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Bisset focusses on business principles

New B&ES president Bruce Bisset is proud of Galloway Group's status as a modern company with an international customer base that can also draw on a rich local engineering heritage.
In UK terms Dundee, the 'City of Discovery' is a small city of just 160,000 inhabitants, but it is the fourth largest in Scotland and has always punched above its weight in engineering and technology terms.

Scott of the Antarctic's ship Discovery was the handiwork of Dundee shipbuilders and was launched on the River Tay in 1901. 90 years later it returned to become a permanent visitor attraction with the memories of Scott and Shackleton serving as guides to Dundee's rich engineering heritage.

Today the city is home to the modern innovators of the UK's computer gaming industry; is actively targeting the huge offshore wind farm industry in the North Sea; and the Victoria & Albert Museum is about to set up its Scottish home in the city.

One of the building services sector's most respected international manufacturing and contracting businesses has also been operating out of the city since 1872.

Galloway Group started life as a tinsmith and has evolved to become a leading global supplier of products for the ductwork industry; a supplier and installer of sheet metal ducting in the UK; noise and vibration control specialists; electrical contractor; and a manufacturer of bespoke products for the oil and gas industry.

Galloway directly employs 263 people with a further 100 sub-contracted depending on workload and has an annual turnover of £20m. It moved to its current 68,000sqft factory in 1997 following major expansion and a management buyout.

This year Galloway's business development director Bruce Bisset - who was part of a management buy out in 2008 along with four of his colleagues - becomes president of the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) marking an important milestone in a relationship with the association that goes back almost as far as the company itself.

Yet, the industry very nearly missed Mr Bisset completely.

Dundee born and bred, he left school in 1975 with his heart set on being a post office engineer. He duly applied, but had heard nothing when he spotted an opening for a surveyor technician at Galloway on his school notice board.

'I wasn't quite sure what it was, but liked the sound of it,' he says. 'I asked around and the company had a very good name so I went ahead and applied. My parents weren't too keen because they thought the Post Office offered better prospects.'

Of course, the day after he accepted the job at Galloway he received an offer from the Post Office too, but the die was cast and he has remained with the company ever since.

Mr Bisset began his professional life preparing valuations and monthly accounts for the company's electrical contracting division before moving across into estimating 'because I was good at grasping figures,' he says.

'However, I quickly learned that the figures are only one part of the job. You always have to be competitive, but personal relationships are the key to winning work.'

Galloway has gone through many changes in Bruce's almost 40 years. The contracting part of the business expanded rapidly in the 1970s under then chairman Sir Gerard Newman.

Today, it provides services all over the world for construction and refurbishment projects including complete airside packages on many major projects. Once again Dundee has proved itself a centre for exporting engineering innovation.

The current recession has stretched the business, with the result that it has had to close its Dewsbury plant and centralise most of its operations in Dundee, where 51 new staff have been taken on.

'We were able to retain our engineering and CAD teams and we have been pretty resilient, but it has been very tough and the decision to centralise was as unwelcome as it was essential,' explains Mr Bisset. 'We have a good record of staff retention and we don't have a problem finding the right calibre of trainee in the local area - we are looking to take on more apprentices now, but we could always do with more good welders.

'There is definitely a skills shortage, but we have managed to hang onto our good people better than most.'

Diversification has also been important and heavy engineering for the offshore industry has become an increasingly significant part of the business. The offshore wind farm due to be built close to Dundee in the North Sea could be a big boost to business, although the procurement process has been hit by major delays.

The company's Ductmate range of flanges and ancillary products for the ductwork sector has also held up well during the downturn. Noise control is an increasingly attractive business segment for the company and the acoustic engineering department is finding its expertise in demand around the world.

'Galloway is a truly multi-disciplinary firm with a very strong engineering heritage. There is much more to us than ductwork,' adds Mr Bisset. 'Our development reflects the changing profile of the industry and the association as a whole. The new name Building and Engineering Services reflects the fact that we are a national and multi-profession body.

'Traditional HVAC contracting businesses can't afford to stand still as the market will not stand still and wait for us.'

During his year as president, he intends to confront head-on many of the commercial issues that trouble member firms.

'Getting paid remains a big challenge, which is why we need to see Project Bank Accounts (PBAs) adopted more widely,' says Mr Bisset. The Scottish Government is in the midst of a PBA trial and is expected to announce its policy shortly.

Similarly, the assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland are pursuing this fair payment mechanism as an option on centrally procured projects.

Late payment and unfair contractual conditions remain key priorities for B&ES with Mr Bisset determined to see progress during his year as president.

'We have got to keep plugging away. This issue has been around for decades, but that is not a reason to stop.'

He is quick to point out that Galloway has many excellent customers who pay their bills on time, but adds that the industry as a whole suffers when clients delay payment beyond 60 days. In the end, better conduct will have to be imposed.

'The Government's Fair Payment Code is a let-down. I don't think you can bring about this kind of profound change voluntarily.'

Mr Bisset would like to see B&ES 'up its game' on the political lobbying front following a period of relative introspection while the membership came to terms with the change of name from HVCA announced in March 2012.

'It was inevitable we would have to focus on internal strategy for a while, but we are through that process now thanks to the efforts of the last two presidents, Bob Shelley and Sue Sharp.

'I see my time as the start of a new era when we become more outward facing again and work closely with like-minded professional bodies representing other parts of the supply chain.'

He cites the association's work on publications such as the best-selling Standard Maintenance Specification for Building Services (SFG20) as examples of how it can influence the wider world of building operation and value for money.

SFG20 has recently been updated as an online resource for building owners and operators looking to leverage maximum value from their service and maintenance strategies.

The decision to publish sheet metal ductwork and ventilation hygiene specifications (DW144 and TR19) simultaneously later this year is also an enlightened move, according to Mr Bisset. The wider adoption of the principles of Building Information Modelling (BIM) will also help the industry work more collaboratively with all parts of the supply chain and end-users to achieve improved performance to benefit building occupants.

Companies that supply both manufacturing and contracting services have a practical perspective on the broader issues of sustainability. The recession has forced companies to tighten up their processes and reduce waste. Galloway consumes large amounts of sheet metal so material wastage has to be minimal.

'The waste is tiny because of the value of the material. As an industry we are good at this and the price of steel has stabilised in recent times so is not as big a problem as it once was.'

That pragmatic approach with a keen eye for value is something the association is expecting to benefit from over the next 12 months with Mr Bisset at the helm.

'I hope after my time as president I can leave B&ES in a stronger position. The financial issues are important to everyone and that is something I understand from my long experience in business.'

'My colleagues will tell you that I recognise the importance of getting the business principles right,' he says. 'That will be my focus this year and I hope that will help all B&ES members survive and prosper.'

Mr Bisset succeeded Sue Sharp as president of the Building & Engineering Services Association (B&ES) on July 11.
13 August 2013


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