Launching a brand new division of an established regional housebuilder is not an easy task, but Anwyl Homes Lancashire’s new managing director John Grime is relishing the opportunity and has a huge amount of experience to help make it a success.
Hi John, please tell us a little about yourself and your career path to your current role.
I started my career in housebuilding some 29 years ago when I joined Beazer Homes (Southern) as a planning assistant in their land team following the completion of a planning degree. Following a short spell with a planning consultant I found myself working for Redrow Homes in the North West where, up until recently, I spent the last 25 years developing my career. Historically my background has been land and planning, securing a range of sites and taking them through the planning system although I always knew that I wanted to broaden my horizons and ultimately manage my own division.
Ironically the recession offered me such an opportunity and for the best part of 10 years I was a managing director in both Yorkshire and then the North West of England, latterly overseeing a very successful £180m turnover business.
I left Redrow Homes earlier this year to take up an opportunity with Anwyl Homes. I have known the Anwyl family for many years and indeed through my previous employment, I have developed a number of sites with them. Joining them provided me with a great opportunity. They are an ambitious company, with an excellent reputation for quality and a fantastic product range. They have seen substantial growth in recent years but still retain the core family ethos behind the business. In employing me to establish a new region they are allowing me to get back to basics and take a more entrepreneurial approach than is often encouraged in the large PLC builders.
What is it about working in housebuilding that you find most satisfying?
The housebuilding industry is a fantastic career choice. It covers so many different areas and skill sites. For me the attraction was initially land and the feeling of success when a purchase or project comes to fruition. As my experience grew I became exposed to more areas of the business and quickly realised that as well as being a very enjoyable industry in which to work, full of many characters, it was also about the legacy that we leave behind. Taking pride in the places we plan and construct, and the communities we help create is one of the most satisfying aspects of the industry and one that is often overlooked.
What are the major challenges of heading a brand new division?
Initially our challenge will be securing the land, but soon thereafter will be the development of the subcontract base and building brand awareness.
We are fortunate that we have a very able land team with excellent contacts and we have already secured a number of sites, and planning applications have been submitted. That said we need to continue to grow the land bank across the new area to provide us with a good geographical spread as well as the basis for growing the business.
Anwyl, whilst not the scale of a PLC, is already well known with suppliers and subcontractors and we have started a dialogue with a number of these in preparation for the procurement process which will be starting in the next few weeks. Having good relationships is key to securing the timely delivery of the homes to a high standard and I am pleased that a number of sub contractors with whom Tom, Ian and I have worked with over the years are keen to be involved with the new region.
The establishment of the Anwyl Homes brand in an area where we have previously not built is a key part of the business plan. I am fortunate in that substantial work has already been undertaken by the marketing team on general rebranding of the business and the values it stands for. Utilising this, along with an ambitious PR strategy will see a growing awareness of the company within the new geographical area over the coming months. Ultimately it will be the customer who decides, but we are extremely confident that the reputation for quality and the fantastic design of the homes and layouts will be recognised, and the brand will quickly become synonymous with these facets.
What’s the current structure of Anwyl Homes Lancashire and how is that expected to change over the coming years?
Anwyl Construction is a family-owned and -run business with over 85 years in the construction and housebuilding industry. In recent years the company has seen extensive expansion, developing its product range and moving to a new head office in Ewloe. As part of these plans the Board made the decision to further expand into Merseyside and Lancashire through the opening of Anwyl Lancashire which I am heading. At present, we are putting together the management team and I am fortunate to have been joined by two experienced individuals to help us establish the new business. Ian McCann as head of technical and Tom Grundy as head of commercial; both are key appointments for the business bringing significant expertise and contacts to us.
As a fledgling region we are also working with the support of existing colleagues but as our first developments come forward we will continue to recruit in all the key disciplines (the first development, Carr’s Rise in Prescot, is expected on site at the end of this year). With several other sites in the pipeline we envisage that we will quickly grow. Our target is to be legally completing circa 300 homes in three years and obviously with that will come the growth in the number of employees. Certainly, by early 2018 we envisage having added to our technical, construction and sales capabilities and we are already talking to individuals who could fulfil those roles as well as sub-contractors with whom we will need to partner with.
Does Anwyl have an established way of finding the right people to join the team?
Recruitment of the right people is critical for the success of the business, particularly during this period of expansion. As far as practical existing employees are developed so that they can grow their career but there is still a need to attract new people to the team. We are fortunate that Anwyl has an excellent reputation as an employer “team fit” is critical and is a key part of the recruitment process to ensure that the ethos behind the business is maintained. Coupled with growth plans that bring with them prospects for career development, the Group have been relatively successful in recruiting high-calibre staff both within the market place as well as a more focused approach.
Are there relationships with schools/colleges/universities for finding trainees/apprentices/graduates?
As a Group, we have a strong reputation for fostering young talent and are well-known for supporting young people looking to get into the industry. We have established strong relationships with colleges and youth employment agencies and have opened the doors for many to a career in construction.
Most recently, we employed two students as trainee assistant site managers with a view to them shadowing our existing site managers on a day-to-day basis and joining us as fully fledged site managers when they successfully complete their studies in a few years time. It’s the first time that we’ve done this, but so far, it is working well and is definitely something that we’ll look to extend on in the future. We have also provided many apprenticeships over the years, with six of the current site managers having started with the company as apprentices.
Anwyl also employs four members of staff who are construction ambassadors. In partnership with the CITB, these employees are active in many schools and colleges, delivering careers events and construction activities to encourage students to consider a career in the industry and to get young people excited about construction. The Group has also recently been involved in a Prince’s Trust ‘Get Into’ programme and we are due to host our own ‘Get Into’ programme in September, accommodating up to 15 young trainees over five Anwyl sites. Delivering our own programme is exciting for us and we are looking forward to welcoming more young people into the industry.
What qualities do you look for in younger recruits who may not have much practical housebuilding experience?
Over the years I have been involved in recruiting many young people into a variety of roles in the housebuilding industry either as a first job or through training programmes for apprentices, graduates and undergraduates. In these circumstances, whilst having some relevant skill or qualification it is unlikely that new recruits will have any experience of the industry. For me one of the biggest factors is enthusiasm and a wish to learn and understand what we do. Some of the most successful people I have recruited have been those that have shown an early desire to succeed in their chosen area, being inquisitive and not afraid to make mistakes.
Is there a simple way for the industry to meet the needed level of recruitment to achieve building targets over the next few years?
There is unfortunately no one simple answer. Only a combination of factors will succeed, but fundamentally we must improve the attractiveness of the industry to new recruits. At all levels, a career in housebuilding can be very fulfilling and can provide a good standard of living. Often not enough is known about housebuilders and their range of activities. Schools and further education establishments need to do more in advising students on the career paths available which cover a wide range of disciplines. As an industry, this is an area we do get involved in but there is a wider responsibility. Training and development is critical. At site level all homebuilders have a responsibility to promote and support apprenticeship programmes working in partnership with our sub-contractors and suppliers. Beyond that it is important that as employers we facilitate and encourage lifelong training to ensure that people are able to achieve their potential which will benefit both them and the industry as a whole.