The Tilling Group’s new CEO is used to kicking goals.

Tony Birleson stepped into the Tilling’s CEO role on 12 June, but he hastens to point out that this does not mean that Norm Tilling has in any way retired. “He’s going to stay well and truly involved,” says Birleson. “I think his main goal is to find enough time to be able to beat Judy at golf.”

Whether Judy Tilling will need to improve her handicap remains to be seen, but Birleson is already clear on his first goal at the company. “It’s continuing the wonderful commitment Tilling has to the industry,” he says, pointing to the company’s innovations in lightweight framing, SmartFrame and SmartStruct.

“The company is all about creating greater opportunity for our customers. From the flooring solutions to the Design Centre, that value that’s created for customers is just wonderful.”

The company’s major projects are a source of excitement to Birleson. “Look at the DHHS affordable housing job we have underway in Preston,” he says. “We worked extensively with the builder, S J Higgins, on behalf of our merchant and it’s the first project that’s been deemed to comply for lightweight framing. It’s a testament to the hard work of the team here, including our design and technical team, our wonderful merchants that are driving the supply, and then an equally wonderful and engaged builder in Higgins, who are able to put it all together. We’ve already started the second building and there are potentially another nine to go.”

The project relies heavily on the use of TecBeam, a light-weight composite LVL/steel joist that comes with pre-made holes for services. “And,” says Birleson, “it will span over 7m. We can take a product like this directly to builders in full confidence that it will solve their problems. We know that those discussions will create value for our partners and for our merchants. We save the builder time and money by being able to provide those technical answers to so many of their issues and selling a solution to them on behalf of our merchants, making every part of the process faster.”

The only thing he speaks about with more enthusiasm than the product is the team: “Tilling really is such a wonderful group of people,” Birleson says. “People are so committed to growing the business and growing the opportunity for our customers, it’s just amazing.”

Birleson comes from a 30-year career in the building industry, having started with steel and concrete and moved into frame and truss. “I’ve always believed in innovative products,” he says. “And in bringing country and family values to service for our clients.”

In a previous role, he introduced polystyrene waffle pods to the Australian construction market. “They helped concreters to spend less to earn more money, which was the goal.”

After 10 years with that business, based in his home city of Newcastle, NSW, Birleson took on a corporate role with Bunnings, where he worked at setting up trade centres around the country and then leading frame and truss plants in NSW, describing it as a fantastic journey.

The other great (family aside) love of his life is soccer, having played for the same club in Newcastle for 40 years and coached and developed generations of junior players. It’s one of the things he’s found hardest about leaving Newcastle behind. “I was excited about the move to Victoria – we’re on the coast and it’s beautiful – and I was even prepared for wearing a suit every day. But I do miss my team. I’ve joined one down here to play, but I’ll be staying involved with my old club.”

Birleson then deftly and sincerely shifts focus to the decades of development Norm and Judy Tilling have driven in the Tilling Group. “They have so much energy,” he says. “And they’re so honest and true to their values. My objective here is to grow the business and pay homage to the Tilling name. I want to ensure that Norm and Judy’s work and name last for many, many years in this business.”

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