The Harley-Davidson Bricklayer Interview

By February 28, 2019Interviews

Thank you for taking part in this new interview initiative for the UK Construction Community. Our aim is to champion the smaller and less known Construction Consultant and Contractor. We would like to welcome comments and recommendations from colleagues and the wider construction community. Our aim at CMM would be to develop this conversation into a forum to help small construction companies grow in their sphere of influence.

Our second Interview is with Clive May, Director at Briar-Grove Developments. You can find Clive on LinkedIn and Twitter

INTERVIEW

CMM: Thank you for agreeing to join us today Clive. It is much appreciated. Please tell us a little about yourself and your business track record. And of course, we want to hear about your Harley.

CLIVE: Thanks John well where do you start!! I left school early didn’t have any qualification but decided on a career in construction as a bricklayer. Having survived the highs and lows of the 80’s boom time an opportunity arose in the ’90s whereby I could start my own business to take on the brickwork packages as a subbie. Our first ever project was Carden Park Hotel near Chester. From a small number, we rapidly grew and progressed to peaking at over 100 lads peaking at a turnover of £3.2m

We have been involved in many high-profile projects in and around the North West and North Wales with projects ranging from hotels, student accommodation, medical centres to animal enclosures in Chester Zoo. Most if not all of our work comes from repeat business or from people, we’ve worked with over the years indeed our advertising expenditure has run stable over the year at zero. Construction is a people industry based on results. As they say in construction you’re only as good as your last job, so we try to make sure our last job is a good one!

My Harley…. well what can you say?

After a prolonged period away from motorcycles I finally obtained permission from the good lady in 2014 and started adapting a Breakout which in my opinion is the nicest Harley they’ve produced for years. As ever it then morphed into a project bike, so I rebuilt a 1977 Shovelhead then moved onto an 81 Sportster so no room in the garage!

CMM: Clive, I know from your comments on Social Media that you have been through a rough ride in business. How have you dealt with these situations which presumably were stressful?

CLIVE: It is well documented that in the last financial crash construction suffered the brunt and with some banks like RBS even the blame where having obtained a bailout it sought revenge from its SME customers. Some have likened the crash to the depression in the 1920s. When it came, we had 107 lads paid weekly so our reliance on our agreed overdraft from the bank was vital. Main contractors were operating on wafer-thin margins (some still are) with extended payment terms being the norm. Almost overnight our terms went from 14 days to a worst case 60 days.

The bank when we needed their support sold us an inappropriate product which securitised their position over ours but not satisfied with that, they tried to pull the plug to collect on a government guarantee. We clung on till December 2013 but sadly we had to close the door. To have your life’s work and name taken away from you at the drop of a hat which in my case may well prove fraudulent has left a deep scar. How do you rebuild at a time when you should be winding down? We set up an organisation called SME Alliance born from Twitter where like-minded people got together and took a stand. What made 30 people who had never met attend a meeting in the law society offices in 2014 with a mandate of saying no one is above the law. SME Alliance has grown from strength to strength and so it should. Without social media, many people would have drawn into themselves going into depression or taking to alcohol thinking they were the failed business people the banks painted them to be. We realised we weren’t the failed SME’s simply we were a pawn in the overall plan indeed many sent as cannon fodder. The mental scars will take years to heal the fight for justice may well take as long but we are all stronger together.

CMM: We read a lot in the news about apprenticeships in Construction. What advice would you give a young person who wanted to start their own construction business?

CLIVE: Construction is suffering from a decline in training probably started in the ’80s but it’s becoming more prevalent now. To recruit young people into wet trades like brickwork plastering or ground works is proving more difficult than ever. At one time dads would bring sons into the industry but many now don’t want their sons or daughters in the industry. To give an example we have a great young apprentice who came to us from a council run scheme. The CITB is throwing money to have lads trained so I called them out. In this instance because he had no qualifications and because the college gets funding for certain qualifications in order for him to go to college, he would have had to have attended college twice a week for his GCSE in English & Maths. We need him to learn on site, not in a classroom in these subjects. The whole CITB CSCS card scheme has excluded the ones who may have gotten onto a site to work leaving too many sayers and no doers.

CMM: Do you have any thoughts about the present ‘culture’ of our Industry? And either positive or negative what can be done about them? I know this is a big question.

CLIVE: The big positive for the industry is it can lead to a rewarding career with lots of opportunities. The negative part of our industry is the culture of hack and attack. Hack down the tender price or valuation and attack to try to make a profit on the back of us. We’ve been lucky and selective with who we work for but even then, it still has challenges. Back in the early 2000s, the buzz words were partnering but now it’s more like survival! The big fear is another Carillion going bust as the supply chain will always suffer. My hope is the Brexit fears don’t materialise and for the banks to keep lending to construction firms.

CMM: Thanks Clive for being honest with us. We appreciate you taking the time to share some thoughts with us. We look forward to hearing further news about continued growth in your business throughout 2019.

This has been the second Interview we have conducted with business leaders in Construction. If you missed the first Interview with Rob Simmons at Fensec you can read it again HERE.

 

John

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