CEO perspective: trust and collaboration key to sustainable service delivery

Peter Iancov was appointed as Zinfra Managing Director in April 2019, becoming the driving force behind one of Australia’s leading utility infrastructure service providers.

Mr Iancov said he was attracted by the opportunity to spearhead a major services and projects business that had been developing its capabilities in the energy infrastructure market since 2012.

“Zinfra was always a ‘people business’, delivering a range of high-quality and complex maintenance, emergency response, construction and commissioning services in a market that for years was quite unknown despite its criticality to communities, industry and public at large,” Mr Iancov said.

“Today, energy is at the forefront of any successful economy. Being part of the SGSPAA Group (State Grid Singapore Power Australian Assets) and being owned by two major global utilities offers learnings, a bridge to technologies, innovation and capability for growth that are second to none. The opportunity to make a difference and build a special business was quite irresistible.”

While Mr Iancov was appointed to lead the organisation through its transformation to an efficient and trusted service provider, that could potentially lead to future growth aspirations, he believes growth is the natural consequence of delivering the promise, and building and maintaining trust and partnerships with clients and communities.

“I’ll start with a statement that might be controversial. Growth is not a vision nor a strategy, but an outcome,” Mr Iancov said.

“Like any business around the world, growth results from acceptable returns to shareholders, providing a reliable, quality and trusted service to our customers combined with planned development of our people, and fair relationships with our suppliers and subcontractors.

“Our vision is simple but also challenging – to become a trusted partner in energy. We plan on getting there by becoming the safest and most efficient field force contractor in our market over many years to come.

“Trust and partnership cannot be requested, nor tendered for a price, nor bought. Trust is earned and is an outcome of living our values and delivering our promises over a long period of time in a way that adds value to all our stakeholders.

“Saying that, we see ourselves operating in the realm of transmission and distribution of energy (gas and electricity), energy storage including batteries, pumped hydro, gas (natural gas, biogas and one day hydrogen), renewable energy systems, smart grids and smart cities.”

Little did Mr Iancov know that less than 12 months into the role, Australia would have to contend with the worst bushfire season on record , followed by devastating floods and then the global COVID-19 pandemic – yet even in the face of these challenges, Zinfra personnel displayed remarkable resilience and commitment to making a positive contribution to Australia’s energy infrastructure.

“Reflecting on 2020, I recall being increasingly amazed at our people's capability to respond to a crisis,” Mr Iancov said.

“This was not about my successful leadership, this was about the leadership of every one of our 1,750 people who responded to this series of unprecedented events.

“Office staff moved within days from the office to working from home, while our depots and field workers continued to deliver 24/7 services to ‘keep the lights on’ alongside all other critical infrastructure and essential workers. On top of our typical ‘day job’ we had to learn to interface with and support various government and health authorities in their challenge of keeping Australians safe.”

A proven track record in utility infrastructure

As a professional electrical engineer, Mr Iancov has an established career with over 27 years’ experience in leading major businesses and projects, with expertise in the management of major projects, construction, maintenance, and the operation of gas and electricity infrastructure assets and major facilities.

He began his career in 1992, first learning the programming language C++ and then testing high and medium voltage motors in Melbourne. Soon after, he entered the manufacturing industry designing, testing and producing low voltage, high voltage and extra-high voltage switching equipment for transmission and distribution utilities in Australia.

“It is quite special to see many products still in service and manufactured to those old designs even today, but also quite amusing receiving feedback from the users 25 years later on their design and performance,” Mr Iancov said.

In 1996 , Mr Iancov joined United Energy, an electricity distributor operating in east and south east Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula, before moving to the publicly listed energy infrastructure company Alinta in 1996. For the next 12 years, he continued his career at Alinta in various general management roles, mainly related to service contracts, major projects and asset management.

“When Alinta was acquired in 2007, I was managing the Western Australia business, including the delivery of a $1.8 billion transmission upgrade to the Dampier to Bunbury Natural Gas Pipeline, and managing gas and electricity teams and assets in Western Australia and the Northern Territory – many of them now part of other businesses such as APA, ATCO, AGIG and others,” Mr Iancov said.

“In 2008, I left the utility space to lead a reputable Western Australian contractor for the following five years and entered the commercial, industrial, mining and defence construction sectors. It was an amazing learning experience characterised by hardcore contracting, distributed locations, tough competition and sustained performance.

“I semi-retired at 48 (or at least I thought I did!), started my own advisory business and was, and still am, privileged to have joined a number of boards as a non executive director. The multitude of amazing people I have had the privilege to serve with has taken my personal development to new levels that would, most likely, not have been achieved solely through an executive career or formal study.

“A few public biographies would reveal that I have also worked with companies such as ASC (formerly Australian Submarine Corporation), Western Power, Valmec, Southern Ports, Robe River Kuruma Aboriginal Corporation and Australian Naval Infrastructure, among others.”

Responding to industry disruption

The utility industry is undergoing a once-in-a-generation transformation driven by technological advances, heightened environmental awareness and evolving customer expectations. While this creates numerous financial and operational challenges, significant opportunities exist for those who are willing to act promptly and decisively while embracing continuous improvement.

Mr Iancov said that although the power and utilities business model has remained relatively unchanged over the past century, Zinfra is always looking to understand, improve and innovate in the areas where it can add most value.

“An old-fashioned commercial structure, an underinvestment in apprentices, trainees and graduates over the last 10-15 years combined with limitations in international recruitment and migration mainly due to the pandemic, and a wave of major projects required in the industry to normalise the acceptance of renewable generation and decarbonisation are likely to create a ‘perfect storm’ that will challenge our traditional way of thinking and executing strategies,” Mr Iancov said.

“There is an opportunity to collaborate with our customers and create a sustainable delivery model for services and projects in the utility space that delivers value to all stakeholders.

“It is a long journey which we have started through open and transparent conversations at all levels and with all stakeholders supported by delivering on promises made.

“I am directly involved in improvement programs across the Zinfra and Jemena group. This includes leading improvement programs and personally facilitating workshops at management and field force level.

“I also have individual discussions with our frontline leaders and field staff to support the team in developing strategies for prioritising and executing improvements, and ensure resources and funding are available to enable such improvements to occur in a timely fashion.”

When asked what he enjoys most about working in the utility industry, Mr Iancov said the sector has been the unsung community hero for a very long time.

“We are a committed, professional and humble industry that happens to sit at the essence of civilisation.

“We don’t want to imagine how our society would operate ‘when the switch is off’. Transport, food supplies, heating, lighting, hospitals, supermarkets, internet, WiFi, communications, security etc would all be affected.

“I enjoy seeing the value that the industry adds to the lives of our communities and loved ones. More importantly, I enjoy working with the people that make up the utility industry – they are truly special.”

Outside of work, Mr Iancov uses walking to help him unwind and balance the demands of a challenging professional life. He is also a passionate fundraiser for a variety of charities and community organisations.

“Walking is one of my ways of attempting to stay fit, but I also do it to relax, reflect and meditate. I do a lot of walking every week – so far 2,400km this year – sometimes on my own, sometimes with friends, and more recently, with some of my clients who are courageous enough to have a business discussion whilst we are walking together,” Mr Iancov said.

“My motivation for philanthropy and fundraising is simple: we as a community and society at large need a lot of services that do not always have adequate resources or funding to meet demand.

“Each one of us can help and make a difference. I am fortunate enough not to have a personal reason for giving, but I don’t think we need one to help others. As Winston Churchill famously said, ‘we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give’.”

This sponsored editorial is brought to you by Zinfra – your trusted partner in energy. For more information on Zinfra’s engineering, project management, construction, operations and maintenance services, visit www.zinfra.com.au.