Barnes Construction: maintaining stability in turbulent times

Two men in an office with a desk in front of them. They are sitting down and one has his hands crossed on the desk

Mark Hart and Bob Steward, joint managing directors at Barnes Construction - Credit: Credit Simply C Photography

Sue Wilcock speaks to Bob Steward and Mark Hart on ensuring business constancy in unsettling times.  

Managing risk has always been a pre-requisite to running a solid construction business. Maintaining a healthy project pipeline, ensuring health and safety protocols are upheld, adapting to the ups and downs of the economy; all of these are expected challenges. 

However, as with other sectors in the UK, construction is now in uncharted waters with external events such as Brexit, a global pandemic and the Ukraine war, all helping to create a ‘perfect storm’ of continued price rises, materials and labour shortages and rising inflation. 

So, how do you ensure business stability in these turbulent and rapidly changing times? 

Mark Hart and Bob Steward are joint managing directors at Barnes Construction, a role they took on in 2018 after Nick Fayers died in late 2017.  

“We work alongside our senior leadership team looking to the future, to identify any risks, which we then classify as either an opportunity or a threat,” says Mark.  

“Maintaining stability is vital, as is our skill in recognising the risks that you can have some degree of control over, and which in some instances you are able to turn into an opportunity. But this is becoming more challenging as everything is changing so rapidly, and in ways I haven’t seen in all the years I have been working in the construction industry.” 

Bob agrees with Mark and continues: “In normal circumstances, leaders plan for economic cycles, but when we took over as joint MDs, we were managing the impact Nick’s passing had on our team, supply chain and the wider local construction industry. Very quickly after, we then had to deal with the implications of Brexit and the effects of leaving the EU. We then entered into a global pandemic. 

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“I can remember sitting in a board meeting last year discussing how well our business resilience had coped with these unexpected events. Tongue in cheek I made a comment that all we needed was a world war to top everything off - then Russia invaded Ukraine.” 

To hold steady and steer through these stormy seas, Barnes Construction is taking a long-term view. They are falling back on the core principles the business was founded on, and which have stood the test of time: fairness, service, relationships and a ‘family’ ethos. 

Mark continues: “In construction, you often ‘pitch and roll’, but the one constant is our principles which are the cornerstones of our business and don’t deviate to market trends and economic conditions. Of course in these times, flexibility and adaptability are more important than ever, but always with these principles in mind.” 

“We always look longer term to gain repeat business,” says Bob. “Our deep-rooted ethics and established business acumen, and the fact we care about more than just the financial outcomes, are extremely important values to us. Maintaining relationships are key. We have a non-adversarial approach, working alongside people who carry the same values as we do.  

“During these challenging times, we look at the impact on all our stakeholders – sub-contractors, consultants, clients and end users, and of course our staff, and we are doing everything we can to help. We see our regular supply chain as extended family and when times are tough you support your family.” 

Mark continues: “Embedding a culture in a business is a lengthy process and our responsibility as MDs is to maintain that culture. This stability also enables us to retain staff and there is consistency as those that work with us know what to expect. It’s continuing to develop our existing people and bring in new trainees, providing the right environment to enable them to grow, flourish and be happy in what they do.”  

Bob adds: “As MDs we do the usual business planning, but we are also putting things in place that enables the next generation to develop and continue to maintain the business long into the future. We are planning and looking 10 years ahead, identifying potential and managing the what if…?”  

Mark concludes: “We don’t spend our time looking in the rear-view mirror as that is not the direction we are travelling. Fundamentally, we know that with the team we have with us, together, with our philosophy, we can deal with whatever is coming over the horizon.”