No concrete boots for high-flying Carmen

National finalist Carmen O’Keefe… “Everywhere we looked there was development and tower cranes all around town, so it seemed the right time to enter the market.” Photo by Andrew Finch

National finalist Carmen O’Keefe… “Everywhere we looked there was development and tower cranes all around town, so it seemed the right time to enter the market.” Photo by Andrew Finch

A NEWCOMER to the construction industry, Carmen O’Keefe, has been awarded national finalist and runner up in this year’s Australian Women in Business Awards this month.

The Canberra mother of three was acknowledged for her success in starting up and leading her business, Riga Precast, which provides precast concrete products to the construction industry.

Carmen admits that the construction industry was new to her, having spent the past 10 years working at Army Headquarters.

“Precast concrete panels form the structure of most commercial buildings in Canberra. There’s a lot more to it than dirt and water!” she says.

A year ago her friend and business partner, Gavin Reid, identified a gap in the precast products market.
“He saw that a large percentage of precast concrete was trucked in from Sydney, Newcastle or Adelaide,” she says.

With the growth of construction projects around Canberra, Gavin and Carmen put together their business plan to create Riga Precast, now operating in a covered 1800sqm facility in Queanbeyan and employing 11 staff.

“Everywhere we looked there was development and tower cranes all around town, so it seemed the right time to enter the market,” she says.

“The beauty of it is that it’s low risk for developers and being based locally we remove their costs of freight and transport. That is how we remain competitive.”

Having won four commercial projects, including the Aranda Fire and Ambulance Station, Carmen says she is excited that the business has achieved its three-year goals in only nine months of operation.

Her realistic, achievable and impressive business goals were one of the reasons that she was a stand-out applicant for the Women in Business Awards and was recognised as an emerging entrepreneur by a judging panel, which included CPA Australia CEO, Alex Malley; chair of Australian Super and board member of the Reserve Bank of Australia, Heather Ridout and Minister for Small Business, Kelly O’Dwyer.

Carmen says she spent three days in Sydney being mentored by the best in business, and hopes to take the knowledge she gained to take her business to the next level.

“My focus is on governance and safety. I hope we can be one of the leaders in the industry and have a modern facility that is well run – not just a concrete yard,” she says.

“We are still on our journey of establishing and making our way and are thankful to the local construction industry for giving us these opportunities.”

Carmen says that since owning her own business she has become driven to find new opportunities to grow and perform better.

“Every night I sit at my computer and think, ‘What can I do to make this better? A new trainee? Year 10 school group visits?’ I am inspired to do well, with Riga making a difference,” she says.

“We are changing perceptions within the precast industry.”

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