Mance from the top deck
‘I BELIEVE IF YOU DON’T GROW YOU WILL DIE AND IF YOU DON’T CONSOLIDATE YOU’LL BE CONSOLIDATED’
century, was a readiness to innovate. “Back in the 1960s, Alexander developed lightweight aluminium body technology about 20 years before its time and Dennis has always been renowned for innovative chassis. So putting these two things together gave us a big opportunity.”
This has been exploited overseas, through Alexander Dennis Asia Pacific, which builds buses in China. Last year, the company bought the number two body builder in Australia and the region, says Robertson, will turn over some £200m this year.
“The whole business wasn’t turning that over only five years ago so we’re excited about that.
“Hong Kong is by far the single biggest success we’ve had, we are active in Malaysia and are bidding in Singapore. We’re number one in New Zealand, which adds another £20m turnover, and there are possibilities in Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia, markets we are too busy to get into right now.”
Robertson was 2012 Entrepreneur of the Year and enjoys sharing the ADL story on the Entrepreneurial Exchange circuit. The son of a forklift driver, brought up in the mining village of Shotts, he is aware of the core values of business – and the value of money.
If life is a roulette wheel, Robertson says: “I’m not going to put all my chips on one number; neither am I going to put one chip on all 36 numbers because if you dilute your resources that way you’ll never win anything.”
Staff engagement in the project is crucial: “I subscribe to the ethos of everyone wanting to be part of a winning team and to a core workforce – there are people who have been with us for 20, 30, or 40 years – and while we have to manage the peaks and troughs we have an obligation to them.”
To bring on new workers – the company, with assistance from Scottish Enterprise – has significantly invested in introducing Operational Excellence SVQ and NVQ qualifica- tions and, says Robertson, this is the sixth consecutive year in which it has hired apprentices, plus brought in young graduate engineers to ensure continuity.
Robertson has what he describes as 20/20 vision: to hit the £1 billion turnover mark by 2020. Given the eclipse of the £0.5bn benchmark this seems eminently possible but he acknowledges that to get to the next level the company now faces different challenges.
“To maintain this kind of growth will undoubtedly become more difficult unless wepenetrate newmarkets. We have to identify those markets and make sure that we don’t get carried away – we’ve improved the balance sheet and deleveraged hugely but we can’t just keep doing more of the same and squeezing more out of the dishcloth.
“We will invest in an HR director, which we haven’t had until now but we have to know, with a workforce of 2500, that we are messaging consistently and that everyone is aware of the goals, objectives, career and succession planning.”
Robertson’s message is a down-toearth one: core markets, core products and a strong balance sheet. It’s easy to see why the investment team is happy with the plan. And, of course, a rigorous commitment to customer service. “If the guy fitting a seat in a bus doesn’t fit it well then he can be responsible for us losing a customer as much as the commercial director not pricing the product properly or me not getting the framework of the deal right.”
It’s a code of collective responsibility that Robertson doesn’t shy away from. “I will give a guarantee of job security when I get one myself. This is a performance-driven culture and the best way to guarantee job security is to build a quality product, deliver it on time and price it attractively.
“And that’s the message I keep banging on about until people start to glaze over.”
Colin Robertson continues to look for growth in North America and the AsiaPacific region