Brett’s Journey

August 2, 2021

Brett Johnston has lived and breathed the Paynters way for an incredible 24 years – he is pretty much part of the furniture at this point! From humble beginnings as a young chippie, Brett is living proof that hard work & dedication really can take you places. As Paynters newly appointed Managing Director (previously our General Manager), we sat down with Brett to learn a little about just how a young boy from the bush ended up in the driver’s seat of incredibly successful & thriving construction company (if we do say so ourselves!)

Tell us how it all began, what prompted a career in construction?

We’re going back a bit! It all started with mum really, she was pestering me to get out and get a job. She lit the fire under me and helped me apply for several apprenticeships. I wasn’t interested in academics at school – I went to school purely to play cricket. Once I realized I was not going to make it as a professional cricketer, something hands on was a natural choice job wise.

What was your trade of choice, how do you recall those early days on site?

Not that I knew what I wanted to do at the time (like most of us in our teenage years) but Carpentry & Joinery sounded like it could be the right fit. I was offered 2 apprenticeships and ended up taking the opportunity with Qbuild. Just when I thought I had seen the end of my high school days, after being inducted and onboarded as an Apprentice, they sent me to a construction job at my school. I was fortunate to be exposed to all aspects of the building game early in my apprenticeship and when it was suggested that it was my turn to relocate to the CBD to do office fit-outs and the like, I quickly put my hand up to do some regional remote work.

Remote happened to be the most northern part of Australia. I thought “cool I get to go to the cape and be paid”. Well, little did I know the northernmost part of Australia was actually a little island in the Torres Strait called Boigu which is a stone’s throw from PNG. Off I went at 19, first time living out of home, first time on a plane and the rest is history. I spent 6 months working in the Torres Strait, learnt my trade and other valuable life skills that I will always be grateful for.

At what point did you decide to head into the office? What was the driver?

I injured my back in the last year of my apprenticeship, which made me realize I really couldn’t rely on physical labour forever. I did some contract work post-apprenticeship (building houses) until I stumbled across an ad in the local paper which said Paynters (Paynter Dixon Queensland at the time) were looking for cadets.

The ad asked for a handwritten application, so mum got the call up, and wrote out my letter for me. I fortunately got the job (thanks Mum) and my original letter is still in my HR file to this day!

There were 16 people in the office at Paynters on my first day and only a handful on site. Some of those faces I am still surrounded by to this day – Dean Scott and Neil Southwell. I was the youngest in the company when I started, and nowadays I am hopefully on the older yet wiser side of the fence!

What would you consider your most memorable moment at Paynters?

The first thing that sprung to mind was my first experience on site as a cadet, watching the site manager and project manager go head-to-head in a full-blown screaming match. Things were thrown, windows were broken. I am pretty calm by nature, I wasn’t sure what I had gotten myself into at that point! Safe to say that is not how we get the job done these days.

I remember the first job I ran as a Project Manager which was at the Bracken Ridge Tavern. I was a CA at the time, and the Project Manager resigned quite abruptly. That same day, my manager pulled me in and asked how I felt about stepping up – and I have not looked back since.

As our new MD, what do you want to see Paynters achieve over the next 5 years?

I have to say, I am so proud to have played a part in the success Paynters is today. What I am really looking forward to next is watching the next generation within our business grow and mature before my eyes. One day, I hope to see myself handing the batten over to one of our home-grown talents that live and breathe our Paynters culture.

Is there anything (personally or professionally) you have on your bucket list moving forward?

You’re kidding yourself if you think you know it all. The beauty about the Construction industry is that there are new challenges each day and your always learning new things. Rest assured I still have a fire in the belly and am keen to learn more and see Paynters thrive.

On a personal note, my family and I were geared up for a great American road trip last year, but Covid-19 put a big dent in that plan – so we have had to place that and some other adventures on the back burner for now. Lucky Queensland is a pretty nice place to be ‘stuck’.

My wife (Cathy) has been by my side for over 25 years of this journey supporting me and the family. She has made sacrifices at times that others wouldn’t, which has been a huge contribution to my professional growth and that of the company, so moving forward I’d like to challenge myself to look after my own health a little more and spend more quality time with her and the kids.

Any words of wisdom or advice for those considering joining the construction industry?

I hope my journey shows that anything is possible. I am not perfect, but I think everyone should strive to achieve outside of the box. Back then – never in a million years did I think as a young chippie I would grow into an owner of an organisation of this scale. I certainly exceeded my own expectations, and couldn’t be prouder of where Paynters is today.