Construction boss Richard Bateman reflects on building a £23m business in 20 years, his darkest days in charge and why it's time to step back
PUBLISHED: 18:21 06 November 2017 | UPDATED: 09:16 07 November 2017
TMS Media Ltd 2017
For 20 years, Richard Bateman's biggest building project has been the company that bears his name.
But he is now taking a step back from the day-to-day running of Bateman Groundworks, handing over the managing director’s role to Jason Ramsey, who steps up from commercial director.
As executive chairman, Mr Bateman will have more time to plot the future for the £23m-turnover company, which recently moved from its Great Yarmouth home to new offices at Little Plumstead.
But he has also had time to reflect on its growth and development – and admits he’d think twice about doing it all again.
“I was talking to someone who started in business around the same time recently,” he said. “And had we known then what it was going to be like, neither of us would have taken that jump. It’s fortunate that we didn’t know!”
Mr Bateman left a senior role at a family-run groundworks company in 1997, keen to capitalise on a buoyant market and the contacts made over a decade.
“That was a slightly rose-tinted perspective, as I soon found out when I started with a desk and a phone on day one – ranks closed rapidly,” he said. “I sat on my own for three months, putting calls in, knocking on doors. Eventually we got a foot in with Kier Anglia for three or four projects, which enabled me to take people on.”
The breakthrough came when Bateman Groundworks was awarded the 100-home contract for phase two of the Three Score development, and it has since worked on three subsequent phases.
Further contracts followed, won first on price then on reputation, and by 2007 the company was turning over £8.5m, before the financial crisis struck and construction ground to a halt.
“We did a lot of work between 2008 and 2012 and made almost no money – it was about keeping work coming in and paying wages, and being ready when things began to improve.”
Since then, Bateman has focused on multi-phase developments, offering a “professionalised” service to housebuilders who have stripped back their own project management teams.
The team has grown to 180 staff, with new recruits predicted. And having built and then rebuilt the business, Mr Bateman says the time is right to hand on the baton.
‘My hardest 10 weeks in the past 20 years’
Richard Bateman describes 2008’s financial crisis as his hardest time in 20 years.
“It decimated us. Over about 10 weeks we lost 52% of our staff numbers,” he said.
Turnover dropped from £8.5m in 2007 to £3.6m, and the company had to make 50 redundancies.
“Of all the decisions we took, that was by far the hardest. But we had to be ruthless or else it would have been 100 people who lost their jobs,” said Mr Bateman, adding that many staff were taken back on in later years.
“The residential sector dried up - one client just padlocked the gates to the site.”
The company had to sell plant and equipment to retain the liquidity to adapt, and ensure it was in a position to bounce back as the market recovered.
The new man at the helm
Jason Ramsey has been with Bateman Groundworks for 10 years, and said his future plans for the company would not be restricted by regional boundaries.
“We have worked hard over the last 12 months to develop a long-term business plan that will provide growth and sustainability to the company and its employees,” he said.
“The company will grow according to supply and demand in the housing sector but there are also opportunities from diversifying into new sectors still linked to our core business.
“We must however ensure that any growth does not come at a compromise to our key values and continue to provide inspiration to others allowing us to exceed expectations.”
Mr Bateman and Mr Ramsey’s new roles were announced at a party for all staff and their partners to celebrate the company’s 20th anniversary at Dunston Hall, near Norwich.
Also joining the board as finance director is David Lefevre, who joined Bateman Groundworks earlier this year from Group Lotus, while Beth Bateman will join her husband on board to lead the company’s corporate social responsibility initiatives.
Stepping back from the day-to-day will give Richard Bateman more time to think about future opportunities for the business, he hopes.
“We’ve come on a lot in the past five years and will continue to improve, but there are opportunities outside our core area we can explore,” he said.
“These would still be within construction, but not groundworks or civils – we could bring in subcontracting elements.”
These could include fencing, landscaping or asphalting services, possibly through acquisition.
Another possibility, though in the early stages, is for the company to begin developing its own homes.
“We would have a head start as the biggest contractor is always the groundworker,” said Mr Bateman. “We may have to partner with someone, but it’s something we’re looking at. It won’t be in the next 18 months but it was always in the long-term strategy.”