Spotlight on: Jeff Way Electrical
For its latest ‘Spotlight On’ feature BLM met with Neil Way – MD of Jeff Way Electrical to find out more about the company’s strong growth and stake in the community.
From meetings at the kitchen table to £11million business
THE CONSTRUCTION AND PROPERTY industries were arguably the two main symbols of how big and serious the 2008 recession was– projects stalled, work dried up and too big to fail household names went to the wall.
The whole supply chain suffered and it was like a tornado that swept away the businesses that were coasting along. A pretty uncompromising climate to grow a business then? Or a huge opportunity to diversify and prosper, as Neil Way, MD of Jeff Way Electrical puts it.
‘ROK went bust in 2010 and it nearly took us under. Going back to 2010, 90 per cent of our work was with two clients and pretty much all we did was social housing. It was a wake-up call and now we have diversified,’ Neil explains.
Three main sectors
Neil says that Jeff Way now operate in three core sectors on a 30 per cent split, which are standard new build developments, social housing domestic work such as re-wires and large residential schemes such as Paintworks, Wapping Wharf and Electricity House.
The final 10 per cent is taken up by direct work for local authorities and private clients working on repairs and maintenance.
‘We’re in a much stronger position now as a business and looking back it is clear we took some pretty astute and brave decisions,’ Neil says.
It’s a good job they did as Jeff Way isn’t based in an ivory tower in central Bristol but at the heart of Knowle in South Bristol; and prides itself in keeping things local and doing its bit to tackle stubborn issues such as youth unemployment and offers more than its fair share of opportunities to young men and women from all areas of Bristol.
Neil proudly explains how they work with Second Chance – an organisation that takes young people off the streets and gives them work experience. Jeff Way now employ people they have taken from the charity, so their growth and success of the firm has a supply side impact on an area that has historically been marginalised.
So what is the immediate history of Jeff Way and its operational structure? Neil is MD, his brother is Finance Director and his dad, who founded the business, now works in an advisory role and is the Chairman.
Neil was an engineer in the Royal Air Force and joined Jeff Way in 2007, before becoming MD in 2010. When he joined Jeff Way employed 25 staff and had a turnover of just over a million – compared to 170 staff now and a turnover of £11 million.
So what’s been the secret? Neil comments: ‘We’ve grown tenfold in nine years and I put this down to hitting the market at the right time and maintaining a strong reputation for focus and doing a great job. We’ve also taken on enough risk to grow the business, without harming it. Had we not diversified the business, we would have been a third of the size of what we are.’
Neil says that there are challenges to running a family business though: ‘Company governance and decision making is assumed by people’s roles, rather than written down as a structure. Only in the last two years have we made it completely structured and I’ve put a very talented team around me.’
On whether somebody from outside the family could run the business, Neil says: ‘I have a son but he is only three so it’s a long way off, but the plan is to keep the legacy going. But we have taken these steps over the last few years, to bring people up through the ranks and from outside the business. Our Finance Manager was brought in from outside and there was a lot of trust required to do this.’
Right across the business an environment has been created where people can rise to the top, regardless of their background. But Neil is also proud of the family spirit in the firm – with five sets of brothers, father and sons and also a husband and wife team working in the office.
Delivering successful projects
You don’t need to meet Neil for long to see instantly that he is a natural leader and modern in his approach to business. He acutely understands how a successful business can shape and mould the community around it and provide inspiration and hope.
So what makes him most proud? He says: ‘Building a successful business and delivering on some of the region’s most prestigious projects; but also I am really proud that we took on 14 apprentices last year alone and that we’ve come from a small business around the kitchen table to one of the largest electrical contractors in the South West.
‘And we want to continue that, not by taking on the world but by maintaining our share of the market and doing it well’.
Outside of his role as MD Neil sits on the West of England Local Enterprise board as SME Group Sector Chair.
He says: ‘I’m keen to try and promote SME growth as much as possible and as a voice on the board I can get things done. It’s rewarding to see how much people care about what this region is becoming and the potential it has.’
Neil says that the challenges facing the region are transport, skills and housing but says we should be optimistic as there is a plan in place for the next twenty years; and it is about ensuring that it happens.
On the issue of skills Neil says Hinkley will have a big impact. ‘There will be a massive vacuum left here for the standard trades, for your steel workers and bricklayers because another £50 a day and they will be off. There will of course be opportunities that come our way on the electrical and mechanical side but it will create a shortage,’ Neil says.
Having set up his own training school in 2008, Neil is also keen to dispel a few myths about apprentices.
He says: ‘There is a misconception that there is a lack of young people looking to get into construction but this just isn’t true. The problem is the number of employers looking able to offer apprenticeships. We have over 100 applications each year. The attraction is still there for the construction industry and the kids have a great attitude – it’s about finding more employers to take them. SMEs need more support available to help them take on apprentices, that will start to create more opportunities and hopefully result in more apprentices starting in the construction industry.’
‘People often wrongly assume that apprentices are cheap labour but they are a big overhead as you have to invest in training, mentoring and a lot of guidance. We don’t charge them out – we bring them here to learn and develop and to forge a career that pays well. They are the future of the business’.