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The Wright stuff

Working lives - Business is booming for contractor Eric Wright Group, and local charities in the North West are feeling the benefit. Bernadette Redfern finds out why.

Despite having turned 60 a few years ago, retirement has not yet crossed the mind of civil engineer Eric Wright. 'I don't have to spend all my time on site anymore, ' he admits. 'But I love the industry. It is hugely rewarding and the whole process [of turning ideas into physical realities] excites me.'

Having the freedom to work indefinitely and actually wanting to do so is a side effect of working for a company that puts its staff first. That it is his own company helps explain what is going on.

'We are all about providing security for the people in the company, ' says Wright.

Many companies purport to do the same, but few other construction companies invest so heavily in the local community, provide childcare or give their staff weekly health checks.

Shares in the Eric Wright Group are owned 51% by Wright himself and 49% by a charitable trust, set up to put something back into the local community and provide for staff. 'We have channelled our efforts principally towards the disadvantaged, deprived and physically and mentally handicapped people in our community, ' says Wright.

To date the group has put £5M into charitable activities.

These include running Water Park, an outdoor centre on the Lake District's Coniston Water.

The stately home was derelict when Wright's trust bought it in 1998. The huge Georgian mansion is now a base for such activities as orienteering and canoeing, with financial assistance offered to children who could not otherwise afford them. It is also used by companies for team building exercises, although centre manager Roger Ward emphasises:

'This is very much a charity:

income and expenditure don't match. They would if we just did corporate events but that is not what we are here for.'

Eric Wright Group was born out of local north west contractor Brown & Jackson Construction, which Wright bought in 1979.

During the 1970s the company had been floated on the stock exchange, and subsequently taken over by City management consultants, who used it as an acquisition vehicle.

The roller-coaster experience left Wright and his fellow staff desperate for stability.

'The purchase was achieved by taking out the assets and leaving only the staff, a few cabins and the current workload, ' he says. Wright was then free to run the company according to his own moral standards.

Wright was heavily influenced by his father's passionate work ethic and says he inherited a strong sense of social justice from his union activist grandfather.

As a result, Wright personally directs his staff to treat subcontractors well. And he claims that the company was partnering with clients, subcontractors and suppliers long before it became fashionable.

Wright sets out to develop his younger staff to ensure, as far as he can, that the business goes from strength to strength in the future. 'We have a great group of young engineers here and the staff really feel like it is their company, ' he says. With no shareholders to report to, a healthy disregard for shallow consumerist values and a real emphasis on job satisfaction this is no surprise.

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