The new CEO of Henry Boot is working on a master plan to take the famous Yorkshire company into a new decade , writes Deputy Business Editor Greg Wright
NOTHING stifles business confidence quite like political uncertainty.
Love or hate Boris Johnson, he now commands a Parliamentary majority which means he can plot his own path for Britain.
Periods of stability are generally helpful to property developers and contractors like Henry Boot. The firm has helped to bring thousands of jobs and plenty of large scale investments to Yorkshire over the last century, after starting from a humble base.
The next chapter in the company’s history will be written by its new CEO, who plans to lay foundations for sustainable growth after formally taking charge last month.
Tim Roberts is now based at the firm’s Banner Cross headquarters in Sheffield after moving from British Land, where he was head of offices.
He brings with him decades of experience in the property, land management and real estate industries. The highlights have included overseeing the planning and construction of The Leadenhall Building – better known as the ‘cheese-grater’ – in London. Mr Roberts is taking time to conduct a calm appraisal of the business before he starts to make his mark.
He acknowledged that the market is feeling a bit more confident and, so far, this has proved to be good news for investors in Henry Boot.
Mr Roberts started his career in a Doncaster estate agency, so his new role feels like a homecoming.
“Everybody in London would call me a Yorkshire boy,’’ said Mr Roberts. “I am absolutely thrilled to be back in Yorkshire. I have a lot of admiration for businesses in Yorkshire who have managed to grow and re-invent themselves.
“Sheffield and Leeds are dynamic cities which are attracting people to live and work and go to university. Yorkshire people are very open and honest and I would encourage the Government to work with them.”
A good starting point would be for the Government to honour its commitments to spend more on upgrading infrastructure around Yorkshire, so we can get around quickly and manage our time more efficiently.
“There is no doubt that the Government has invested more per capita in London and the South East,’’ he said. “The infrastructure in and around London is light years ahead of what is available in the Midlands and the North.
“It’s hard work getting around the region. There is a lot of talent and opportunity here and it’s great news that the government is investing. We welcome the news that the Great Northern Conference will be taking place in Sheffield in February.”
The mayors of three of the North’s biggest cities are among a raft of speakers announced for next month’s Great Northern Conference.
Andy Burnham, mayor of Greater Manchester, Dan Jarvis, mayor of Sheffield City Region, and Steve Rotheram, metro mayor of Liverpool City Region, will all be taking part in sessions about collaboration and empowerment at the event which will take place at Sheffield’s Cutler’s Hall on Thursday, March 19.
Mr Roberts is keenly aware of the Henry Boot’s illustrious heritage. Farmer’s son Henry Boot started his one-man construction business in 1886. Initially, he carried out modest jobbing work in Sheffield and the surrounding area.
The company expanded rapidly, and it was soon hired to carry out large-scale public works and housing projects throughout the country
In recent years, Henry Boot - which includes Hallam Land Management, Henry Boot Construction and Stonebridge Homes - has offered a safe port as storms lash some global markets.
“Henry Boot construction has navigated things well in terms of turnover and profit and it looks forward to 2020 with some confidence,’’ said Mr Roberts. “Stonebridge can become a very successful part of Henry Boot. A lot of people went to sites after the election and looked to buy properties..”
However. he is concerned about the delays in securing planning permission which still frustrate many property firms.
He added: “We can join up all the businesses in Henry Boot.”
Mr Roberts said he planned to spend the first 100 days getting to know the business. By March, he will have a better view about where he wants the business to go
He added: “I have inherited a company in a good position. Over the last 15 years shareholder returns have increased by 15 per cent per annum on average.
“The balance sheet has been managed very well. They have got cash on the balance sheet rather than pots of debt.
He added: “There is just under 15,000 acres in the land bank which means there are opportunities to use the balance sheet.
“I am coming into a business that is in good shape. There are some areas of focus which all good businesses work on. Henry Boot could be better placed if we spend time in those areas.”
Mr Roberts wants to develop a clear view of the strategic goals so all the businesses can put their “shoulder to the wheel”.
He added “We can also focus on changing working practices and refining the culture.
“All businesses need to refresh themselves.
“We can look at working practices, we can look at the way we use technology and communicate with people.
Henry Boot is 134 years old this year, which means there are areas that potentially need to be reviewed and modernised, he added.
“We have lots of happy customers,’’ he said. “I am staggered how much Henry Boot does in terms of involvement with the community.”
“Henry Boot has got a trustworthy reputation,’’ he said. “I have been a FTSE director for 13 years. I always wanted to be a CEO and I feel very privileged.”