What is the single most important thing the Government could do for the commercial construction industry?
In the short-term, get Brexit done (irrespective of whether you voted leave or remain) as we need business certainty to return so that the industry’s private sector customers, in particular, can be confident to invest in capital projects rather than adopt a ‘wait and see’ attitude. We should also have a clear and dedicated line of communication so we can have a two-way dialogue about what we can do to support growth, job creation and social mobility. The latter is just as important as companies like Willmott Dixon are already doing a lot to help disadvantaged people or ex-offenders to get the skills and confidence to find long-term work and achieve their full potential.
With over 150 years as a private business that is still thriving whilst many others have failed, what are the key reasons for your success?
First, I am greatly saddened by any business failure in the industry. People work hard to create and sustain a business, so when it doesn’t work out, and the resultant impact that has on people’s lives and the supply chain, it is very sad to see.
We’ve been around since 1852 and withstood many major events and economic cycles in that time. This sustainable longevity is only possible by creating a flexible business model that can adapt to an ever-changing economic and political environment.
There are a huge number of factors that make Willmott Dixon different from those that collapse and those that had their struggles. We target controlled level of organic growth. We’ve never set ourselves aggressive turnover growth targets – we’re only interested in a sustainable bottom line.
You’re renowned as a business with a focus on sustainability. What does that mean in terms of long-term planning?
Leaving a legacy is something that’s important to me personally. Some 10 years ago we set ourselves the goal of being carbon neutral and we achieved that, and have been now for five consecutive years. Then we set ourselves the target of enhancing the life chances of 10,000 young people by 2020, which we have almost achieved already through our Foundation, which is guiding our strategy and monitoring progress.
We have our own verification system, independently audited, to check when we’ve enhanced a life, so rather than being a box-ticking exercise it’s about making a real impact. And that’s the point – we are impact driven, not focused on recording meaningless inputs.
This is part of our vision to support wider society beyond the projects we build. That includes upskilling young people and volunteering our time to help others. This year, four out of five of our people will spend time volunteering for a community related activity that will improve their local environment or someone’s life.
We set long-term goals, as it challenges our people to help meet them, and one thing we’ve found is that our work to leave a legacy is also making us an attractive place to work for young people.
When we recruit, we find that the incoming generation of new talent is intensely interested and concerned that their employer is a demonstrably sustainable business. This is not a ‘nice to have’ – it is an essential element of sound business.