Redrow’s “messiah” reveals secret of firm’s resurrection

Steve Morgan, Chairman of Redrow
Steve Morgan, Chairman of Redrow
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Steve Morgan rescued his “baby” and now Redrow is one of Britain’s most successful housebuilders. Sharon Dale reveals why daddy knows best.

By the time he reached 16, Steve Morgan had been to nine different schools in some of the toughest areas of Liverpool and each time the “new boy” had to prove himself.

The Heritage range of homes inspired by Arts and Crafts  design

The Heritage range of homes inspired by Arts and Crafts design

His last fight got him thrown out of education before he got to sixth form but it turned out that a handful of O-levels, those unofficial lessons in survival and a strong work ethic were all he required.

Now 63 and one of Britain’s most successful businessmen with interests in everything from property in the UK and Europe to a golf hotel and a helicopter company, his is a real rags-to-riches story fuelled by an entrepreneurial spirit and chronic workaholism.

His proudest achievement is Redrow. He founded the homebuilding firm when he was just 21 after working his way up from labourer to site engineer. The firm he worked for was about to fold, so he borrowed £5,000 from his dad and bought what became Redrow. Under his leadership, it flourished and became a FTSE 250 company but after he stepped down as chairman in 2000, it started to flounder.

By 2009, just after the recession hit, it was on its knees. More than half the staff had been laid off and sites mothballed when, like a Scouse superman, Steve boosted his shareholding and muscled his way back in to put everything right.

Inside a contemporary Abode property

Inside a contemporary Abode property

It’s no exaggeration to say that the Redrow staff who knew him were absolutely delighted to have their old boss back. Patsy Aicken, Yorkshire sales director, remembers: “He was like the Messiah. It was wonderful. We just knew he would make everything right.”

The £350m pre-tax loss he inherited is now a business with a £1.15bn turnover. In the financial year to June 2015, pre-tax profits were up 53 per cent on the previous year. It also has a foothold in the central London market and a development portfolio with an estimated gross development value of £2bn.

Money wasn’t the motivation for taking back control, according to Steve, who had already made a considerable fortune. “Redrow is my baby. I started it from nothing and I couldn’t stand to see it go under. I knew there was a simple fix so I came back in and did the exact opposite to what the previous management had been doing.”

He started building houses on the mothballed sites and he re-hired staff. Onlookers thought it was madness in the midst of one of the worst recessions in living memory but he says: “Cutting costs by closing sites down and waiting for property prices to rise again was only going to make a bad situation worse. I built and I reduced the price of the houses. It was painful but it worked.”

Inside a Heritage-style home

Inside a Heritage-style home

He also took the opportunity to buy cut-price land. Redrow, he says, is now the fastest growing housebuilder in the country and the main reasons for its success is attention to detail and design. The Heritage range, which is inspired by the Arts and Crafts movement, is an industry best-seller.

“What they built in my absence made me cry and that’s one of the first things I changed. I’m really interested in design and I go round our sites all the time seeing how we can improve. Our attention to detail is second to none. I make sure of that and our ceilings are eight inches higher than everyone else’s,” says Steve, who has an OBE for services to construction.

The future for Redrow is more of the same but with more apprentices to “give young people a chance” and to tackle the construction skills shortage. He would also like to build faster.

“Getting planning permission is not the main issue, it is the time it takes to satisfy all the conditions and reserved matters.

“In the 1980s we could be on site within six weeks of getting permission, now it can take over a year. We need to get rid of the bureaucracy and we need to resource planning departments because they are under resourced thanks to government cutbacks.”

He also derides EU red tape and is firmly behind the Brexit campaign. In or out, he is adamant that his love of property will remain steadfast, unlike his foray into football. He tried to buy Liverpool FC but when that failed he bought Wolves, which is now up for sale.

“I got that T-shirt and it’s been great fun. I’ve not sold it yet so it might have to be great fun for a bit longer,” he says in a tone that reflects the battering he has taken from fans.

It hasn’t put him off the beautiful game, mind you. He loves it and has only just stopped playing five a side, although there isn’t a lot of time for hobbies thanks to work and his charitable Morgan Foundation, which helps disadvantaged children and families.

“I didn’t have the happiest of childhoods but being forced to fight meant I was never afraid and I’d always have go. I’ve also been lucky. I love that film Sliding Doors when doors open the right way and change your life. There are plenty of other kids whose doors have slid the wrong way and the charity is about giving them a chance.”

He is also keeping a close eye on the “baby”.

“I love my job, I love Redrow and its team spirit and I love building lovely houses,” he says. “It’s the thing I am most proud of.”

* Redrow Homes Yorkshire division has expanded its reach and is on target to complete more than 400 new homes in the current financial year and to increase that to almost 500 in the following year.

It has 12 ongoing developments in the region and a landbank of 1,200 plots with either outline or detailed planning permission. Developments include Horsforth Vale, Leeds, where prices start at £295,950; The Granary, York, on Water Lane in Clifton, with prices from £299,950; Devonshire Gardens, Harrogate, from £289,950 and Nostell Fields, Crofton, Wakefield, from £159,950 to £285,950.