Doubling the Business Overnight and How That Changes the Future

(by Simon Kidney, CEO)

I wish I knew the answer.

2018 proved to be another interesting year in the world of engineered wood. Anyone who takes the time to read my ramblings will know that my wood knowledge is minimal but spotting opportunities, coupled with understanding how the business world works, is probably more my forte.

Three noticeable changes in the truss and joist world included:

  • New owners at Crendons
  • Donaldson’s purchasing Cambridge Roof Truss
  • Cairngorm Capital taking strategy position in the market place.

As a former banker it’s great to see even more intelligence entering the timber world, coupled with the sector raising its game in terms of customer service, education and valuing its people.

At Robinson Manufacturing we had another busy year with the acquisition of Cheshire Roof Truss. The North West was certainly a destination missing from our armoury and this enabled us to really consider ourselves a national player, taking our factory count to five giving us good scope for future geographic expansion.

And 2019 started with a bang.

The National Hickman brand has been a strong one for many years. As a business, I’ve always admired its brand positioning and its power in the market place to service all the nationals. The opportunity to acquire the ETFS business was to good an opportunity to walk past.

What has struck me about the operation is the tenacity and talent of the staff. It’s common knowledge that they’ve been through the mill a little, but what a team. From the factory floor to the factory managers, and in between, the desire, attitude and drive is first rate. Akin to a pilot light in a boiler just about to be fired up, you can see excitement at the opportunity that lies before them as part of Robinson Manufacturing. While it sounds perverse, you can’t buy that. You can of course teach people to use a saw, but you can’t teach them to want to work as hard as possible and give an extra 10%. You can educate the difference between 245 and 235 joists. But you can’t educate people to have passion for their work.

This is what makes ETFS such a great fit with Robinson Manufacturing. We have all that in abundance already. The team all advocate the 10 things that require zero talent (which you will have all seen on LinkedIn or other platforms).

The great thing about doubling the size of a business overnight is the people challenge. We’ve welcomed another 100 people into our business overnight, yet they feel like they have been with us for decades.

What this does for any business (and I saw this at a larger scale with Lloyds and TSB, LTSB and HBOS etc) is to bring together two brilliant cultures and let you select the greatest things from both to move towards the challenges that lie ahead in the future as an even greater, well-prepared business.

Of course there are system challenges, there are cultural challenges and there is learning everyone’s name but, and it is a big but, if you don’t get the people piece right then the Lord of Flies strategy becomes a very big challenge to overcome!

Strategically, I refer my more geeky readers to Mintzberg: we’ve always used a bit of an emergent strategy. We know where we are going, we know what the journey should look like, but we need to be flexible and adaptive enough to overcome any hurdles that we encounter. Where we spot an opportunity, we make sure we are brave enough to embrace it and bold enough to follow our instincts. The next 24 months is no different. The industry faces similar challenges; raw price variants, house building constantly under the spot light of one reason or another, building material shortages, skill shortages and then there’s that ongoing Brexit debacle (that’s enough of that…). Yet I am still amazed at the tenacity within the business leaders and the many great people that work within our business and within our competitors.

So for us, the future challenges pre ETFS are the same as post. We’re just more prepared as we have doubled our talent pool.

Which pretty much means I don’t always need to know the answer….

Simon Kidney CEO


Ten (Excellent) Things That Require Zero Talent

  1. Being on time
  2. Work ethic
  3. Effort
  4. Body language
  5. Energy
  6. Attitude
  7. Passion
  8. Being coachable
  9. Doing extra
  10. Being prepared