This year’s Medium Firm Award nearly produced another case of 2008’s winner retaining the title, with VolkerStevin reaching the final five − and making a compelling case for victory with a 21% growth in civils turnover and boasting a £67M order book.
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But it was pipped to the post by Dyer & Butler, itself highly commended last year. Dyer & Butler takes the title after a great year − civils turnover and profits up, and an order book up 40% on last year. John Graham also had a good year and gets a commendation.
Winner: Dyer & Butler
There has been significant change at Dyer & Butler in the past 12 months, including a bold expansion into central London bringing in new clients − not to mention plenty of new challenges. But it has not interfered with the most important thing − the bottom line.
“Dyer & Butler has achieved 15% growth at the same time as achieving more than two million man hours without a reportable accident,” says MD Paul Hobbs.
Doing this while breaking into a major new market is something to be proud of, says Hobbs. “The decision last year to expand into central London has given us many challenges, not only successfully bidding to be part of the London Underground VCP Framework, but bringing in new staff and training them in new systems and procedures so that we could successfully operate in safety critical environments, on contracts such as Thameslink, London Underground stations and at the city’s airports.”
Despite this, Hobbs picks out work with Hampshire County Council as the firm’s flagship project. “We consider that the new £3.5M park and ride at Winchester, which is the design and construct of an environmentally friendly amenity building, 25,000m² of car parking space, new bus entrance and remodelling of nearby roundabout and access roads for Hampshire County Council, as the essence of what Dyer & Butler is about.
“It’s being constructed using sustainable techniques delivered by a directly employed labour force safely ahead of programme,” adds Hobbs.
“Frameworks contribute to the level of our repeat business which is in excess of 80% of turnover.”
Paul Hobbs, Dyer & Butler
He admits that growth will be difficult in the short term, but he has a plan. “We will focus on improving our service to our existing framework clients and ensuring growth is sustainable.
We will also continue to focus on clients with long-term investment programmes supported, where possible, by public sector and regulatory spending.”
Key to this approach is increasing the proportion of turnover generated from frameworks. “We now have 14 frameworks in place,” says Hobbs. “These contribute to the level of our repeat business which is in excess of 80% of turnover.”
Hobbs is also intent on aligning the firm with a select list of large contractors with which, he says, “we share common goals and values in order to benefit from work opportunities”. Strategic decisions will also be based on a detailed industry market appraisal of five market sectors − the firm is currently using the findings of this report as a key management tool in exploring medium-to-long-term business.
- Civils turnover: £72.3M
- Civils profit: £4.4M
- Civils work in hand: £63M
- Overall turnover: £72.3M
- Pretax profit: £4.4M
- Total workforce: 672
- Engineers employed: 85
VolkerStevin is in no doubt that times are getting tough, which makes sustaining profits all the more something to be proud of. That’s the view of MD Jim McNeilly.
“Last year started very well for us, but the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 have been tougher,” he says. “Therefore, I think we can be most proud of sustaining our profitability throughout this time, as well as maintaining the quality of service we provide to clients. We are also proud to have successfully completed some major projects and replaced them with equally prestigious projects.”
McNeilly admits things are tough, but is also cautiously optimistic for the future. “We have set clearly defined objectives for our business in both cost reduction and greater fiscal management as well as providing value for money for both the client and our business.
Focusing on strengths
“We will focus on our strong market sectors, procuring and delivering in our strongest fields of expertise. We also have opportunities in a number of emerging industry sectors, particularly through integration with other specialists in the wider Volker-Wessels UK Group. The recent rebranding has made the scale and capability of the group much more visible and will lead to more collaboration of the companies, providing national best practice, new innovations and a more varied set of skills.”
McNeilly cites the firm’s Carlisle Caldew and City Centre Flood Alleviation Scheme as his firm’s best work. The £16M contract involves the one-in-200-year flood protection of 697 properties in the town.
“We face challenges with solutions and commitment, and I would like to think that we set benchmarks for future contracts.”
Jim McNeilly, VolkerStevin
“The main challenge for the project team is working in an urban environment alongside, and sometimes within, business or residential premises, in mainly very confined spaces.
Engaging with the local community is a key part of the project to ensure that work is carried out in such a manner that we cause as little disruption as possible.
“To achieve the earliest possible completion, work is being constructed in phases whilst an integrated team, involving VolkerStevin, the designers and the client, work on the buildability and costing of future phases. This encourages innovation, value engineering and problem-solving on an on-going basis,” he says.
“I think this scheme is testament to the culture of the company. We are co-operative and transparent in our work, we work well in teams working towards a common goal. We face challenges with solutions and commitment, and I would like to think that we set benchmarks for future contracts.”
- Civils turnover: £81.6M
- Civils profit: £1.76M
- Civils work in hand: £67.2M
- Overall turnover: £81.6m
- Pretax profit: £1.76M
- Total workforce: 410
- Engineers employed: 128
This year John Graham has taken a real step forward with some significant contract wins that have pushed it firmly towards the big leagues. This is definitely a firm to watch.
“Our single biggest achievement this year is winning the contract for the £320M M80 Stepps to Haggs project,” says MD Alan Bill. “We are part of the HMC joint venture which was appointed in January 2009 to undertake this high-profile job, upgrading the A80/M80 between Glasgow and Stirling.
It is one of the largest-ever construction projects awarded in Scotland and this contract win cements our place as a leading roads contractor and secures work for a significant number of our staff at a time when the construction industry is facing significant challenges.
“In the current economic climate, we have had to work very hard to ensure that we have continued to deliver quality solutions to our clients, particularly in design and build contracts. However, success on projects such as the M80 and the £9M Peace Bridge in Londonderry demonstrates that it is possible to win contracts by providing the client with a high-quality solution within their budget.”
The focus for Bill is innovation. “We have concentrated our efforts on delivering projects which allow us to focus on our key skills, and to deliver innovative solutions to our clients.
“The challenges have allowed us to demonstrate our skills in project management and our ability to provide innovative solutions to overcome such challenges.”
Alan Bill, John Graham
“This typically includes challenging projects, which require a high level of engineering knowledge and experience, coupled with a full understanding of the risks. We feel this approach gives us a higher success rate in tendering, thus safeguarding our employees during the downturn.”
Innovation also features strongly in what Bill believes to be his firm’s current flagship project − the £115M DBFO to upgrade the M1/Westlink/M2 in central Belfast. “This complex project has been highly challenging, but all major milestones have been completed on or ahead of programme, with overall completion imminent, five months ahead of programme. The challenges have allowed us to demonstrate our skills in project management and our ability to provide innovative solutions to overcome such challenges.”
Other companies within the Graham Group are also heavily involved in the scheme, not least Graham Investment Projects and Graham Asset Management, which will be responsible for the 30-year operation and maintenance contract. “This shows that we can offer a diverse range of services to our clients,” says Bill.
- Civils turnover: £75M
- Civils profit: £1.7M
- Civils work in hand: £134M
- Overall turnover: £218M
- Pretax profit: £2.9M
- Total workforce: 900
- Good work: Engineers employed: 300
NCE/CECA Contractors of the Year Awards: Medium firm award