How David Jackson overcame cancer to pave his own way in construction

David Jackson saw opportunities in the construction business after working as a labourer. He set up Hudson Contract 25 years ago and is keen to give young workers a chance, writes Ismail Mulla.

David Jackson set up Hudson Contract in 1996.

In 1987 David Jackson decided to go into business for himself in the construction industry.

He had started off as an apprentice draughtsman 15 years earlier, drawing up and designing steel structures, before going into management planning.

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However, after the second of three bouts of chemotherapy for Hodgkin lymphoma, Mr Jackson was left mentally “shattered”.

He set up his first business in 1987.

“I was knocked about physically but I was certainly shattered mentally,” the straight-talking entrepreneur says.

Mr Jackson decided to become a building site labourer, but instead of working for someone else, he went into business with a bricklayer.

He added: “It was good because physically it built you up again and it gave you very little to think about, which is what suited me at the time.”

The groundworks business would lead to Mr Jackson spotting further opportunities in the construction industry and setting up an employment agency for construction workers in Hull as well as putting together his own “very modest” team of housebuilders.

The employment agency was a success because he was able to put tradespeople onto building sites for measured rates.

“Everybody got paid for what they did,” Mr Jackson said. “That was the unusual feature of my particular style of employment agency.”

For example bricklayers would be paid by the number of bricks that they laid at any given job.

He established his current business, Hudson Contract, in 1996. Hudson provides payroll services to the construction industry.

The business helps building companies engage freelancers by taking responsibility for dealing with the minefield of self-employment status, tax law, employment law and working time regulations.

“When we say someone is self-employed and to be taxed as a freelancer, we are prepared to substantiate that decision by putting our name and our guarantee behind it,” Mr Jackson says. “If we get it wrong, we’ll carry the can.”

One of the greatest challenges for Hudson was getting HMRC to accept its business model with the firm having to fight three legal battles. The Bridlington-based business today has a turnover of £1.6bn and 36 staff. It also has offices in Manchester, Guernsey and Scarborough.

Using his previous experience in the industry, Mr Jackson decided that with Hudson there would be no credit to avoid late payments.

Construction is still dogged by the issue of late payments, he says, with the court system not really providing effective remedy as it is now due to “long and tangled” waits.

“The only people who get well paid out of confrontation are lawyers,” Mr Jackson adds.

Hudson Contract is marking its 25th anniversary as a business this year by offering all of its clients use of the firm’s established apprenticeship scheme. It pays for half the cost of employing an apprentice for the first year.

Mr Jackson said: “Once a month we look for confirmation that the apprentice is still there and still attending college.

“Provided those two boxes are ticked our clients send us an invoice and we pay the money. It’s that simple.”

The business has so far seen 170 apprentices go through the scheme over the past decade. This passion for apprenticeships stems back to Mr Jackson’s own start in the industry.

He said: “Initially when I think back to when I left school, it wasn’t at all easy for me to get an apprenticeship. I couldn’t get anything in Bridlington so I went to Leeds and I eventually got a start there.”

It isn’t much easier today in a seaside town, Mr Jackson says, with only a small number of businesses being able to offer opportunities.

The founder and chairman of Hudson Contract said: “I’ve enjoyed some success in the construction sector on a national basis, I want to do a bit more locally otherwise the young people are starved of the opportunity. That bothers me a bit.

“What happens to young kids if they can’t get a start? They go down the wrong road and nobody wants that. Everybody deserves a leg up and a start. If you can provide a leg up then you should.”

The coronavirus outbreak initially led to 70 per cent of construction work stopping for a month.

However, it has “gradually picked up again”, Mr Jackson

says, returning to 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

“Working practices have got to take into account space that goes with minimising the possibility of contracting Covid so there are bound to be a few less people working on building sites if they are all spread out a bit more,” he added.

Mr Jackson is upbeat about the firm’s future prospects with Hudson targeting further growth within the sector. He said: “I don’t think we have reached the peak of our potential yet. We could double what we are doing now if we continue to apply ourselves properly and continue to deliver the service that our clients expect.”

Hudson Contract is very much a family business. Mr Jackson’s son Ian Anfield is Hudson Contract’s managing director. While his grandson and son-in-law are also involved in the business.

Mr Jackson says that his wife Lesley’s contribution to the business can’t be understated.

He added: “I think every entrepreneur needs a person that they can bounce their ideas off of, a person that they trust, a person that understands the how and the why. Luckily for me that’s my wife Lesley.”

Mr Jackson has been clear of cancer for over 30 years now and shows no signs of slowing down. He said: “I’d like to stay in my current role for as long as I am able to make a valid contribution to the business. I have no wish or intention to sell. Neither do I want to retire to the golf course because I don’t like golf.

“I’d rather retire to the cricket pavilion and watch a bit of cricket around the world perhaps or simply at Burton Agnes, where I happen to be the manager of the village cricket team. An auspicious office I have held now for 20 years. It’s almost as important as being chairman of the company but it doesn’t pay as well.”

Curriculum vitae

Job title: Founder and chairman.

Date of birth: 05/01/55

Education: Headlands, Bridlington.

First job: Apprentice draughtsman.

Favourite holiday destination: Our home on Lake Garda, Italy.

Favourite film: Collateral, with Tom Cruise and Jamie Foxx.

Favourite song: Not Dark Yet, by Bob Dylan or any by Bryan Ferry.

Last book read: Doctor Dogbody’s Leg, by James Norman Hall.

Car driven: Aston Martin Vanquish S.

Most proud of: My wife and family.

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