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Business: Green light for growth

BCS Design has come on leaps and bounds since it opened for business 11 years ago. Managing director Steve Osbaldeston tells Greg Pitcher why winning an NCE/ACE Consultants award further bolsters his belief in the company’s future success.

In association with

bcs logo

Growth area: Work on the rail network, like this substation project has boosted BCS’ performance

Growth area: Work on the rail network, like this substation project has boosted BCS’ performance

NCE/ACE Consultants Awards winner BCS Design has seen its turnover grow by more than a third in the past year.

The firm, established in 2003, picked up the NCE Consultant Of The Year Award for firms with less than 250 employees at the prestigious awards event in April.

It has gone from strength to strength, with revenues hitting £4M in the 12 months to 31 August 2014 - up from £2.9M in the previous year.

In addition, the firm’s contracting sister company BCS Solutions, which wins much of its work alongside BCS Design, saw turnover soar from £1M to £2.1M over the same timescale.
BCS Design managing director Steve Osbaldeston, who started the company in his spare room, said the Consultants Award had helped accelerate its already-impressive growth.

“This award was of great significance to BCS, in that it is respected and recognised across the industry,” he said.

“It undoubtedly has improved our brand and the market’s perception of us, and has been a gateway to targeting larger jobs with bigger players in the market.”

“We are an SME doing what we do really well. We know who we are and it’s onwards and upwards for us now”

Steve Osbaldeston, BCS

Osbaldeston said BCS was constantly evolving while staying true to its ethos.

“We are an SME doing what we do really well. We know who we are and it’s onwards and upwards for us now,” he says.

“The kind of companies we regularly compete with now are the likes of Atkins and Mott MacDonald - large multi-disciplinary outfits.”

As such, BCS Design has positioned itself to offer a broader range of services, whether by taking on team members with different skills or partnering with firms of a similar size and ethos in other disciplines.

“We are civil engineers and we started off designing concrete structures,” says Osbaldeston. “If we want to grow further from here, we have to offer multi-disciplinary services. On one recent rail project we did everything from the lighting to the traction power systems. We are punching at the weight of our big competitors, hopefully knocking on their doors.”

Rail sector

About 80% of the wider group’s turnover comes from the rail sector, while 15% comes from road schemes and the small remainder from straightforward structures work and temporary works.

“I remember in the mid-1980s roads funding collapsed and every civils contractor was putting ‘rail’ in brackets after their name and becoming a specialist,” says Osbaldeston.

Cure and Osbaldeston

Winning team: Osbaldeston and co-director Martin Cure

“I learned a lot about the sector back then. When my co-director Martin Cure and I started this business we won work through people we knew in the rail industry. We have grown significantly since then, and that is because of our reputation for top quality service.”

BCS is currently working on a power supply upgrade on the West Coast Mainline, including detailed surveys and the design of signal screening for 200 existing signals. It has also worked with Laing O’Rourke on a major Glasgow shopping centre that interfaces with the railway.

In the roads sector, BCS picks up most of its work from design, build, finance and operate vehicle UK Highways, which looks after major stretches of strategically important highway on the M40, the A55 and the A130.

“We have to find the right calibre of staff to come in. It’s becoming ever harder as the market picks up. Finding young graduates of the right calibre is difficult - both supply and demand”

Steve Osbaldeston, BCS

“We are the consulting engineer on those projects,” says Osbaldeston. “We are currently working with the client on a plan for handing the M40 section back at the end of the concession in 2026. The client is looking to spend a significant sum in excess of £50M over the next decade to make sure it hands it back without flaws. It all needs to be designed and planned carefully.”

This level of work originally led BCS to set up its contracting arm.

“We found there was a significant amount of work replacing life expired items, and when we had drawn up the specification and the tender documents, we thought we should offer to undertake the work ourselves.”

The work is won in competitive tender, and Osbaldeston believes having one group as consultant and contractor has advantages for the client.

“We are easier to manage that way, and no-one can pass the blame, as it’s the same ultimate company,” he says.

One recent contracting project included delivery of £1.5M of repairs to Stokenchurch Overbridge on the M40, including pier and abutment concrete hydro demolition and repairs, as well as bridge deck jacking.

BCS also has a very small specialist surveying arm, which is waiting to be unleashed when the time is right to make an impact on that sector.

Staffing challenge

Osbaldeston says the main challenge for the growing group now is finding the right calibre of staff to take it forward.

He has targeted group ­turnover in excess of £11M within three years, and expects head count to almost double from 38 today to 70 within that timescale.

BCS opened a London office in 2012 to make communication with many of its clients easier. It intends to grow both this and its Leeds HQ over the coming months. Osbaldeston and Cure now divide much of their time between recruitment work and trying to drum up new business. The former is proving more of a challenge than the latter.

“There are a number of staffing challenges as we continue to grow,” he says. “The business is built on a principle of only having the best staff.

“First, there are half a dozen people who have been with us for six years or more, who are critical to our success and we would not want to leave. We have to find ways of keeping them happy and empowered.

“Second, we have to find the right calibre of staff to come in. It’s becoming ever harder as the market picks up. Finding young graduates of the right calibre is difficult - both supply and demand. Many university leavers are attracted to the big names among our competitors, yet even of those we interview, I often have concerns over quality.”

“I will always take on the work and make sure I find the right people,” says Osbaldeston.

The company plans to achieve its ambitious growth targets for the next three years by continuing to deliver its core projects, increasing the size of the contracts it takes on for existing clients, and broadening its customer base and looking for bigger companies to work for. Network Rail is one client it intends to try to work for directly as well as established business streams though second and third-tier relationships.

BCS also intends to bring more multi-disciplinary work in-house, to reduce the number of partnerships it works in and capture more of the revenue and profit of such contracts.

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