Dean Gaedtke has always been drawn to solving problems. “I’m a mechanic by trade,” says Komatsu’s Executive General Manager for Construction. “One of the things I loved about being a mechanic was having a problem, diagnosing it, pulling it apart and putting it back together, and having it work successfully. It was such a rewarding feeling.”
Three decades later, Dean approaches his work at Komatsu with the same mindset. “There’s nothing more satisfying than when you have a customer who has asked you to help out with a particular construction challenge, and we come up with a solution,” he says. “Seeing that outcome is always really rewarding.”
Dean was born in Kingaroy, 200 kilometres north of Brisbane, and grew up in Dalby on the Darling Downs. As a mechanic, he worked for Holden and John Deere dealerships in Dalby. “I spent a lot of time out on farms fixing the tractors,” he says.
He then decided to study engineering, graduating from USQ in 1995. “I was always interested in how things worked and if there is a better way,” he says. “When you work on equipment, you’re always critical of how things are built or designed.”
While studying, he joined Connor-Shea Napier as a design draftsman. In all, he spent nine years at the company, which designed, manufactured and distributed agricultural machinery.
In 2000, Dean joined Komatsu as a sales account manager for south-west Queensland, a territory stretching from Bedourie to Toowoomba. He then spent eight years as Queensland Sales Manager for Construction and six-and-a-half years as Queensland Regional General Manager before taking on his current role as Executive GM in 2018.
Moving to ‘smart construction’
As Executive General Manager for Construction, Dean looks after new and used equipment sales and Komatsu’s rental and customer experience divisions across Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.
Overseeing the Smart Construction business unit – which encompasses intelligent and semi-autonomous machinery and software applications – makes up an increasingly important part of Dean’s role. “As the industry moves more and more to digital construction sites and digital projects, the machines are becoming a lot more compatible with smart technology,” he says.
Komatsu’s Smart Construction represents a shift from traditional ‘supply and support’ towards a more integrated model. The company becomes an active contributor throughout a civil asset’s lifespan, from concept and design to construction and maintenance.
“We are doing this through SMART Construction and involvement in BIM optimisation in 3D design, machine application, DX data conversion, SC Software Applications for real time progress and productivity, and then through our Semi-Autonomous Intelligent Machines [Komatsu’s iMC, or Intelligent Machine Control] doing the digging and finishing,” he says. “The iMC machines are also measuring progress and remotely uploading that progress data to our SC Software for our customers to better manage their projects.”
The result, he explains, is improved efficiency. “We have customers telling us about the time and money Smart Construction is saving their projects through fewer machines on site, improved accuracy the first time and then moving onto the next job sooner. That is really satisfying.”
Before the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, Dean spent a lot of time travelling, dividing his time between Brisbane – where he lives with his wife of 36 years, Karen – and Sydney. In the last 18 months, he has remained in Queensland owing to travel restrictions. He says that while the pandemic has put strain on his team, business confidence among Komatsu’s clients remains buoyant.
“It’s been very strong from a business perspective,” he says. For staff, however, “not being able to interact face-to-face at work is starting to wear thin, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.
“People are busy but they’re missing that interaction at work that you take for granted when you’re there every day. We’re very mindful of that, and the business is doing a lot to try to keep people connected and look after that wellbeing.”
Dean is currently serving as the Chair of Construction & Mining Equipment Industry Group (CMEIG) and on the executive of the Australian Industry Group (Ai Group) Construction Supply Chain Council. He says that these groups, and organisations like IPWEA, play an “invaluable” role as a collective voice for industry players.
“You can’t be across everything,” he says. “When you’re involved in industry groups, you get a deeper and broader exposure to challenges and solutions that you wouldn’t get if you were insular and isolated.”