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CN Briefing: Styles & Wood; fit-out; offices; retail

As August turns to September, we can look back at what’s been a turbulent season for construction.

With the industry in a technical recession, margins at leading contractors falling and question marks over major projects, you’d expect CEOs to be worried.

So why is Tony Lenehan in such a good mood?

Meeting Styles & Wood’s CEO at the contractor’s head office in south Manchester, he’s happy to talk through how the firm, once the retail sector’s go-to contractor for fit-out, is now in growth mode in spite of the prevailing economic headwinds.

Being tied to the retail sector during the downturn was extremely difficult for many contractors – not least retail new-build specialist Longcross, which went into administration in August last year.

But Mr Lenehan says the restructuring and broadened focus of the past five years has put Styles & Wood in a much better place.

Transforming the firm from one where 90 per cent of its business was in the retail sector to a multi-faceted refurbishment contractor has been hard work – and the size of the task has not been lost on Mr Lenehan.

As he goes through the steps taken to turn the business around, it’s clear that Mr Lenehan is passionate about what Styles & Wood has now become following its transformation.

A focus on technology and new skills – including employing programmers and big data specialists alongside traditional construction skills – is a clear focus for the company now, something that would have been unlikely – if not unthinkable – five years ago.

This approach to adopting new technology, he says, has given Styles & Wood the edge over its competition.

He recounts how a job that would take one of its clients a whole month can now be done over a weekend, harnessing the power of new ways of working, big data analytics and a new skillset.

With Construction News running its first tech week this summer, it’s increasingly clear that technology can not only drive innovation but profitability, too – a view Mr Lenehan shares.

The business has now returned to profit and has seen turnover edge up to more than £110m, suggesting the turnaround strategy has bedded in – but Mr Lenehan says the company will not stop there.

Read his thoughts on the company’s restructure, the future of fit-out and the opportunities in a post-referendum industry here.

Also in the news

Public sector projects are booming in Scotland, with more than £1bn of works now under construction, according to the Scottish Futures Trust.

Chinese contractor Greenland Group is pushing ahead with its £800m residential tower in London, which will be Europe’s tallest residential building.

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