January 1927 – April 2023
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Phillip was 96 when he passed away peacefully in his sleep. Phillip leaves a substantial legacy to the Sydney construction industry and the people working in the company he founded.
Phillip Lipman’s achievement in founding our business cannot be overstated. Starting his own construction company was courageous, but to create and shape that company against the industry norms of the time was visionary. Much of his vision for a better way of doing things in the construction industry has now become mainstream. The company he created, which still proudly bears his name, has thrived for 57 years based on a culture of trust, care and respect, a focus on quality, and a pioneering commitment to cooperative contracting.
Phillip was born on 8 January 1927 in a small town outside Johannesburg in South Africa. His childhood was overshadowed by the destructive social and political forces of apartheid and an economy tied to the highs and lows of droughts and fluctuating gold prices.
In 1948, aged 21, Phillip graduated from the University of Witwatersrand with a Bachelor of Civil Engineering. He found employment, met his wife Moira, and they had two children. Phillip saw South Africa at that time as unbearably dangerous and decided it was not a place to bring up children, so he decided to come to Australia.
After working in the Australian construction sector for several years, Phillip became dissatisfied with the industry’s lack of respect for clients, employees, and workers. He knew there was “a better way” after working for other companies where we witnessed a lack of respect for people, where people were not valued as much as profits.
Phillip decided to resign and do things differently. On 15 March 1966, Phillip and Moira founded Phillip Lipman Construction Pty Ltd.
Two key aspects of the new company were different: dealing transparently with his clients, and creating a new culture where people were respected.
Fundamental to his new business was the idea of open-book, negotiated contracts (cooperative contracting). This was based on the idea of a fixed profit, meaning that any variation to the contract would be done at cost. If there were any savings on the final cost, it would be shared evenly with the client. All the work he did in those days was negotiated on that basis. This concept was decades ahead of its time.
Equally crucial for the success of the new business was building a culture of respect. Phillip recruited “bright, talented, young people” who were open to adopting this innovative business model and engaging in the industry in a cooperative and respectful way.
The company’s first contract was the construction of six units in Musgrave St, Mosman, followed by a block of nine units in Chatswood. Building low-rise home units and townhouses was our core business for the first few years.
In 1970, Phillip Lipman Constructions became part of the Jardine Bowen and Lipman Group which was owned equally by Phillip and two partners. The company moved from walk-up units and townhouses to high-rise construction by building several eight-storey blocks of units and office buildings in Waverton, Cremorne, and North Sydney.
However, the Northside Gardens and Northpoint Tower projects (started in 1971) established the company in the senior tiers of Sydney’s builders. By this time, Phillip had built a dynamic team of talented construction experts to deliver these larger, more complex projects. They introduced innovative methods to deliver North Sydney’s first high-rise buildings.
The success of Northside Gardens and Northpoint Tower had flow-on effects for the company. There was continuing work, committed senior leadership and a team of loyal subcontractors. Subcontractors were known to walk off other jobs to join a Lipman project because of our record of paying.
In 1983, Phillip Lipman and his remaining partner Max Bowen, sold their shares in the company to their Senior Management team, Terry Gillett, Colin Ging and Tony Wood.
Since then, the company has had five managing directors. We have all believed strongly in the culture and vision that Phillip Lipman created, and as leaders of the company, we have seen ourselves as custodians of that legacy.
I know our current shareholders, Leighton and Caroline Waugh, revere Phillip’s vision and values, as did their father, Barry, who bought the Lipman business in 2001. It is vital to Leighton and Caroline that we respect and nurture the essence of those who have come before us in the way we conduct our business today.
Phillip always enjoyed updates on the progress and evolution of the company he founded. His regular presence, including at events like the 50th anniversary celebrations, was important to everyone who worked in the business and shared in the unique culture he had created. He will be missed.
We pass on our condolences to his family and reassure them that our company is, and will remain, a shining light of Phillip Lipman’s legacy.
Philip Lipman (right) with Max Bowen and comedian Jimmy Edwards at a luncheon to promote the leasing of Northpoint.
On top of Northpoint Tower. Taken on the day of the structural completion, July 1976. Max Bowen, Terry Gillett (Site Manager), Colin Ging (Project Manager), Tony Wood (General Foreman) and Phillip Lipman.