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Lessons well learnt

Lessons well learnt

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From a rocky start, Greg Wells has carved out an incredibly successful career. Here, he shares his highs and lows and why he wants to give young people a chance to experience the rewards the building industry can offer.

Gabrielle Chariton

Author

Contributor to Housing

If you've ever felt like you are invincible, the feeling is exhilarating. It is almost like nothing can stop you, you are indestructible, unshakeable. For many living in this constant state of climb, a crash can follow, affecting all aspects of their life. And that was absolutely the case for Greg Wells – HIA member, builder, and owner of three building businesses in the Port Stephens region of NSW. His path to success has been something of an obstacle course, but without the lessons learnt in moments of challenge, he says, ‘I wouldn’t be where I am today’.

Greg grew up in the picturesque town of Nelson Bay, just north of Newcastle, the youngest of three boys raised by a hard-working single mum. An ambitious, inquisitive kid, there was nothing he loved more than spending school holidays with his Pop, a boat-builder, in the shed and helping him build his home.

During school term, however, things were a bit different for Greg. His natural aptitude for working with his hands went unrecognised. As a boy with dyslexia and ADHD, the structured learning environment of the classroom simply wasn’t a good fit. ‘I always really struggled at school,’ he says. ‘I got told “you’ll be a nothing” and was always made out to be a misfit. I wasn’t a naughty kid, I just talked too much and asked too many questions.

Greg Wells, Founder of Custom Built Projects NSW
Greg with his Mates Rates Carpentry team members in 2014

In Year 10, while the rest of the class enjoyed an excursion to Queensland, Greg was dispatched to two weeks’ work experience with a builder. ‘At the end of it, he gave me $70 and offered me an apprenticeship. I was stoked.’ Greg had found what he wanted to do with his life. 

Driven by a desire for knowledge and love for the trade, Greg regularly worked seven days a week. Fast forward four years, and as a respected chippy at the age of 19, he was always asked, ‘can you do mates rates?’ 

‘After a few weeks of hearing that, I started up a business while I was working for another builder and took on additional work outside work hours and on weekends,’ Greg explains. He called it (of course) Mates Rates Carpentry. ‘I was working flat out…between 70 to 100 hours a week.’ 

By the age of 27, Greg was still going at a thousand miles an hour. By now, he was operating two businesses with six people on the books and building his own house. Money was flying out the door and he felt an intense amount of pressure. ‘Life was hectic. I remember sealing tiles until 2am, then getting up at 6am to go to work.’

Eventually, the frenetic pace caught up with him and he was struck down with adrenal fatigue (a condition that occurs when the body runs on adrenaline for too long). ‘I literally could not get out of bed for two weeks,’ Greg says. ‘I remember waking up at 3am in a puddle of sweat worrying, feeling sick and not knowing what was wrong with me.’ Physically and mentally spent, he cancelled upcoming jobs and let his staff go. ‘I was completely defeated. I felt like it was over. I had nothing else to give, it was like my mind and body had just had enough!’

Adrenal fatigue in retrospect was the wake-up call he needed. It allowed a time for self-reflection and re-evaluation. ‘I realised that if I was ever going to get to where I wanted to be, it needed to be by working more strategically,’ Greg says.

Launched in 2016, Custom Built Projects NSW produces quality builds
‘There is no greater feeling than to be gifted the responsibility to build someone’s forever home’

‘In my opinion, there’s two ways to learn: through wisdom, or through the hot rod of pain,’ he adds, laughing. ‘More often than not, it’s pain that teaches us life lessons. And for me, my health forced me to pivot and change. The reality of wanting to do everything myself was over.’

With a return to health, fresh outlook and re-hired staff, Greg’s first step was to prioritise delegation. The second was to rebrand.

With a passion for quality builds, Custom Built Projects NSW was born in 2016. Over the past four years, the business has thrived with Custom Built Projects’ turnover growing from $2 million to $20 million. The accolades also came in the form of award-winning builds. But for Greg, working in the industry is so much more than turnover and awards.

‘For me, there is no greater feeling than to be gifted the responsibility to build someone’s forever home. Most people I build for have worked hard their whole life to finally have the opportunity to have a custom build and that really drives me.’

And he has made many dreams come true. With a no-nonsense approach, attention to detail and expert craftsmanship, he has become the go-to builder for many, including some high-profile members of Australia’s sporting and music community.

Something else Greg is passionate about is giving back to the community, which he does through charity work and mentoring. His charity, The Giving Wells Foundation, installs accessibility improvements to homes for people affected by illness or injury. 

For Uncle Greg, ‘family is everything’
The Custom Built Projects NSW team

Likewise, Greg is always looking to give young people their first break in the construction industry, having supported more than 10 apprentices through the business so far. He recently launched the Build Your Own Future mentorship initiative to teach and inspire high school students – particularly those from challenging backgrounds, or who, like him, don’t gel with the school system.

As part of the program, he’s offering 12-week paid internships to five Year 10 students. At the end of the 12 weeks, one of them will be offered an apprenticeship (site based) or cadetship (office based). 

‘There’s so much opportunity in the residential building industry,’ Greg says. ‘It’s all about hard work, creating good relationships, and cultivating the will to get up every day and keep going no matter the circumstance. 

Your main focus has got to be the quality of the house [you’re building]. And if you’re constantly focused on the quality, people become aware of it.

First published on 7 Aug 2023

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