From one million to multi-million


Twenty-five years ago, Brian O’Rourke found himself at a career crossroads.

In his mid-20s, he had just been made redundant from one of the country’s largest furniture suppliers and was facing an uncertain future.

But Brian was never one to let an opportunity go to waste.

Capitalising on the opening in the market created by the furniture company’s closure, Brian and his wife Angela invested their entire $20,000 of savings to start up a new venture – Rork Designs – specialising in office furniture supply in Canberra.

“Furniture Australia had a significant footprint across the region and many companies and government agencies still needed office furniture,” Brian said.

“Ironically, our first order was for $20,000. I took it as a good sign that we had made the right call.”

Brian and Angela O’Rourke in 1997
Brian and John Paul Janke working on Rork Designs

The small business quickly accelerated as opportunities came from across Canberra, and it wasn’t long before clients were asking Rork Designs to extend its services into fit out. In 2004, a newly rebranded Rork Interiors completed its first project – a 20 square meter retail fit out for a local alternations business.

Rork Projects’ first fit out for a retailer in Canberra

“Our dreams were small at the start,” Brian said.

“I just wanted to turn over one million dollars – it seemed like a magic figure that I thought equalled success.

“It was actually our move into Sydney that reassured me of our potential, as it pushed me out of my comfort zone and allowed Rork to pursue national clients and more complex projects.”

In 2011 Rork Interiors started its NSW operations from an office in Neutral Bay. Projects becoming larger and more diverse, as Rork Interiors delivered retail, hospitality, commercial and government works across the fit out and refurbishment space.

Rork Interiors Neutral Bay office opening with Shane Kennedy (now Rork Projects’ Safety and Systems Manager) and Brian O’Rourke

After 15 years of business growth, Rork Interiors’ brand was no longer reflecting the diversity of projects that Brian and his team were delivering and in 2012, Rork Projects was established.

This rebrand signified a turning point for the company.

Throughout Brian and Angela’s business journey, Brian’s childhood friend John Paul Janke had been a trusted ally and advisor; and he even designed Rork Designs’ first logos.

They had met at school in 1977 and remained close friends ever since.

John Paul Janke and Brian O’Rourke in the early 90s

This relationship was formalised into a business partnership five years ago when John decided to conclude his 25-year career in the Australian Public Service.

“I had grown cynical of the Public Service and decided that it was time to action the conversations that Brian and I had over the years on doing something together about opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in businesses and employment,” John said.

“Our partnership was also a unique platform for us to help create and develop a deeper awareness, understanding and appreciation of First Nation’s culture, history and lifestyle to our sphere of influence and through them the nation.”

Reflecting on his 25 years of business, Brian said that he doesn’t have regrets, but he does sometimes let his mind wander to “what if”.

“Anyone that has worked with me knows that I am risk averse – my decisions are always very considered,” he said.

“In the last 25 years I’ve seen a lot of companies come up from behind and explode past us, and sometimes I’ll catch myself wondering what our position might be if I’d taken more risks?”

“At the same time, I know that my strategy has helped Rork Projects to withstand major economic crises like the GFC and a global pandemic, when several of our competitors didn’t.”

2022 marks 25 years of operations for Rork Projects; a company that has come a long way from it’s million-dollar goal in 1997 that started from a spare bedroom of a rented high-rise apartment in Canberra.

Rork Projects now proudly boasts close to 100 staff working across offices in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Bendigo and Brisbane, who run up to 25 projects at any one time across the country.

Along the way, it’s work has been recognised by the industry with multiple MBA Awards, Small Business Awards and has recently been a named a three-time Employer of Choice recipient – the first Indigenous business to win such an accolade.

Rork Projects team at the company’s national staff conference

In trying to pinpoint the company’s key to success, Managing Director Brian O’Rourke says his view on success has now changed.

“It really doesn’t matter whether we turnover $1 million or $100 million – having financial stability in today’s economy is my key driver of success now,” he said.

“When we started the company some 25 years ago, our values were simple: respect, hard work, inclusion, learning and working together. Today, those same values enable us to maintain a strong reputation and standing in the marketplace.”

“It’s been an exciting 25 years of growth built on strong values, exceptional service and the support by an extremely professional and talented team with clear systems.”