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Contractors double down on being boring

Tom Fitzpatrick

“We’re trying to be a bit boring at the moment,” a chief executive of a CN100 contractor told me at a recent event.

It might not be particularly fashionable to say, at a time when modern construction, digitisation and diversity are (rightly) the name of the game, but there’s a reassuring honesty about the sentiment.

At a time when Rolls-Royce, Airbus and prominent retailers like House of Fraser are dominating headlines with job cuts and rescue packages, being a bit boring isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

The CEO in question wasn’t James Wimpenny, the new man at the helm of Bam Construct, but it might as well have been.

Don’t expect the softly spoken Huddersfield man, who replaced the equally publicity-shy Graham Cash in the Bam hotseat, to be be shooting from the hip in his capacity as boss.

He’s in an interesting position, given that Royal Bam Group has increased the pressure on its UK businesses in recent years.

Royal Bam wants 3-4 per cent margins by 2020. With Bam Construct currently trading at over 2 per cent, avoiding problem jobs is the crucial part.

For Mr Wimpenny, that means putting a great deal of trust in the many colleagues he has worked alongside over more than three decades at Bam since joining as a graduate trainee in 1985 and working his way up.

It means placing trust in the executive team around him, which he now leads as well as works alongside.

Ensuring people are pricing jobs accurately and factoring in risk accordingly will present challenges.

One of Mr Cash’s major regrets from his time as CEO was when Bam won the enormous Google HQ at King’s Cross in 2013, only for the client to go back to the drawing board.

It was a massive deal at the time, out of keeping with Bam’s understated approach that tended towards smaller, predominantly public sector jobs.

There’s a sense within Bam that this was a lightning bolt moment and has led to a ‘once bitten, twice shy’ approach to those types of mega deals.

In the meantime it’s picking up several in the £80m-£90m bracket and looking for further development opportunities, particularly in Scotland.

Bam won’t chase revenue, Mr Wimpenny says, for revenue’s sake: “Why do we need to keep growing? Are we not just better being the best at what we do, running a strong, stable business where we’re getting cash in and paying our people on time?”

Don’t expect a massive change in focus from Mr Cash’s days at the helm, according to Mr Wimpenny. But in certain areas, such as gender equality and modernisation, he has already commissioned groups to look at ways to improve the business.

A line he gave me about his beloved Huddersfield Town avoiding relegation against the odds offers insight into how he’ll approach the day job: “They showed it’s not all about the money. It’s about the team spirit, the camaraderie. They created a team that want to win for each other.”

Read the full interview with James Wimpenny, exclusively on Construction News today.

 

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