Manufacturing Projects Manager Alfons Montebello recently celebrated a big milestone by becoming the first employee to celebrate 30 years of service with the business.
“We applaud a great career,” said Operations Director Andy Rylance. “It is impossible to determine the value Alfons has added to the business over the past three decades.”
Alfons was employed by Pioneer in 1991 before the plasterboard factories in Matraville and Altona had been built. “It was the third job of my career, and I remember applying for the position after seeing an ad in the newspaper,” Alfons said.
Alfons received a letter inviting him to an interview. “It was before the days of email, so everything was done by mail.” He got the job, and the rest is history.
Pioneer International and Lafarge were in a joint venture at the time and David Suthons was the first CEO. Under his direction, the Altona and Matraville plants were designed with the Altona plant being commissioned in September 1991, followed by Matraville 8 months later.
It was an exciting time for Alfons. “It was the first time I had actually worked at a plant at the commissioning stage. None of us really knew much about making plasterboard, and it was a great adventure.”
In his first seven years with the company, Alfons worked on the dual portfolio of maintenance and capital projects. He later moved into a capital, safety and environment role and was later promoted to National Project Manager.
In 2015 he witnessed another exciting stage of the business’ growth when two metal roll forming machines were imported from Italy and installed at Port Botany. “At first we only made stud and track, but somewhere during that year we realised that we really had to make full systems.”
The business then acquired the Peer roll forming business in Beenleigh, Queensland and Alfons was involved with taking the Italian machines apart in Sydney and installing and commissioning them at Beenleigh. This was achieved with the help of a number of people working for Peer headed by Steve Bean, who is currently the Manufacturing Manager at Etex Beenleigh.
“I guess what kept me with the business was that there was always a next new challenge to work on,” he said. “To use an old cliché, ‘It’s people that make a company’, and I have been fortunate throughout most of my working life to be partnered with companies that value people rather than outright profits.”
In 2013 Lafarge started selling off its plasterboard assets all over the world. In Europe and the Middle East most assets were acquired by Etex, and in Australia the plants were bought by Knauf.
When Knauf sold the Australian plasterboard and metal business to Etex earlier this year, it was full circle for Alfons, who still knows many Etex teammates from the Lafarge days. “Some of those teammates have become lifelong friends,” he said.
Alfons said it was inspiring to be part of the business during the recent transition from Knauf to Etex. “It was fantastic to see the enthusiasm about the Etex and Siniat brands, especially during the pandemic.”
In 2019 Alfons’ name was immortalised at Matraville when the gypsum road leading to the hopper at the new gypsum handling facility at Matraville was named the Alfons Montebello Drive in recognition of his years of service.
Alfons has now transitioned to working three days a week. In his free time he enjoys spending time with his wife of 45 years, Cathy. “Pre-COVID we loved taking long road trips, here in Australia or in Europe. Our two favourite countries are Italy and France. We can’t wait to meet up with our friends in France and enjoy red wine, French food and playing boules again!”
His other hobby is building projects centered around industrial computers (Programmable Logic Controllers). “I’ve always had a desire to build a model elevator, complete with opening doors, lights and push-buttons. The model elevator stands about 2 metres high and has 12 floors. The PLC is programmed to send the elevator car to any desired floor, depending on the floor button pushed. The next phase is to build a second elevator which makes the programming a lot more complex and challenging!”