Right from a young age Stephen Fox was intrigued to know what went on within the family firm – so much so that he played truant from junior school to find out!
Unsurprisingly, today he is Managing Director of Fox (Owmby) Limited – but many readers might be amazed to know just how ‘hands on’ he is and why this company, established in 1929, has more reasons than many to call itself a ‘family business’.
As an employer of more than 130 people, Fox’s name is known countrywide for its earthmoving and civil engineering expertise and, no matter where his staff are working, Stephen makes sure he keeps his finger on the pulse.
“I have always been involved in the business from a young age. I got sent to boarding school when I was seven years old, as I kept running away from school to go to the yard (which was in Owmby-by-Spital village at that time), as I loved being around machines and equipment,” said Stephen.
Stephen, who eventually succeeded his father Gordon as Managing Director, joined the Caenby Corner-based firm properly when he was 17 and worked as a machine operator. The first job he worked on was a pipeline in Aberdeen, where he drove a bulldozer.
“After I stopped driving machines on site, I came back to the office to look after the workshop and transport department, drivers and jobs, which is basically what my son Adam does today, but we weren’t as big a business back then.”
Stephen took over the reins from Gordon in the 1980s, when his father took a back seat to look after his mother who had become ill.
Today’s business, formerly known as Fox Plant (Owmby) Limited, after changing its name to Fox (Owmby) Limited to better reflect the diverse nature of the company, was once predominantly known for its plant hire services.
Its earthworks activities and civil engineering works, including a mix of public and private sector jobs each now account for about 50% of the company’s £20 million turnover.
And there’s still plenty of impressive machinery about. Fox (Owmby)’s operatives work with anything from 75 tonne excavators, to 45 tonne dump trucks, bulldozers and eight-wheeler tipper lorries.
Working locally, regionally and nationally
Members of Fox’s workforce are busy on contracts from the top to toe of the UK and the company has secured several Framework Agreements (formal agreements with potential clients, which set out the parameters of a business relationship).
“Framework agreements are important to the company. We have to tender to get on the Framework, however individual projects are tendered for separately after that,” said Stephen.
The company explores all sorts of opportunities which may come its way and takes a very flexible approach to providing solutions for both existing and potential clients.
“Projects that we have recently completed in Lincolnshire include the access works to Tesco on Wragby Road in Lincoln and the Black Sluice Trail in Boston. We are currently working on a highways scheme in Skegness, which is due to be completed shortly,” said Stephen.
“We have also completed a number of other projects across the country including work on the lakes at Chatsworth House, a link road in Devon, a flood defence scheme in Kirkleatham, North Yorkshire, and a large section 278 project has recently been completed within the City of London.
“We have also undertaken various quarrying works for large companies including, Heidelberg, Aggregate Industries, Cemex and Tarmac.
Finger on the pulse
“I travel around sites three days a week and generally spend one or two nights out a week. I can do over 1,000 miles travelling to all the various sites,” said Stephen.
“When I am on site, I look for efficiency improvements in the running of the job. As we train a lot of our own drivers, I sometimes jump on machines to show them how to do something, once they have their licence.”
There’s a real family feel to this business and not just because Stephen’s son Adam, who runs the operations desk and daughter Karly, a Marketing Co-ordinator are part of the team.
“It wasn’t a natural move for them to join. They both went off and did something else before coming back to Fox. We wanted them to join the company through choice rather than feeling pressured into it. It’s good that they came back and we have another generation involved. It’s something that I’m proud of,” said Stephen.
“16% of our workforce is related, whether it be fathers, sons and daughters, brothers, uncles, husbands and wives. As the company originally started in the village, most of the people who worked for us lived in the village and were related.”
“As a family business, we are proud of the fact that other families have come to work for us, as it demonstrates that we are a good company to work for, as employees recommend their families to work at Fox, especially when there is a lot more choice when it comes to jobs and companies to work for in the modern world.”
But irrespective of its successes to date, the Fox (Owmby) team is continuing to look to the future.
“We are planning for the future growth and development of the company in these sectors and are in discussions regarding major development works outside of Lincolnshire.”
Whilst the company continues to build on its impressive history, Stephen is also delighted that the business has its own special collection of vehicles – in The Fox Museum.
“We always had two vintage tractors for many many years. One of them that we still use today as a recovery unit for our modern fleet and another that my father used to take to shows. It belonged to my grandfather, Harold.
“Adam and I thought it would good to have some of the machines that the business started with and now we have eight or nine. It wasn’t a planned thing – it was organic and something we wanted to do based on our heritage.”
The mini museum’s collection includes a Fowler Challenger 3 Lifeboat Tractor, two Caterpillar D4’s, a Challenger 33, a Field Marshall Series 1 and a Mack Tractor Unit.