Chris Sturdy spent 22 years in the Royal Engineers serving in Northern Ireland, Kuwait, Bosnia and other troubled areas of the world until 2002, when he decided to swap his combats for Civvy Street.
But life as a contractor in Kent presents an entirely different, yet sometimes still hazardous, set of challenges.
“It was difficult initially; I started my own business in 2008 right at the start of the recession,” says Mr Sturdy.
“I took a couple of hits when I first started and if it wasn’t for my wife having a good job to give us some financial security I would never have been able to get where I am now. It has really paid off though.”
With 2011 revenues of £2.2 million compared with 2010 of just £360,000, it would seem the risk really did reap rewards for Mr Sturdy and his business CS Solutions.
The company acts as principal contractor on a range of residential and commercial housing projects, including new-build houses and apartment blocks, extensions, student accommodation and a luxury subterranean house in Hampstead, London.
But it did not always have such large jobs and consistent work, as Mr Sturdy explains. “When I started out on my own I was doing small jobs; people in the area knew me and started to ask for extensions, refurbishments and small landscaping work. I also own the castings for some specialist railings at a conservation area in London, so I was doing those too.”
But two and a half years ago that changed when Mr Sturdy was asked to complete a large extension for a residential property then soon after was approached by an architect to look at a project in Elephant & Castle, London.
“I was asked to do the basement work on the project, which was for nine apartments and three commercial units with basements,” he says.
While just starting work on that job, Mr Sturdy was asked to look at another project, this time in Hackney, of 22 flats and three commercial units. “Within four weeks I was asked to be principal contractor on both jobs and it’s taken off from there,” he says.
Mr Sturdy’s time in the army left him well prepared for a career in the construction industry; he gained a degree from the Royal School of Military Engineering in Chatham and worked on several engineering and construction projects during his spell in the forces.
“The Royal Engineers gave me a solid technical grounding; I did everything from land surveys and road design to aerial photography. I was a GPS specialist in the Gulf War and most of my 22 years in the army were spent on construction tours, so I already had 22 years of experience,” he recalls.
Upon leaving the army, Mr Sturdy was offered the choice of two different roles within the industry. “One was as the senior land survey consultant for McAlpine, and the other was as a project manager for a small but high-class developer in south-west London; that was what I chose to do.”
He spent the next six years working for the company, but decided to branch out on his own in search of job fulfilment and satisfaction.
As the work has increased, so have the staff; early last year Mr Sturdy brought in Jim Casey as a business partner, having worked with him before starting his own business.
But getting the right people can sometimes be a challenge. “I’ve gone through the normal pitfalls of employing people and it hasn’t worked out, which is why I now subcontract work out rather than take people on,” he says.
“But we are looking for a full-time QS; we’ve got a really good project manager and we’re looking to take on a second one within the next month. We are building up our management team to deal with the level of work.”
Mr Sturdy is confident about the company’s potential for future growth too, highlighting the importance of low-energy construction materials and the private sector. “This year we expect turnover to be around £8m. The private sector is where we’ve picked up a lot of work and that’s where the growth is.”