The story of Cordell, the nation’s leading authority on project activity and building cost information, is the story of its iconic founder Joan Cordell, one of Australia’s pioneering businesswomen.
Cordell launched her company in the late 1960s. “Do you know many start-ups that have lasted 50 years?” Joan, reflecting on her story in an interview, says in tribute to the company’s longevity.
Cordell is now part of CoreLogic, but the values and qualities Joan instilled in her company – that have allowed it to lead the market for five decades – are continuing to underpin its success.
Right brain, left brain
Cordell has spent her life switching between academia and the creative arts: from the right brain to the left brain, as she describes it.
After completing an honours degrees in statistics, she took her first job as a Statistician at Australian Paper Manufacturers.
But she felt she wasn’t expressing her creative side, so she studied acting, became a model, - one of only 3 in Australia chosen to show Norman Hartnell’s Collection in 1958 - and then started her own finishing school for girls in Sydney, which she later sold to June Dally Watkins.
Her right brain then called and she took a statistics role at Brambles, and completed her thesis for her Masters degree in Economics at Sydney University.
After a stint overseas, she returned to Australia and joined John Jackson Industrial Economists. (She had met John at Brambles.)
An inspired vision
Joan had a vision of producing a database that could create a whole range of spin-off products. She just wasn’t sure in what industry.
During the 60s construction was booming in Australia. “That’s it,” she thought. “I’ll build a databank for building and construction.”
The original databases, completed on index cards, were set up around council Development Approvals (DAs) with each project then researched further by Cordell. It was the first time an industry information system had been set up in Australia.
The business started with 3 staff in an office in North Sydney next door to the Institute of Architects. In 1974 the company moved to 2 floors of offices at Northbridge; featuring modular research work stations - decorated with Florence Broadhurst wallpapers!
A pioneer of women in the workplace
Joan wasn’t just a business visionary, but also a visionary for a women in the workplace. A newspaper once proclaimed, “Good Heavens, Cordell’s a Woman!”
She was ahead of her time, creating a female-friendly work environment, employing university graduates and allowing them to work part-time and flexibly so they could both take care of their families, and enjoy the rewards of holding a responsible position.
Haylie Morrison joined Cordell as research manager in Brisbane, running the Queensland office, in 2012. She is now Client Delivery Manager – Banking and Finance at CoreLogic in Melbourne. She says the family- oriented nature of Cordell, which originally attracted her to the company, has persisted to this day.
The computer era
Cordell’s company became very much embedded in the building industry and was known as the “Builders’ Bible”. “As much as the Cordell team were passionate about Cordell, the love was also felt strongly in the industry,” Joan says.
By the late 70s, the company had grown to 110 employees in Australia with offices in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne. “Cordell was family,” Joan says. “There was always a lot of social ‘out of office’ activities – great memories – kite-making, camping, pottery, end of year parties were always wonderful.”
But in 1979, Joan decided to sell the business to Thomson Publications. She was interested in computers -- she herself had an IBM 303 in her office as early as 1969 – and she saw that Thomson could take Cordell forward in the computerised era.
She was also looking for a change and had decided to focus on her art, something she is still doing today.
Still an employer of choice
In 2015, Cordell became part of CoreLogic and is still an industry leader: Cordell Connect provides an online database of construction, infrastructure and building project information; Cordell Construction Monthly provides updates on construction projects; and Cordell Estimator Platinum is a powerful cloud-based estimating platform.
Despite the change of ownership, many Cordell staff have remained, committed to the company and Cordell’s vision.
Pauline Jones, who joined Cordell as a researcher in 1999, and is now a Queensland Commercial Research Consultant at CoreLogic, says working for the company has always been challenging and extremely rewarding. “You feel like you’re assisting so many other organisations grow and increase their network and contacts in the industry.”
Gary Thornley, who joined Cordell in 2007, and is now National Manager of Costings at Cordell Information, says the staff love their work and what they get out of it. “You can see that we make a difference for builders,” he says.
The ongoing success of Cordell under CoreLogic is a tribute to the foundations Joan Cordell laid.