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Company man

Foundations : Profile : Roger Bullivant

Reinvigorated, reorganised and focused like never before - piling, foundation and modular housing specialist Roger Bullivant celebrates its 30th birthday this month.

Roger Bullivant the company is very much a reflection of Roger Bullivant the company chairman, according to friends and detractors alike.

Quixotic, innovatory, mercurial, a pioneer of finely engineered solutions are the kind of terms used to describe both.

As a personality Roger Bullivant invites controversy and admiration in equal measure, like no other in the piling and foundation industry. Clever analysis has led to innovative and cost effective products which have made an impact on the market in a manner that has pleased clients and put competitors under pressure.

Some fought back vigorously, and not just in the marketplace.

Last year was a difficult time for the firm, forcing a review of corporate strategy on everything from company structure to product lines, the driving down of cost and raising of quality. The result is a much more highly focused operation.

One thing that remains unchanged is Bullivant's willingness to speak his mind. 'The unpleasantness of last year may ultimately have had a beneficial effect in prompting us to take stock, ' he says. 'But it was bloody upsetting at the time.'

Ironically, the 'unpleasantness' to which he refers came about via quality control mechanisms at the Federation of Piling Specialists that Bullivant - as an FPS member - had been instrumental in putting in place.

'We strongly supported the launch of an FPS registration scheme with member firms independently audited for quality, ' the chairman says.

The register came into being in October 2000, complete with a complaints procedure intended primarily for use by dissatisfied customers. But it could be used internally as well, and Bullivant found itself facing complaints from five fellow FPS members.

These centred on one of the firm's most popular products: its in-house designed precast concrete pile. Alone among piling systems, it has a BBA Agrement certificate. Subsequent to the complaints, this certificate has been improved to provide customers with more information and clarity.

This met the federation's requirements and effectively drew a line under the matter - despite it all, there are no hard feelings, it seems. But it was not the end in terms of the effect on the company. 'The issues we faced last year forced us to rethink strategies and identify and address areas of weakness, ' Bullivant says.

Roger Bullivant offers underpinning systems; mini piling;

both steel and driven cast insitu piling; the Quickfloor foundation system; precast beams for industrial buildings; Quickwall walling for warehouses; precast concrete dock levellers and ground improvement systems.

When it requires specialist plant to undertake innovative processes, it has the capacity to build its own bespoke items, even very big rigs. Most of its equipment is relatively small though, reflecting the 'mini' nature of some of its work. Small plant means ease of handling: the company has an enviable safety record in piling and foundations.

Research and development spending has traditionally been high, typically 1.5% of sales, with innovation much to the fore.

'We had reasons to be cheerful, ' Bullivant says. 'But it was clear certain improvements could be made, not least to our organisation.' The firm has grown up very much around Roger Bullivant, driven by his engineering astuteness and force of will.

On the shop floor at the company headquarters in Burton-on-Trent, he fires off ideas right, left and centre. And woe betide anyone who cannot come up with answers to questions like: 'That precast beam lying there, why has it got four bars when I'm sure one will do?'

'We are much bigger these days and maintaining focus has become a priority, ' he says. 'So we're restructuring the business to suit our size with the object of developing a clear vision of where we are going with each of our principal areas of activity.'

The company is being divided into four disciplines: underpinning and minipiling; house foundations; piling and ground improvement; and concrete products. Each has its own managing director; and each will be encouraged to grow individually by following a specific strategy.

Underpinning and minipiling may well be the subject of a management buyout in the future, to further enhance this division's focus and potential for increased market share. Whatever transpires, the parent company is looking for a greatly increased turnover from its constituents in the next five years, from £65M in 2001 to £0.5bn.

This divisional structure makes for a much less unwieldy company. Innovation leading to cost effective products will remain at the fore as this has reaped enormous benefits for Roger Bullivant and its clients over the years. The company's portfolio of piling, mini piling and ground improvement products and systems numbers more than 80.

The future looks bright. Take the ubiquitous Roger Bullivant precast pile. In the last 12 months this has been re-thought and new features have been adopted which will make it even more versatile and cost effective than before, Bullivant says.

'Increasingly it will be seen not just as a stand-alone product but as a component of our house foundations package. The principal feature of this modular system is design, leading to fitness of purpose: our speciality is the one stop-shop nature of our offer to clients, embracing design, manufacture and installation, ' he says.

The company's board has strengthened too, with the appointment of leading construction industry figure Alan Crane as a non-executive director.

Crane chairs the joint government/industry Movement for Innovation initiative and the ICE management board. He is also a member of several government task forces and sits on the Strategic Forum for Construction. He advises a number of construction-related firms and specialises in providing direction for companies seeking radical ways of conducting their business.

'Alan will be looking into business development and corporate efficiency as well as other matters, ' says Bullivant.

'He will help bring a sharper edge to our drive for expansion and market domination.

'Make absolutely no mistake.

Piling costs will continue to come down and customer expectations about performance and cost will continue to rise.'

This article first appeared in Ground Engineering.

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