Interview on Monday
Via Kristy Dorsey
For Barrhead-based construction company AC Whyte, 2020 was expected to be a strong growth year, but Managing Director Jennifer Phin says that breaking even would be a “great” outcome for the current fiscal year after shutting down and losing about 30 percent of its annual revenue.
Even, she’s anything but downbeat about the future for the family-owned firm, which last fiscal year produced 15.1 million pounds in revenue. AC Whyte was able to augment holiday pay during the nearly 12-week closure, so that all 160 workers earned 100 percent of their daily wages. And with sustainability high on the agenda, as the construction sector awakens from its spring slumber, there continues to be good demand for its domestic energy efficiency solutions.
On behalf of its principal social housing client base, the organization is actively operating on 22 building sites in eight local authorities. Among them is a deal of £ 5 million revealed earlier this month to upgrade 490 East Ayrshire homes by next September.
“Yes, the finances have absolutely taken a hit, but I’m very positive about how we’ve come out of this,” said Ms. Phin.
After the harsh winter months, Di Maggio hopes for better days.
“It gave us a break, it cleared everyone’s mind and gave us breathing space to think about how we work and what we can do better. It allowed us to come back stronger.”
Ms. Phin grew up as the daughter of one of the founding directors of the company, Robert Phin, with the company being “a big part of my life.” But she set out on her own early in her career, like many children of parents who run their own companies.
After graduating with a degree in business administration from the University of Glasgow, she entered a local advertising agency and worked for the next five years in marketing. In 2011, as commercial director, she returned to AC Whyte and took over in December 2015.
During the closure lull, the company turned its attention to the organizational health and well-being of its workers. Ms. Phin said one of the keys to this was strengthening contact by frequently checking in with workers and raising morale.
The Watt Brothers house, which was purchased by former Rangers directors James and Sandy Easdale, was used for hotel and residential use.
AC Whyte also used the opportunity to reinforce training and professional development, in particular in the vital field of health and safety, she said.
“We wanted to support our people,” she said. “It wasn’t their fault they were sitting at home.”
The closure also placed a temporary pause on the progress of the 2019 apprentice cohort at AC Whyte’s Skills Academy, in addition to site work. Last month, half a dozen of that group returned to college, along with 12 newcomers to the 2020 class.
In 2018, the AC Whyte Skills Academy, run in collaboration with West College Scotland, was launched to bring more professional traders into the business. Of the 12 participants in the first cohort, seven were full-time workers.
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“In our business, bead cleaners are most in demand,” said Ms. Phin, “and that’s a skill that needs to be developed over time.”
The Academy of Skills is becoming increasingly relevant as the U.K. Moves towards the end of the time phase for Brexit. Around half of AC Whyte’s workers are originally from the EU, and some have returned home for good with the uncertainty of both Brexit and the pandemic.
But Ms. Phin adds that since the EU referendum in mid-2016, the pressure to secure the qualified workers required to overhaul around 1,200 properties a year has been on.
“The impact of Brexit has been felt by us for a lot longer than people understand,” she said. “It’s been more of a gradual kind of thing for us – not something that happened at a particular point in time.”
Which, for business or pleasure, are your favorite countries to fly to, and why?
One of my dream trips was to New Zealand on our honeymoon. This is such a beautiful, massive place that appealed to my sense of adventure, and there we felt very relaxed. These days, we’re happy as long as the kids are happy. Recently we rented a VW camper van and went to some