Catch up with Scott Franks, CEO of Tocomwall, Yamari Ochre and Glad Indigenous.
Scott Franks is a man of many talents and many businesses.
A Wonnarua person from the Hunter Valley NSW, Scott was born in Singleton and raised on his family property, a farming and beef cattle station. At the age of 17, he joined the Royal Australian Army and was attached to the RAAC (Royal Australian Armor Corps).
After a long career with the defence service, Scott established Tocomwall, an Aboriginal archaeological firm about 15 years ago.
Scott was also the chairperson of Wanaruah Local Aboriginal Land Council (WLALC) for 2 years before moving to Sydney after taking on Heritage contracts.
In addition to Tocomwall, he runs Yamari Ochre and Glad Indigenous.
His successful businesses perform a range of diverse functions – everything from archaeological and cultural research, to managing cleaning, rapid antigen testing, security and signage.
While all very different, there are three common threads among them – Scott operates them as if they were family; he embraces intergenerational equity by ensuring young people are in senior management roles; and he ensures they wherever they operate, his businesses support the local Aboriginal communities.
What family means at work
Scott sees his employees as an extension of his family and is always looking for opportunities to work with the Aboriginal community. Sarah Franks, Scott’s wife, is also an important part of the various businesses. In addition to managing the accounts, she also provides HR and support for the women across the organisations.
When one of his team was struggling after a relative passed away, he arranged for them to fly home for two weeks. When a business partner asked whether the team member would return, Scott assured them she would and if she didn’t, it was okay, because he felt they had done the right thing.
“Death and supporting family are very serious things in our communities. To me this is paying it forward because even if that person didn’t come back, they would have told people, “If it wasn’t for my boss, I would never have come home.” The person did come back and now I’m her big brother in New South Wales. I think that’s fantastic,” says Scott.
Scott’s most recent company is Glad Indigenous, which provides cleaning, security and traffic control services. The business seeks out members of the local Aboriginal community for key positions, and provides training to help create a pathway to management responsibilities, or even to start their own business.
“We’ve been working closely with KPMG to create an indigenous joint venture under the Supply Nation category. Our goal is to start people off at ground level, but if somebody comes up through the ranks and can manage that company better than me, then they can have the seat.”
Listening to youthful wisdom
With an eye on the future, Scott involves younger generations in management roles so their input can help shape the various organisations.
“I find that a lot of the younger Aboriginal people are very in tune with intergenerational equity and where things should be.
“I’m 52, and I’ve got a very old head when it comes to what our people want. Sometimes you get lost in that, when really, it’s the next generation that should have a voice,” says Scott.
Glad Indigenous is headed by a young general manager, while at Tocomwall, the senior, experienced team members are complemented by a youthful cohort.
“We have a couple of mature archeologists like me, but the rest of the team is very young and very smart, including our general manager, our anthropologist and our heritage adviser.
“I find that they work on projects with a lot of government department representatives who a similar age to them and they communicate well and understand each other,” says Scott.
Supporting Aboriginal businesses and local communities
Scott believes that showing respect to the local community and behaving ethically is key to supporting Aboriginal communities.
“A lot of the Tier One companies engage an Indigenous or Supply Nation registered company and often two things happen – either the company grows or they engage a bigger company that has already moved around the country with the Tier One. When you sit down and look at the project, the local businesses are not really getting a hand up,” says Scott.
He feels there’s an onus on businesses like his to either work with the smaller local outfits, or identify, employ and nurture local talent.
“As First Nations people, we’re a different society than everyone else. I often say this at conferences – we collectively as Aboriginal people or First Nations people in Australia all have different languages, religions, laws and customs. Unless industry understands that there’s always going to be a problem.”
Scott is big on respect.
“Tocomwall will not work in another mob’s country unless we have permission from those traditional owners. I’m not going to go into another mob’s country unless that community have trust in me that my company is going to deliver the best outcome for them, especially when it comes to their archeology and their heritage, because it is theirs. It’s not mine,” says Scott.
His other business, Yamari Ochre, a corporate signage and branding business, often secures national contracts. They make the collateral at their specialist factory in Taren Point in Sydney and then freight to external locations.
“In most cases, we’ll directly employ local teams to do the installation or we’ll find a local business that can do it for us. We won’t cross over the border to do it ourselves as it’s about supporting the Aboriginal community that is local to that area,” says Scott.
How working with ICN has supported his businesses
Scott has developed a close working relationship with Ian Hudson, ICN NSW’s Executive Director over the many years that they’ve known each other.
“Ian’s very smart and very cluey when it comes to assessing a business, and if there’s something that stands out to him, then he’s straight on it. He’s very astute when it comes to businesses and how they could or should be. I think he’s very steadfast on what they should be, and how ICN as an industry support is going to promote those businesses and work with them,” says Scott.
“Companies like ICN are giving Aboriginal businesses a solid voice and a chance to be involved. Often Tier Ones don’t see the impact of a work package win and its financial benefit to the Aboriginal community.
“I’ve had a lot of conversations with Ian over the years. Some of them have been very open and frank. He is very in tune with the people he works with. If I feel a deal is not working for us, then I’d tell him. They also know who you’re going to work well with too and which businesses are going to be a good fit–they’re jigsaw masters,” says Scott.
Advice to other businesses
Scott recommends reaching out to the associations and groups in your field and to ICN NSW for support and advice.
“Go and find out who your local ICN NSW rep and form that relationship, because those people are your lifeboat for interactions with the companies seeking your services,” says Scott.
Scott says that he’s reached out to ICN to ask about a project, for Ian to let him now that he didn’t think it would be a good match and why. But Ian’s also called him to give him a heads up about new opportunities and to put him in touch with a new contact, which has led to work and a strong relationship.
“I appreciate the support they give, the people that are there, and the back house that nobody sees. When you’re in Sydney go meet with Ian or go and meet your rep and have a cup of coffee, because they’ve become family,” says Scott.