Founder of Framlingham-based Robert Norman Construction ‘living each day to the full’ after cancer diagnosis

Bob Page and Robert Norman of Robert Norman Construction.

Bob Page and Robert Norman of Robert Norman Construction. - Credit: Archant

What happens to a company when the man who founded it retires due to ill health? ELLEN WIDDUP finds out why it’s business as usual at Robert Norman Construction despite a devastating cancer diagnosis and how, for its founder, the company is a legacy to be proud of.

For most people, there is no “up” side to being told you have terminal cancer – but Robert Norman isn’t most people.

Having been diagnosed two days before Christmas, the last year has been a roller coaster of emotion for his loved ones.

They have seen him lose a quarter of his body weight, undergo a complicated lengthy operation, almost bleed to death and then be told he has between three months and two years left to live.

But while this is a bitter end to a brave battle with a horrible disease, Robert is not defeated. In fact, he sees it as an opportunity.

“I have done everything I ever wanted to do with my life,” he said. “And not many people can say that. I am not maudlin about my situation. I see the joy in every day I have left and I plan to live each one to the full.

“I have no intention of leaving behind any loose ends and I am privileged to have the time I need to make sure I have fulfilled all my ambitions and goals.”

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These include plans to buy a camper van, travel the length of England and holiday in the South of France. He also dreams of flying over Framlingham in a Spitfire that regularly passes over head.

In addition, he wants to clarify and put in place the succession plan for the business.

Robert Norman Construction, based in Framlingham, is a company that has survived through bust and boom. It was founded by Robert, a carpenter by trade, in 1982 and he bought and sold properties right through the ‘80s before the property crash of the early ‘90s.

Surviving this tricky period left the business in much better shape and by the mid-90s the company had grown into a regional powerhouse, transforming numerous high-end properties across the region and beyond.

The business also rode through the more recent recession, adapting to become a building contractor rather than a building company.

And a large part of its growth during this period was down to construction director Bob Page, Robert’s right-hand man. It’s understandable therefore that Bob is the man who now holds the key to the company’s future success and is taking over as managing director.

Robert, who remains company chairman but who will no longer be involved in the day-to-day decisions of the business, said: “I haven’t been at work for the last nine months so to all intent and purposes Bob has been running things.

“The company is flourishing, the customers are happy, the staff are secure and the future for the business looks very bright.”

Bob Page has worked for Robert Norman Construction for the past eight years. He came from a trade background like Robert but had worked in senior management or director level positions for more than 15 years before he joined the business.

The pair shared a vision from day one and Bob says this is something he intends to focus on moving forwards.

“My aim for the business is simple,” he said. “I will continue where Robert left off, developing strong relationships with our clients and professionals and cementing our position as the contractor of choice for the range of works we carry out.

“We have had a number of frank, open conversations since Robert’s first diagnosis and we are friends as well as colleagues which has made this much easier. We share the same values and have the same vision of where the company is heading.

“In the short term we aim to maintain our focus and expertise in the sector we know best, which is high end residential.”

Current projects the company are working on include a single storey extension and refurbishment to a holiday home at Shingle Street, Hollesley, a refurbishment of a turn-of-the-century property at Darsham and a unique new-build home at Lavenham.

The company is also coming to the end of a large project in Aldeburgh, designed by Nicholas Jacobs Architects, which includes the construction of an annexe building and swimming pool building and has just started work on a new home in Woodbridge which has been designed by a local award-winning architects Wincer Kievenaar.

Bob and his team have already secured 75% of the company’s work load going into next year and recently recruited a few new staff members including a new contracts manager, new surveyor and two site managers.

“Ensuring the security of the company for many years to come is hugely important,” he said. “This succession plan was always going to happen. It’s just that Robert’s illness has made us bring this forward.

“The key message we need to make clear here is that despite a few changes its ‘business as usual’ at Robert Norman Construction.”

Robert said: “I am not sad and I don’t want people to be sad for me. I plan to embrace my retirement, knowing everything is in order.

“I may have been the man who created the company but Bob is the man to take it forward. He is the safe pair of hands I need to protect a legacy I am extremely proud of.”