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Couldn't try harder

A client-led philosophy has helped Galliford Try outperform all other rivals in the medium sized contractor category, reports Alan Sparks.

With many firms in the construction industry becoming ever more diversified, Galliford Try is one that bucks the trend, targeting its efforts on just three main sectors.

It is the water sector where the firm's biggest presence is felt. Of its £96M civils turnover in 2001, around a third was earned in this field. And for next year the signs are even better.

A three year, joint venture framework contract with Costain for United Utilities carries with it £200M worth of work, while a five year framework deal with Welsh Water for North Wales is now well into its third successful term.

The remainder of the company's work centres around rail and commercial industrial developments, although a framework contract with British Waterways is a new direction. Work with Railtrack includes contracts for bridges and stations, although no trackside work.

The firm works mainly in the North and Midlands, although it has contracts throughout the UK, especially in the telecoms market.

In the late 1980s, Galliford Try shifted out of highway work as the market took a nosedive. The company turned its attentions to the industrial and commercial private sector. Now the tide has turned and Galliford Try is capitalising on its renewed commitment in the hard civils sector.

While larger contractors will take on high risk, high profile projects, Galliford Try is happy to be considered as a 'user friendly' top end, medium sized contractor.

'Back in the mid-90s we established a partnering philosophy that is today the cornerstone of what we are trying to do here, ' says deputy chief executive George Marsh. Over 80% of Galliford Try's work comes in the form of partnering and framework contracts, which Marsh strongly believes to be the way to do business today.

'Without doubt this allows a more effective way of delivering a project, ' he says. 'It permits value engineering from day one with all parties involved. We estimate that the extra value gained often exceeds 10%.'

Innovation, cost saving and increased quality can be gained from the open book design philosophy that comes as part of the framework package, says Marsh.

The remaining fifth of the company's workload that comes through traditional contracts allows the firm to keep a foothold in this solid source of work.

Although civil engineering forms the heart of Galliford Try's business, having a building arm running in tandem with it works well. 'By having expertise on board in different links of the industry food chain, we are able to offer a one-stop-shop for clients, ' says Marsh.

Typically, this service means that if, for example, when working as a contractor on a housing development a problem with the foundations is encountered, no third party engineer need be consulted: the internal capability - in both knowledge and resources - already exists to resolve the issue.

Marsh sees the depth of resources at his disposal as one of the firms biggest assets. 'Although our workload stretches right from highway bridges down to shop-fitting, in the centre ground there is plenty of scope for shifting around resources. And we have always believed that civil engineers have the necessary skills to make ideal project managers.'

Project management, and the issue of management of risk, is something that the whole industry is only now awakening to, Marsh believes. But Galliford, with its heavy involvement in frameworks, is already ahead of the game, he claims.

Project management is not just managing financial and construction risk, he says, but must also include the risks inherent in the operation of the finished project.

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