The hard times have made us stronger say the new joint managing directors of Ipswich construction business Barnes Group
It goes without saying that, had they had the choice, the new joint managing directors of East Anglian construction and maintenance company Barnes Group would not have wanted their new roles to come in the circumstances they did.
Bob Steward and Mark Hart recently moved into their new position following the untimely death of their colleague and former MD Nick Fayers, who passed away last December after a long illness.
But, they say, the pair are determined to continue to build on Nick’s legacy and to steer the business in the same direction that has seen it become a member of the EADT/EDP Top 100 listing of the 100 largest companies in Suffolk and Norfolk.
“As a tight-knit group of directors we felt Nick’s passing on a personal level as well as a business level,” said Mark
“We’d all known him for a long time, some for 35 years, and it’s been a tough few months.”
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But out of hard times, some positives generally appear, and if there is any good to take from recent events it’s the fortitude, Mark, Bob and the other directors at Barnes now feel
“As a group we came together with our chairman - we felt like we were in it altogether,” continued Mark.
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“We had time for our personal reflection but at the same time we have a responsibility to ensure that the business continues to operate as effectively as it could - which is absolutely what Nick would have wanted to happen.”
Nick and Bob were the obvious choice to take over and when it became clear that Nick’s health was starting to deteriorate they started to take on more responsibilities - their differing areas of expertise working well together.
Bob said: “The business splits into two parts - there is a commercial side and a delivery side. Mark’s skills are primarily in the delivery and I’m very much the commercial side of the business, so we have complementary skillsets.
“Over the past twelve months we have come through difficult times and have leaned on each other. We get on socially and although we do have disagreements, it means we can bounce things off each other and come to joint decisions.”
All of the directors at Barnes, including Mark and Bob, are local: they were schooled in the Ipswich area and have worked in the vicinity, giving them an innate understanding of the local environment and construction sector. Both the new managing directors have been a part of the success of the business over the past few decades and say they are dedicated to seeing this continue.
“Between Bob and I there are no egos,” said Mark
“We are passionate about the business and accept we have a responsibility to well over 100 people and their livelihoods as well as a responsibility to make sure that the legacy and reputation of this business is retained for the long-term.
“This business is very seldom spoken about in anything other than glowing terms. This is a tough industry - there are a lot of challenges and it is linked to economic cycles, but the important thing is that people enjoy working with us and when you get to the point we have in our careers that provides a great deal of job satisfaction.”
Solid business model
The Barnes Group, based on Ransomse Europark in Ipswich, comprises two operating divisions, Bower Fuller and Barnes Construction. Bower Fuller is a mechanical and electrical contractor whilst Barnes Construction is a regional building contractor formed in 1978.
Around three-quarters of the group’s £87m turnover comes via Barnes Construction, which, although a general contractor, has some specialisms: the company is on a number of local authority frameworks as a preferred builder of schools; the leisure sector - restaurants and pubs - is another strong area for Barnes, which also works closely with many of the colleges in Cambridge and some of the region’s hospitals.
And according to Mark, it is this diversity that has sustained the business even during downturns.
“During the seven year building recession, our business actually doubled in size,” said Mark
“When public spend dropped off, we had other areas of the business were were able to draw on.”
And it is this risk mitigation, couple with steady growth and investment in staff that forms the basis of the company’s business model, according to Bob.
He continued: “People do their due diligence on us and we are considered a safe pair of hands in terms of we’ll be there at the end to finish the job and to pay the supply chain on time.
“We have always controlled our growth - maybe aiming for 10 to 15% year on year - and that is where we want to be going forward. “We also intend to build on our legacy of development within - we recruit at A Levels stage management trainees. Our business model is about steady growth and giving people opportunities within.”