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Balfour's turnaround tale is just what industry needs

Tom Fitzpatrick

Balfour Beatty’s return to form is a tonic for construction.

It’s easy to forget the UK’s largest contractor was in chaos a few years ago, with repeated profit warnings, leadership shake-ups and a strategy that appeared to change on a weekly basis. Imagine what might have been had Carillion completed a takeover of Balfour in 2014.

Instead, in came Leo Quinn, who riled a lot of middle managers by insisting on his way or the highway. Tenders that would once have been signed off at a local level started getting rubber-stamped by the new CEO and I heard plenty of moaning about his methods.

Now though, the contractor is back, and one major subbie told me at Mipim that Balfour was “surprisingly, the best tier one we deal with now”. While Mr Quinn might not be the only CEO to believe he’s sitting on the industry’s strongest balance sheet, he deserves credit for delivering on his turnaround plans.

Having a leader prepared to make unpopular decisions for the long term is crucial. It’s what Carillion was lacking.

I asked several major clients at Mipim whether Wates having no CEO for the last five months had been a concern. The fact that James Wates was actively making himself available to clients to take calls was cited repeatedly as the major reassurance.

Companies were keen to get my views on former Carillion boss Richard Howson several times in Cannes.

The truth? I met him several times but didn’t know him. He was media-shy and Carillion turned down CN’s requests for a sit-down interview multiple times. Perhaps we now know why.

Taking pride in Open Doors 

CN is proud to be media partner to Open Doors, the industry campaign to open construction sites to the public. We so often hear that the industry isn’t doing enough to attract young people, but this week more than 275 sites were open for anyone to visit across England, Scotland and Wales.

On a trip to Copenhagen last year, I was struck by how inclusive sites were. Hoardings were showing trailers for the latest cinema releases. Public access steps invited people to take a bird’s eye view of the sites at any time. Sites were fun, safe and felt like a part of the city.

Across the UK, hoardings are being decorated more and contractors are seeing them as a good way to interact with the community. But some are still simply walls that seem to say ‘there’s nothing to see here’, which couldn’t be further from the truth.

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