Norman subsequently spent time investigating the status of the market, by visiting architects, consultants, engineers and equipment installers to gauge how the market was behaving. The architects in particular expressed concerns that the quality of consulting in the mechanical services side was lacking. Norman repeated the process in Melbourne, with the same result.
Having identified the gap in the market, Norman proceeded to fill it. The climate of Sydney suited him better, so with that as the initial office, Norman set up his consultancy.
One of the first things he needed was a telephone. He was informed that this could take several months, which he found intolerable, however, if he had a government contract, it would be less than a week. He did exactly this, setting out to get a small government project approved. This satisfied the criteria, and got his telephone, and his first client at the same time as his new business cards arrived, boldly proclaiming his new venture as “HD Norman and Associates”.
Norman immediately set about cold calling as many architects and developers as he could, convincing anyone that he could to hire him, and spending the nights and weekends working on the projects that they contracted him to do. This continued for many months, as Norman sought to get his company into the consultancy list of as many businesses as possible.
The commitment soon paid off, with more work coming in than he could complete himself, he formed a partnership with Leo Addicoat in May, 1959, forming Norman & Addicoat (N&A).
Addicoat was responsible for the electrical, general mechanical and lifts while Norman focused on the air conditioning, ventilation and refrigeration aspects of the work. They soon moved into a bigger premises at 50 Miller Street in North Sydney, in the corner of the structural consultant’s office of Taylor Thompson and Whitting.
Norman continued aggressively pursuing work while Addicoat held down the drafting during the day, with spare moments few and far between for the both of them. By early 1960, the workload necessitated adding a design draftsman, and Alan Disney came on board and according to Norman, Alan displayed significant initiative and an ability to manage clients as well as staff.
“The volume of projects had dramatically increased, and with it we had to be selective in our choice of suppliers and installer,” says Norman. “It took some time to get the quality we wanted, but protecting the reputation of the business was a priority.”
Yet despite the momentum, it would be some time before the firm won any large projects.
“In hindsight, I think it was of enormous benefit to us, that we were not awarded a major project before then,” says Norman. “We needed the opportunity to iron out many industry equipment and installation problems on small plants and bed down our team before taking on a larger project. By focusing on smaller work, we were able to eliminate most of the major problems by the time we graduated to doing large work.”
Alan being a natural marketer actively worked with Norman to secure several projects and develop good clientele.
Initially, N&A worked on smaller projects, such as office blocks, bowling alleys and RSL clubs, but the big break for Norman and his company came in 1963. N&A won two major city contracts – Goldfields House project on McKee Street and also the Sydney County Council building at the corner of Bathurst and George Streets.
It’s a testament to Norman’s attention to quality and detail that there are many tall buildings designed in the 1960’s which remain fully operational to this day.
On a visit to family in Western Australia, Norman looked up an old school friend who was now a partner in the architectural practice of Forbes and Fitzharding. They had just been commissioned to design a new head office branch for the Bank of New Zealand (now the ANZ Bank). Norman secured the air conditioning contract, under the condition that N&A open a branch in Perth, which they did in 1964.
David Rae was tasked with managing the Perth office, a role that Norman considered exceptionally important.
“I was always very conscious that the quality of the Manager of the office would in many ways determine the success we had,” says Norman. “Right from the start, I had a number of young engineers who I kept directly under my mentorship, so I could monitor exactly what they were doing, and I usually found it took about three years to get the culture that I wanted stuck in their minds. It also allowed me to understand exactly what their ability was in design, in business development, in control of staff, in communication and financial control, plus handling of political situations and stress. That way when I sent them out, I knew what I had to look after and what I could rely on them doing and I considered myself pretty lucky, I could sleep soundly at night and was seldom let down.”