Con­struc­tion boss says the North can out­per­form the ‘sat­u­rated’ South

Yorkshire Post - Business - - FRONT PAGE - Deputy Busi­ness Editor Greg Wright re­ports.

THERE’S NO virtue in be­ing a busy fool.

Bob Vick­ers knows that you can’t build a busi­ness by spread­ing your­self too thinly. The Clugston Group’s new chief ex­ec­u­tive wants the com­pany to plays to its strengths, and not chase scale at the ex­pense of profit and qual­ity.

The group’s busi­ness em­pire ranges from con­struc­tion to prop­erty de­vel­op­ment, and over the last 80 years, it has sur­vived wars and re­ces­sions that have swept away many ri­vals.

Clugston also packs some punch on the na­tional stage. Mr Vick­ers’ pre­de­ces­sor, Stephen Martin, is now di­rec­tor gen­eral of the In­sti­tute of Di­rec­tors, which places him un­der a re­lent­less me­dia spot­light. As an old in­dus­try hand, Mr Vick­ers is more con­cerned with se­cur­ing sus­tain­able growth than pur­su­ing schemes that grab head­lines but lit­tle else .

“The vi­sion is to fo­cus on long-term pre­dictable in­come, rather than one-off projects for dif­fer­ent clients,” Mr Vick­ers said.

“Eighty five per cent of what we do is for re­peat busi­ness cus­tomers in niche sec­tors, that could be care homes , or en­ergy from waste or spe­cial­ist build­ing work. It’s some­where we can add value where oth­ers can’t.”

Mr Vick­ers, who has held se­nior roles at Car­il­lion, Wim­pey Con­struc­tion, Anglian Wa­ter and Bal­four Beatty, stepped in to the CEO’s role ear­lier this year. He ar­rived dur­ing a time of in­tense po­lit­i­cal up­heaval, which left its mark on the com­pany’s last full year re­sults. Turnover fell 18 per cent to £118.2m last year, as a re­sult of de­layed projects, which have now been started.

Mr Vick­ers said: “The de­lays last year were em­a­nat­ing from peo­ple’s con­cerns about the Brexit dis­cus­sions, and about the is­sues as­so­ci­ated with fund­ing.

“There’s a bit more cer­tainty. Peo­ple have got over the shock of the Brexit vote and are now mak­ing those lev­els of new in­vest­ment that have en­abled those projects to go for­ward.”

He re­mains calm in the face of Brexit un­cer­tainty.

“The Brexit de­bate will take its course,” he said. “Busi­ness will con­tinue de­spite those dis­cus­sions. The ul­ti­mate so­lu­tion, I guess, will be a com­pro­mise po­si­tion be­tween the UK and Europe. That’s got to be in the in­ter­ests of both par­ties to get the right out­come.”

He re­gards York­shire and North Lin­colnshire as Clugston’s heart­land be­cause “peo­ple know us and trust us be­cause we’ve been here a long time”.

He added: “Our bal­ance sheet is good, so we’re seen as be­ing a very ro­bust busi­ness. We want to work with our lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in the North of Eng­land. We’ve just com­pleted the Ikea at Sh­effield, which is a great scheme, and we’re in dis­cus­sions with them re­gard­ing fur­ther op­por­tu­ni­ties in the North of Eng­land.”

But man­age­ment is all about say­ing “no” to schemes that don’t fit in with your strat­egy.

Mr Vick­ers added: “We were of­fered the chance to look at a scheme in Green­wich, but have de­clined that op­por­tu­nity.

“We feel we would be play­ing ‘out of po­si­tion’ in that lo­ca­tion.

“We’ve just se­cured a big project for Arco (the safety com­pany) up in Im­ming­ham, which is a £24m project de­liv­er­ing a new ware­house for them and a dis­tri­bu­tion cen­tre. We built the first phase of that 12 years ago. It’s all about cre­at­ing re­la­tion­ships which stand the test of time. Ten per cent of our staff have been with us for more than 25 years, and 25 per cent of our staff have been with us for more than five years.

“There’s a great ca­ma­raderie within Clugston. There’s a cul­ture that sup­ports our peo­ple.”

He can view the North of Eng­land with the ob­jec­tive eye of some­body who has trav­elled widely. He pro­vides our re­gion with a glow­ing en­dorse­ment.

“I don’t think it (The North­ern Pow­er­house) is where it should be, there’s some work still to do,” he said. “What I do know, from my ex­pe­ri­ence of com­ing up from the South, is that the South is sat­u­rated.

“All the op­por­tu­ni­ties for the fu­ture are in the North of Eng­land, not the South, in terms of house pric­ing and the ser­vices that can be of­fered. There’s a fan­tas­tic op­por­tu­nity for the North of Eng­land to re­ally ex­pand and do some great things in the fu­ture.

“The pace of life here is more con­trolled, you’re not rush­ing around like head­less chick­ens as peo­ple are in the South, you’re achiev­ing just as much, if not more, in the North in terms of the at­ti­tudes, and the cul­ture. It’s a much bet­ter, hap­pier friend­lier place to live and work.

“I think the road sys­tems are quite ro­bust in the North of Eng­land. Cer­tainly the rail net­work needs work do­ing to it. In say­ing, that, the in­fra­struc­ture in the South is also bro­ken. It’s a na­tional prob­lem, not just a North­ern or South­ern prob­lem.”

He be­lieves busi­ness can make a profit while sup­port­ing the com­mu­ni­ties it serves.

He added: “I’m cur­rently work­ing with Leeds City Council look­ing at a num­ber of ini­tia­tives around com­mu­nity in­volve­ment with health care and care homes.

“Care homes seem to be a growth mar­ket, be­cause we’re all get­ting older and at some point, there will be a short­age of fa­cil­i­ties.

“We’re talk­ing with a num­ber of lo­cal au­thor­i­ties about the unique model which will ac­tu­ally al­low us to re-in­vest in the lo­cal au­thor­ity, as well as make prof­its as a pri­vate en­ter­prise.

“But it isn’t about tak­ing all the profit and run­ning away. It’s about ac­tu­ally us­ing some of that money to re-in­vest in the com­mu­nity.

“This year we will be knock­ing on the door of £200m turnover, but to me it’s not about turnover.

“It’s ac­tu­ally about the prof­itabil­ity of what we do, and mak­ing sure that profit can be rein­vested in our peo­ple, and the stake­hold­ers in the busi­ness, for our fu­ture.”

Ten per cent of our staff have been with us for more than 25 years, and 25 per cent of our staff have been with us for more than five years. There’s a great ca­ma­raderie within Clugston. Bob Vick­ers, chief ex­ec­u­tive of The Clugston Group

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