Who am I to provide you with Business Support and advice on how to run and grow your business?
My name is Bob Evans. I come from the North West of England and the construction industry. I am happily married and live my life to the full.
I grew my business from 1990 to 2007, retired from it at the age of 50 and became a business coach to share my experience and knowledge to others.
I have been coaching now for over 10 years and have supported over 100 businesses. Some excel, some don’t.
As you will see on the website, I have written a number of business and marketing lessons, to help share what I know. They are completely free to download and learn from.
After leaving school I served my time as a joiner at a small construction company called J Angus Collin, based on the Wirral.
I left J Angus Collin at the age of 22 and went to work as an engineer for McAlpines, a much larger construction company. I was with them for twelve months and used my time there to understand the workings of a large construction company before returning to J Angus Collin as a surveyor. Being office based I mastered estimating, quantity surveying, contract management and project management. At the age of 29, when two of the partners retired, I became a director and shareholder. As a director of the company I became involved in the running of it and between the age of 29 and 35 I studied accounting systems and general management. During this time I had great success in winning large projects and contributing a large amount of profit, some people called it luck. But we make our own luck and I did this through hard work and tenacity; developing systems that enabled me to do more with my time. By 35 I was ready to run the business but with the board structure in place that wasn’t possible, it was then I decided to leave the world of employment and start my own business.
That was back in November 1990, two months before the 90’s recession. To start the business I joined forces with my now long time business partner and friend, Ari. Together we bought his father’s steel fabrication business and rented some factory and office space in North Wales. We had an overdraft of £30,000 and a cash loan of £10,000 from Bert, Ari’s father. The cash was gone before Christmas, but the venture had just started. We called our business Qufab Construction Ltd.
STARTUP AND STRUGGLE 1991 TO 1994
The first few years were hard work; we would squeeze every penny from every contract and work all hours of the day and night to make ends meet. Between 1991 and 1994 we doubled turnover but struggled to make any profit. In 1994, we nearly went under we were supporting another company at the time when the venture went pear-shaped. We pulled out with only £10,000 between us going into liquidation. In fact, I was speaking to a Liquidator every week to make sure we were not trading illegally. Then out of nowhere came our saviour, a contract from MANWEB, one of the region’s major electricity supply company’s, to build a substation in Bromborough. We fulfilled this to their needs and were rewarded with another contract in Chester and then another in Southport.
We had turned a corner!
Now in a much more financially sound position, we took the opportunity to review our premises and decided to relocate from our original site in North Wales to Bromborough. We purchased a disused power station switching building from Manweb and converted it into offices and a workshop. We bought it for £30,000, borrowed £20,000 to buy it and paid off the loan within two months.
SECURE 1995 TO 1996
The struggle was over. We had cash in the bank and this meant we could invest in systems and people. My belief system changed. Previously I thought business was struggle; I couldn’t see how we were going to move the business forward but becoming cash rich made all the difference. The substation contracts were no fluke. I had been building a relationship with our client over many years and had negotiated a term contract with them. Our mission was always to deliver an excellent service, making our clients’ lives simple and hassle free. This was the trait of our success. We would keep well ahead of technology, be part of our customers’ back office and make working with us simple and easy. For example, if they had e-mail, we had e-mail. Success breeds success and we were now becoming established and working for a range of clients on projects such as building substations, factory units, marine civil works and a lot of structural work. We also had a shift in focus with civil engineering accounting for about 80% of our workload and steel fabrication about 20%.
STUCK – 1997 TO 1999
Following on from our success in the previous period, it was frustrating to realise that from 1997 to 1999 we had become stuck at a turnover of about £1.5m. Work from our main client, MANWEB became disjointed as they were restructuring as part of a merger with Scottish Power plc and we realised that we had just one small fish in a big pond and that was not a good position to be in. So, we diversified into all sorts of different areas. We joined forces with a marina company to design and build marina systems around the world. A huge achievement was to build a marina in Buenos Aries,Argentina. Our part of the project was International Marketing, this came about from one of our previous ventures, from the struggle stage, where we were supporting a marina pontoon business. We were using our knowledge from this experience to support the business. With hindsight, this was not a good strategy, as it distracted me from where I should have been focusing my efforts.
It was this period and perhaps more significantly, the realisation that we were stuck at a glass ceiling, that had the greatest impact on what was going to happen in the future. Let me explain. First, I Joined a group called the Entrenet (Entrepreneur Network) which was created by Business Link Chester. They brought together 12 Business Owners/Managing Directors and we each paid £250 per month and Business Link provided funds to match our input. This created a good sized fund that was spent on training. They brought in Will Holden, who introduced me to business psychology although he called it something else. I learned a lot from this experience and although the group drifted apart after 12 months, I now had what I needed to grow the business.
Will had brought to mind what business was really about. It was about personal purpose first, then business purpose. It was about the exit strategy and direction, not just a job, which was, in fact, my answer to one of his questions.
The second thing that happened during this period was my introduction to Liverpool University. I signed up to for two TCS (Teacher Company Scheme) programs, the first with Tim Whitehill, a Civil Engineering graduate and the second with Karen Gladwin, a Marketing graduate. TCS is a partnership agreement between the company, the university and the graduate. It helps transfer knowledge for the university to the company and practical experience knowledge from the company to the university.
The first project we identified as to create standardised substation structures for the power industry, and the second to develop a five year strategic marketing plan for the business.
Each programme was to cover a two year period. We had a professor for half a day helping the graduate with the project. The whole thing was a great success and a win, win, win. The business benefited from the knowledge transfer from the university, the graduate benefited from experience and additional training and qualifications, and the university benefited because it had real business data to work from. The program was supported by Fiona Nightingale who did an excellent job of keeping the projects on track.
Both Tim and Karen worked for the company during this period. Eventually when they left, Tim went on to build his own construction business and Karen joined a construction company in Manchester and grew turnover from £7.5m to £18m. She later started her own Marketing business, focusing in the construction sector. It was a pleasure to support them on their way.
GROWTH 2000 TO 2004
After the marketing project was completed, we followed our strategy and off we went. The strategy was very simple. We had worked out that all we had to do to grow the company was to focus in one area and become experts in a niche. We focused on the construction of substations for the power industry. My job was to develop a strong relationship with four people; all of them heads of civil engineering in the manufacturing of switch gear for the power industry. The companies we selected were Siemens, Alstom, VATECH, and ABB.
We implemented the quality management system ISO 9001 and the H&S management system OHSAS 18001 to allow us to work more effectively and seamlessly with our clients.
To support the growth, we brought in the best people we could find from large construction companies. These people were highly trained in dealing with large projects. I made Tim Whitehill my deputy Managing Director and together we shaped the business.
REALISE – 2005 TO 2007
During the latter part of 2003 and early 2004 we were having a few problems with some of our clients. Essentially, they wanted to go back to the traditional methods of sending tenders for all contractors to bid against. This naturally included Qufab. With little option to do otherwise, we complied and submitted our tender documents. However, we experienced a number of challenges, primarily due to the limited time our clients were spending on the preparation stage of the Invitation To Tender. The result being that we had limited information against which to prepare our submission and, although we submitted perfectly reasonable pricing schedules and maintained our “open book” policy, the final accounts would often exceed the original tender bid. This led to confrontation and discontent between us and our main clients.
It was about this time that a member of the Qufab team hit a live cable in a major substation. It was clearly an accident and thankfully nobody was injured and we were fully insured. However, the insurance claim mounted to a significant £250,000 and the insurance company was intent on minimising their liability. Working in a highly regulated industry with health and safety regulations covering every aspect of our business we were sure we were fully covered, but the policies are carefully worded and every clause was invoked in this case. The result was that we recovered just £50,000 and were £200,000 out of pocket on the incident. Had it not been for our strong balance sheet, it would have wiped us out completely.
During the period November 2003 to February 2004 we were turning over £1m per month. In March 2004, the work was coming to an end and my gut feeling was to cut and consolidate our position. The battle over final accounts was becoming tiresome and although many large construction companies do this every day, I decided that this was not the way for me. The business we were in was risky and we had made some money, but did I want to continue to run a business that could wipe out our entire wealth? I had a meeting with Ari and we decided to reduce our business risk.
The decisions we made were not easy but make them we did and we reduced our staff from 15 to 5. We negotiated terms, so everyone left in a friendly manner. We pulled the plug on the large manufacturers and went back to our original client to carry out their work.
The last Qufab project I worked on was the construction of a substation at Lister Drive in Liverpool with a value of £2,000,000. The substation was constructed over an old coal-fired Power Station and the ground works were quite substantial.
Having completed our last contract, we carried on with our wind-down plans and finally stopped trading in 2007.
Over the years we had geared up our cash by purchasing a property portfolio. We now manage this together with our self administered pension fund.
My job was done. I now could do whatever I wished to do. I decided to help others achieve business success by sharing my expertise and business knowledge.
If you think I may be able to help you with your business, feel free to make contact. Follow this link to email me a message.