Henry Boot marches on into its 130th year in business

John Sutcliffe, chief executive of Henry Boot PLC, Simon Carr managing director of Henry Boot Construction, and Jamie Boot chairman of Henry Boot PLC, with a portrait of founder Henry Boot in the background. Picture Scott Merrylees.

It has survived two world wars and some of the deepest recessions in history. Now Henry Boot is celebrating its resilience by marking its 130th year in business.

The construction and property development group, which employs just under 500 staff, is having an “outstanding” year and recently said annual results will be materially ahead of existing forecasts.

Henry Boot's business approach has ensured its longevity with the group weathering plenty of property recessions.

The Sheffield-based group is made up of four main divisions: construction, development, land and plant hire.

Henry Boot Construction is an £80m turnover division employing about 180 people. It works across a number of sectors – 60 per cent of its order book is public sector, including schools, colleges, universities and hospitals.

Recent schemes include new sports facilities at Hull University. It has also completed the Olympic Legacy Park in Sheffield.

Its biggest construction job is currently phase one of the regeneration of Barnsley town centre. In fact, two of its employees who originally constructed some of the brutalist public realm buildings with Henry Boot in the 1960s and 1970s are now knocking them down and rebuilding them.

Dave Woodhouse, strategic business manager at Henry Boot Construction, said: “That’s a good example of Henry Boot. We’ve got a number of long service employees right through the business.

“We’re also good on localism. We’ve sourced all the supply chain within 10 miles of the Barnsley job.”

Henry Boot Developments has the biggest contract in the group – a £350m conference centre in Aberdeen.

It is also behind the redevelopment of the Chocolate Factory in York into luxury apartments. It has completed all its sales two years before its deadline of mid-2019.

Meanwhile, its land banking division – Hallam Land Management – is the 10th biggest land bank owner in the country.

The company has weathered a fair few property recessions, which Mr Woodhouse, who has worked at Henry Boot for 28 years, puts down to its cautious approach.

“We like to be selective, we like to know our clients,” he said. “Eighty per cent of our work is repeat business. We are also well ahead of the safety statistics nationally.”

Henry Boot Construction is also at the forefront of the industry when it comes to gender – just under 20 per cent of its staff are female, almost double the average.

“We work hard with the schools and colleges to recruit and we also put provisions in place for women to work flexibly so that if they have children they will stop with us and have a proper career.”

Brexit is having little effect on Henry Boot’s workload. Public sector work, which is procured 18 months in advance, is bolstering the construction side and it is still seeing cash from the Europe Union.

Mr Woodhouse said: “We don’t exceed overdrafts and we do try to always live within our means. We don’t boom and bust. We could quadruple our work at the moment but it would be too risky.”

One of its growing sectors is extra care and it is building a new generation of care homes, which include coffee bars and other amenities as well as dementia-friendly design.

“If you’ve got 80 people with 80 identical front doors, it’s confusing for someone with dementia so you need to have different coloured carpets, different noises and materials to differentiate things,” Mr Woodhouse said.

Looking back at how the company has changed, he added: “It’s the design, technology and the safety that have moved on.”

The secret to the group’s success, according to chief executive John Sutcliffe, is people.“In the Henry Boot Group we empower and develop our people to create long term value and sustainable growth for all our stakeholders,” he said. “We actively promote positive, long term relationships with our people, customers, suppliers and the professional services firms we work with; and we aim to build repeat business wherever we can.”

Karen Fisher, business development manager, added: “We’re a plc but it’s still a family-orientated business and we still have members of the Boot family working here.”

Looking ahead, the order book remains healthy for 2018. “Cranes are going up in any city centre you look at,” said Mr Woodhouse. “Looking further ahead, in five years, it may be tougher with Brexit.”

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