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Contractor Profile: A Wright good business

Marcus (second from right at back) with the design team members (left to right) - (standing) Peter Hanks, Roy Gould, David Prince, (front) Neil Marsh and Terence McLaughlin
Contractor Profile: A Wright good business
I WOULD perhaps describe Marcus Aniol as self-effacing.

He was adamant that the success of JS Wright, the Birmingham-based building services engineers, was a team effort and that team included everyone who worked for the company.

The business is 116 years old and JS Wright has the certification to prove it. It was founded in 1890 by John Shirlock Wright, a jobbing plumber who would push his hand cart about Birmingham from one job to another. More recently, the company was owned by Newman Tonks, the architectural hardware group, until 1987 when three of the managers, Edwin Moore, Peter Marsh and David Osborne, bought the business.

Marcus has only recently joined the company and insists he is the new kid on the block. The three bosses have recently been stepping back from the business and he has, effectively, been flying solo for the last year.

He has appointed his own team. The financial director is Martin Roberts, who joined from the company’s accountant. Contracts director is Bob Winters, 56, who has been with the company for 40 years. Technical director is Andrew Smith, 34, who 17 years ago started as an apprentice with JS Wright.

Technical director Andrew Smith


Indeed, says Marcus proudly, there are a number of employees who have been with the company for 25 years and some for 40 years, although it is Tony Saunders, 76, who holds the long-service record of 60 years with the company and still works one day a week, advising on health and safety and attending HVCA meetings. Marcus believes this record is probably unique in the industry but he adds that this is the way of the business: a business which has been very successful.

From £9m turnover in 2005, JS Wright turned over £15million in the last financial year (May to April).

“This is a year-on-year increase of 67% but, more importantly, we have retained the profitability as well,” Marcus insists.

One of Marcus’ first signings was a local public relations firm.

“We needed to raise the profile of the company,” he says Marcus maintains that sales had plateaued and, as the bosses were near to retiring, some of the drive had gone out of the business.

Hence the new management team. And a new goal of a £24million turnover by 2010/11.

Marcus is candid. Since his arrival, he has put in a number of organisational systems. But he adds that, although he and his team need these systems to deliver the extra turnover, he sees it as a minor evolution and he is certainly not trying to stifle the innovation which has driven the company thus far. But, he emphasises, unless you know where you are going, how do you know where you are and how do you know when you have got there?

“We have a head office team that is passionate about what it does. With a large design section, we do a lot of design and build work and we have a large contract section to complete the job.”

The business has been split into five divisions: hotels; residential (multi-build apartments); commercial; student accommodation; and leisure.

Contracts director Bob Winters


“At one point JS Wright did any job that came up. But while we would have a go at anything, the company did not really know what it was best at.”

Hence the five divisions (in descending order of importance) and all with the ability to grow the business. And he says that as the divisions grow it will be necessary to give them some autonomy, each with its own divisional director – “and this will be a chance to reward some of the existing staff”.

One of the biggest customers at the moment is a national hotel chain where JS Wright has been responsible for the plumbing and mechanical services for 40 hotels.

“Interestingly, during the 10 years we have been working for the chain, costs have come down as we have refined the offering.” JS Wright hopes to complete £80million of new hotel business during the next five years for the rapidly-growing budget chain. And the work it has done there has led to other hotel work such as the prestigious Westminster Bridge Park Plaza apartment-hotel at Waterloo in London.

Galliard Hotels commissioned JS Wright to install heating, ventilating and air-conditioning in all 395 suites in the 14-storey building, as well as plumbing in luxury bathrooms pod-by-pod.

The residential division, not to be outdone, won a contract to provide the mechanical and plumbing services to one of the UK’s tallest residential towers, the 26-storey Orion building in Birmingham, which opens soon. JS Wright has been carrying out a £2.8million contract with Taylor Woodrow Construction to link in the plumbing, ventilation and drainage system for all 329 apartments being developed there by Crosby Homes. The two-year contract also involves plumbing all public areas, including eight levels of underground parking.

Contracts manager Phil Leech


The company also offers packaged plant rooms. Although JS Wright specifies the equipment, Marcus says it is still cheaper for the plant rooms to be built in Spain and shipped back to the UK.

Marcus believes student accommodation is perhaps set to overtake commercial business. He reckons this sector will grow over the next couple of years and then begin to tail off.

“For the moment however our share of all the markets, at £15million, is very low, so any decrease will not affect us, especially if we are pushing into the sector aggressively.”

Perhaps the sector to offer most growth is leisure, for two reasons. JS Wright has not been particularly strong in this area, and Marcus believes there is a vast potential which has not yet been tapped.

Not that the company will be letting its bigger divisions slide.

Marcus sees JS Wright as being able to offer added value with its large design team, which makes up 25% of the head office personnel.

Again, it comes down to experience, he insists. The company has a good working relationship with the national hotel chain and together their teams have been responsible for driving costs down without compromising on the quality of the equipment installed or the comfort of the paying guests.

“It is all about working smarter,” says Marcus. “For instance, copper tube has been replaced in much of the work with plastic and some of the installations have been de-skilled.”

The design team not only works closely with the hotel chain but, where possible, with residential developers as well and, indeed, with anyone else who requires this service.

“Being small, JS Wright is able to be flexible.”

Marcus is conscious that, as the company grows, it needs to retain that flexibility.

“What could stop the expansion plans is a lack of quality recruits at all levels whether they be designers, CAD operators, plumbers, fitters or engineers.”

He says that the difficulty in recruiting is already having an impact on the growth of the company, with posts being left unfilled.

But there are hundreds of people leaving universities with the “right” qualifications!

“It is about finding the recruits with the right qualifications but also the right experience and, to an extent, the right attitude for contracting.” Marcus says attitude is about “rolling your sleeves up and getting stuck in”.

“It’s about being there when the ‘muck and bullets’ are flying (because that is what happens in contracting) and being able to cope.”

However, the company is growing its own people but not fast enough. It has seven apprentices at various stages and three young designers, all of whom have a great future with the company.

But Marcus is adamant. There will be no compromise on the quality of the recruits JS Wright needs. He adds that JS Wright has seen a number of people with the right experience but not quite the right attitude. The company will not take second best.

“If there is anyone who thinks they have the right qualifications – those who have worked on hotels, office blocks, or whatever – and attitude, I would be pleased to see them. JS Wright just may be the right company for them.”

Although no more apprentices are being taken on this year, the company plans to recruit two in 2007.

The trainees represent some 10% of the workforce which is a very big commitment. All trainees were recently invited to a workshop where their options were explained to them.

“For instance, were they intending to stay as site installers, or rise through the ranks, or would they see themselves as coming to work with the design team?”

Marcus says the scale of the contracts rises from £50,000 to £4.25million – the Plaza Suite in London – the largest project to date. It has used its own Birmingham staff to supplement the two teams in the London area plus contract labour.

“We have, nonetheless, been very choosy, only selecting those firms which have proven themselves over previous contracts.”

This is the way Marcus sees the business developing. Using his own workforce at first, then as the business grows using tried and tested contract labour while recruiting additional people, then reducing the contract labour until the work increases – and then starting all over again.

Financial director Martin Roberts with Sandra Homes, Jackie Bathgate and Karen Lloyd


“I believe this is the best way of controlling the quality of the work.” He has no illusions. “We have got off on the wrong foot on some contracts, but up to 80% of our work is repeat business. We work very hard at making sure we build long term relationships in order to get repeat business.”

There is a formula. “We do the first contract well, making sure the client/builder gets used to our ways as well as making sure we get used to theirs. And it can take some adjustment,” he insists.

“Then, if there is a similar opportunity, we try to repeat the process taking on board the lessons learned on the previous contract. Marcus is as hard on himself as he is on others over the issue of quality.

Has he made his mark yet?

“I think I have had a fairly good start but my own jury is still out. I will need another five years before I can be sure.”

As I said at the start, pretty self-effacing.

JS Wright 116 years old and Marcus displays the original certification to prove it!


Working on the periphery at the Olympics

JS Wright will not actively be looking to carry out bids for mechanical and plumbing contracts for the Olympics.

Marcus Aniol, managing director, does not expect to be involved in any of the high profile projects because they always seem to end up in the courts – with nobody making any money.

However, he will be happy to tender for some of the peripheral work such as building hotels in the area or any residential property “for which my company is eminently suited”.
1 October 2006

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