come so far that it seems the company is able to deliver far more than even I envisaged. More importantly, I believe the company is now recognized as a player in the community, and for all the right reasons … they are seen as belonging to it.” Jenny Oakley, coordinator, Puckapunyal and Districts Neighbourhood Centre

Clearly then, the benefits to Transfield Services have been enhanced stakeholder reputation, but regular reporting by the local newspaper has also led to a more positive perception of the company by the wider community.

The strategy has also provided shareholder value in the form of contracts awarded, due in part to the company’s approach to community engagement. Further, the independent review found that the morale and loyalty of employees involved in the partnership programs have increased.

Corporate Engagement Grows

Both the social responsibility and business case arguments for community engagement are now appreciated at the highest levels at Transfield Services.

Peter Watson, managing director of Transfield Services, makes it clear that the company is “committed to ensuring that wherever we operate, we engage with, and involve, the local community. We recognise that exercising effective corporate social responsibility will mean working with many different groups and people and tailoring our activities to specific communities, rather than simply applying models developed elsewhere.”

The lessons learnt at Puckapunyal have been quickly applied in other places, and the company now has partnerships with a wide range of community organisations in over 15 locations, from Collie in regional Western Australia to the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, and from Townsville in Queensland to Alberta, Canada.

While there has been considerable success, the company is currently developing a strategy that will have community engagement built in to business models rather than bolted on. This marks the beginning of the next stage of the journey…

In 2004 Transfield Services won an Encouragement Award from the Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Community Business Partnerships for the partnership program established at Puckapunyal.

About Transfield Services

Transfield Services is a provider of operations, maintenance, asset management and project management services across eleven diverse industries including mining, roads, rail, water, power, telecommunications and defence.

The company employs around 23,000 staff globally in Australia, New Zealand, the United States, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, South East Asia, India and Canada.