Simon Gregory was already well on his way up the engineering ladder before he decided to make the leap into the world of construction. Today, he is not only Managing Director of Lindum Construction but also on the board of a group which employs about 500 people and had a turnover of £94 million in 2013.
After getting a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Newcastle University — as part of a sandwich course sponsored by Mather & Platt — he spent five years working within manufacturing, before joining RGT (now Siemens) in Lincoln.
“I came to RGT in 1987 and worked as a production controller, but a couple of years later I made a radical decision and snapped up the chance to join building firm Bowmer & Kirkland in Derby, which was looking for graduates from a different discipline,” said Simon.
“I went from being halfway up the engineering career ladder and overseeing the work of 50 engineers to the bottom rung of the construction ladder, where I found myself on a building site making tea for the lads.”
By 1998, Simon had tired of the daily commute between Lincoln and Derby so, out of the blue, he fired off a “have you any jobs?” letter to Lindum. His timing was perfect.
Simon was born in Nottingham in 1960, but grew up in Holloway, near Matlock (where he went to school). He has now spent longer working in the building industry than he did within engineering. However, he’s certainly not left it behind.
“I still stay in touch with the sector and over the past couple of years I have fulfilled my desire to become a chartered engineer (C.Eng) and a Fellow of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers.
“It was a long-held ambition to join the Institute and to, perhaps in a small way, put something back into furthering the role of engineers in our society. Even if it is just paying the membership cheque every year, then I am glad to help,” said Simon.
“For this reason, I have also become a governor on the Board of the new University Technical College (UTC) in Lincoln which is working hard to encourage school students to focus on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects.
“This country, and indeed this city, has a fantastic engineering heritage, which is matched by the engineering going on to this day. We just don’t hear enough about it.”
Surviving the recession
Simon’s quite at home at Lindum, but he strongly believes that having a sound knowledge of engineering is a major asset when it comes to forging strong working relationships with many of the group’s clients.
Having as much expertise as possible at your fingertips cannot be under-rated, especially at times such as the recent recession and also when you are on the lookout for new opportunities as the economy picks up.
“The recession was as tough as it was painted in the media. As far as Lindum is concerned, we have been very lucky. We have quite a stable client base and we have not been over-exposed in any one sector,” said Simon.
“We have managed to weather the storm and have even opened an office in York, although that is still in its infancy. We have seen an upturn in the industry over the past nine to twelve months, but my personal opinion is that it (the recovery) is probably still a bit fragile.
“There is more housebuilding going on, evidenced by the shortage of bricks and bricklayers. How long this will continue and how much confidence there is within other sectors of the industry remains to be seen.”
Simon said that when the recession hit, Lindum’s workload was probably heavily skewed towards the public sector. Today it is more balanced and split roughly 50-50 between private and public projects, as the group has reduced its exposure to the public sector.
“We now have offices in Peterborough, York and London. A lot of our work is within the affordable housing sector and we are also involved in food factory projects. The latter may be due to market confidence and because not much has been done over the past five years. The main driver is the fact that people are always buying prepared foods,” he said.
“The affordable housing sector kicked off nine months ago with the Government’s announcement of a further Homes & Communities Agency grant, which is helping to kickstart a lot of new sites. We are working with people like ACIS, L&H (Longhurst) and Waterloo Midlands.”
Lindum also undertakes supermarket projects for Morrisons and Lincolnshire Co-operative. The group covers an area stretching from North Yorkshire, through the East Midlands down to the M25.
“We are particularly proud that we have maintained employment levels throughout the tough times – 270 of our employees are tradesmen and women and we have 20 apprentices.”
Investing in the future
“I have seen what can be achieved through the coaching and training available within the industry and I am firmly of the belief that going to university is not for everyone. Schools are coming to realise that there is a way into construction that is exciting and challenging,” Simon said.
“We try to keep hold of our good people and encourage new ones. Our ambassadors take the construction message into schools that this is an industry worth considering.
“It is intensely satisfying to be involved in a sector where skilled people place concrete in foundations, lay bricks on mortar, lay and connect drainage systems -along sometimes very deep trenches – then finish the walls with plaster so smooth it is almost like a mirror,” said Simon.
“We need people to do this and new people coming into the industry to be trained by the experienced people already in it.”
Most of Lindum’s workers are also shareholders. They take a pride in their work and if the company does well – (it still made a profit during the recession) – that success is reflected in their shares.
A family man, Simon is married to Sally, who does work for Tess-cic, a community interest company which helps to provide support for independent living for vulnerable people.
The couple have a son George (21), who is at Northampton University where he is training to be a paramedic. Their daughter Kate (19) is studying marketing at Newcastle University.
This feature interview was first published in issue 3 of the Lincolnshire Business weekly magazine.