One’s a firefighter, the other’s a paramedic. Together, they’ve built a business that puts safety first on Australia’s riskiest job sites.
With 40 years of frontline emergency service work between them, Graham Challen and Wayne Van Biljon are sticklers for safety. Thank goodness for that, considering the nature of their business, High Risk Management Solutions (HRMS).
Working with heights, confined spaces, heat, HAZMATs and road crash rescues – HRMS oversees the kinds of situations that make stomachs churn.
Based in Perth but operating around Australia, HRMS provides medical and rescue team specialists, safety personnel, permits, assessments and equipment to industries with high-risk tasks, such as the navy, mining, and oil and gas.
“We’re the last line of defence before guys carry out their tasks so they’re going to be doing it safely,” Graham tells Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB).
How it started
South African-born paramedic trainer Wayne started his emergency management company Talis Group in late 2014. In the past two years, Wayne rebranded the business to HRMS and brought his friend Graham on board as business partner.
Graham had experience as a firefighter in the UK, and working for public and private sector emergency and rescue services in both the UK and Australia, including mining giants BHP, Rio Tinto and FMG.
Despite running a business of almost 200 employees, mostly casual paramedics and firefighters, they still like to get their hands dirty.
“Wayne and I have been fortunate that we’ve been able to keep our operation readiness,” Graham says. “We’ve been able to go out and lead the team on site so that we stay in touch with clients and the staff.
“But I wouldn’t be lying if I said the best job I’ve ever had was being a professional firefighter. Just being in that team environment and working with the adrenalin rushes you get responding to those incidents – and Wayne would be exactly the same – we still miss that.”
The year everything changed
With majority of their work being navy ship management in Sydney and WA, HRMS had plenty of work during 2020. Almost too much, in fact.
To keep up with the contracts, Graham and Wayne faced the challenge of paying enough casual staff – many of whom already had primary employers – to get the job done.
“Cashflow became an issue,” Graham explains. “The more staff we employ … we can be left with 10 or 12 weeks of pay that we have to carry.”
As the contracts came in, Graham and Wayne realised they needed financial help so they applied for Phase 2 of the Government’s SME Guarantee Loan Scheme with Westpac.
“To be honest, my business partner is very risk-averse,” Graham shares. “We’ve never borrowed before. The fact that the government were guaranteeing 50 per cent of this loan was a big plus.”
The scheme allows businesses with an annual turnover of less than $50 million to apply for up to $1 million in secured loans or up to $75,000 in unsecured loans for various business purposes. These include supporting cashflow, purchasing assets and vehicles, working capital or buying commercial property.
Graham and Wayne took out a $200k loan with Westpac to help with cashflow, purchase assets and provide industrial qualification training for the team in NSW.
“We were able to increase our headcount, increase our assets and, in turn, carry that debt to pay our staff,” Graham says. “So that cash boost we got from Westpac was perfect timing, which has allowed us to grow and put us in the very comfortable position we’re in right now.”
Their ‘best year to date’
Before COVID-19, HRMS had 120 casual staff and three full-time staff. Now, they employ 196 people including five full-time staff – something they couldn’t have done without the loan.
“Westpac were fantastic to deal with – they basically told us what we were eligible for as a growing business and told us where these additional funds are going to help as we grow,” Graham adds. “So it wasn’t just the loan, they actually gave us business advice at the same time.”
Having weathered the economic storms of COVID-19, HRMS is set to scale new heights with plans to expand into Cairns and Darwin, and increase their presence in the mining sector.
“It’s enabled us to kick on,” Graham says of the SME Guarantee Loan Scheme. “And we’re looking at our best year to date.”
Businesses impacted by COVID-19 rolling off JobKeeper payments can also apply for the most recent Government’s SME Recovery Loan Scheme to help with low rate funding. There are loans of up to $5m available until 31 December 2021 for eligible businesses impacted by COVID-19 rolling off JobKeeper payments.
Check your eligibility and enquire about a SME Guarantee Loan or SME Recovery Loan with Westpac today.
This content is brought to you by Kochie’s Business Builders in partnership with Westpac.
Feature image: High Risk Management Solutions’ Graham Challen and Wayne Van Biljon. Image: Supplied.