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Going global

Names & Faces - A year after his firm was taken over by Balfour Beatty, Pennine managing director Arwel Williams reflects on the company's international progress.

Arwel Williams is enthusing about piling contractor Pennine's new Dubai office.

Recently opened, it represents exactly where the 41year-old engineer wanted to see the company go when he helped start it 14 years ago.

Williams joined Pennine in 1992 to head up a new contracting arm at a time when the company was solely a piling equipment manufacturer. But as the company grew, the main partners wondered where their firm could go.

Williams had his eye on tackling the international market, which was then limited to one-off contracts.

'We had the choice of carrying on like that or borrowing a lot of money to start up new offices around the world, ' he says.

Borrowing was not considered an option as the other main partners were approaching retirement age and were loath to risk the money they had already made.

This left little choice other than to find a company which could facilitate international expansion.

In August 2005, the £16M turnover Pennine was bought by Balfour Beatty.

It was a hard decision going from being an employer to an employee, says Williams.

'Personally, I expected huge changes to occur, but we don't get any more work than we used to because our specialist techniques can only be used on certain jobs, ' he says.

Pennine specialises in constructing stone column foundations, which strengthen poor ground. Williams is looking to expand the company into the US, where the stone column market is estimated to be worth £300M.

'If I had a dream about where I wanted the company to go, this would be it - regional offices around the world, ' he concludes.

Q&A Arwel Williams

My career so far: I used to travel all the time, and was away from home for months at a time. Starting up a business is a high risk operation, and not for those who want an easy life.

Career highlight: When I was MD of Pennine Contracting and we made our first £1M profit - we never thought we'd get there.

Career lowlight: Making sure we could afford to pay ourselves in the early days.

What I'd like to do if I wasn't a civil engineer: Be a professional golfer.

The thing you wouldn't know about me: I was mistaken for an undercover agent in Russia about nine years ago. The police investigated me and I had a hard time leaving, as they were very interested in why I had visited so many countries.

Favourite place: Home - Rhos on Sea, north Wales. My office is 110 miles away, so I'm often away from home two to three nights a week.

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