Superstructures: A decade in the making
- Credit: Superstructures
As Superstructures celebrates a milestone birthday, Sue Wilcock speaks to its MD James Potter, about the last 10 years in business.
For those of you that are familiar with James Potter, it won’t come as a big surprise to realise that from the day he launched his structural engineering and design business in 2011, he had a clear idea of where he was heading.
“Stressed, tired and excited was how I felt in the first few months of starting Superstructures,” James explains. “I was working in the spare bedroom at home, and I had two clear USPs in mind; always delivering on project deadlines and producing a very high-quality design. This was clearly what the market wanted as I became extremely busy very quickly.
“However, working alone meant there was no slack at all. I was wall-to-wall with work, but I was focused on my longer-term goals, and I refused to let my standards drop. It was an exciting time; I loved learning new things and the huge responsibility of doing everything on my own.”
Having moved into an office in the centre of Ipswich a few months later, James was then given some good advice by his landlord, who told him to find someone to share the good and the bad bits with.
“Soon after Mark Hayward joined me in the business as a co-director, followed by Darren Noller. This took Superstructures to the next level. As three very good engineers, we were incredibly strong on the design side and our client base grew. It was still wall-to-wall work but being able to share ideas and support each other was great.”
After a couple of years, Superstructures started to build the team further.
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“Young engineers were interested in working for us and, fortunately, an ever-increasing workload supported increasing the head count.
“At this stage, our work came mainly from repeat clients and word of mouth recommendations. We also started working with a business coach and this enabled us to make robust plans for the future.
“Life was good; a small, manageable team, some great projects and some excellent staff parties!”
The team and the workload continued to grow, and Superstructures was doing well, but everyone was at full stretch.
“We were working on some great projects, building a good reputation. Yet it felt like organised chaos. The roles within the business were unclear, meaning that everyone was doing everything. So, the next move was taking on some admin support to keep us all in order.
“It then became clear to us that the future success of the business relied on embedding a great culture of learning, improving, and striving to be better. So, we worked hard to identify our common goals, ensuring everyone was aligned and bought into them. Empowering individuals within the team was key to allowing everyone to focus on their responsibilities.
“It was a real lightbulb moment when I realised that working harder on the team was more important than chasing down every opportunity of new work; there’s little point in increasing the workload if your people are inefficient and not working with the bigger objectives in mind.”
All was going well at Superstructures, and then COVID-19 hit.
“We saw something coming, however never did we think it would be on the scale that it turned out to be.
“We made early decisions to ensure our IT and infrastructure was flexible to enable some ad-hoc home working, but this turned out to be the tip of the iceberg.
“We adjusted incredibly quickly, sticking together and having very open discussions about furloughing.
“We looked after every member of the team and luckily the downturn was short-lived. We had all returned to the office only for the second wave to hit. Since then we’ve worked really well as
a hybrid team, split between home and office.”
Despite this blip in Superstructures’ increasing success, James feels that the business has emerged stronger than ever.
“The pandemic has given us the opportunity to strengthen
the team bond, invest in marketing and make sure that
we are performing at a much higher level.
“We’ve started our 11th year by growing the team further with two new engineers, and another two apprentices will join us this autumn. We’ve also restructured our senior team, so that roles are crystal clear, and managers and team leaders have new levels of responsibility.
“The overwhelming thing that I have learnt in the last 10 years is that business is all about relationships. Relationships with clients, project partners, supply chain and relationships with each other; these are the key to success.”
This story is in association with Superstructures